- Created: Thursday, 13 June 2013 13:44
- Written by Carol Brickley
Within weeks of a display of unity at the publicly-subsidised Tory day-out, Margaret Thatcher’s funeral (17 April 2013), the Conservative Party reverted to its more normal state of internecine warfare. The fundamental political fault line dividing the Conservatives is Britain’s membership of the EU, with immigration and gay marriage thrown in for phobic good measure. There is nothing new here.
What is new is a surge in the polls for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which dramatically improved its standing at local elections in England on 2 May at the expense of the Conservatives, when its candidates averaged 26% of the vote. With upcoming European Parliamentary elections in 2014 and a general election scheduled for 2015, this was the trigger for a serious outbreak of infighting in the Tory party. The eurosceptics immediately filed an amendment to their own party’s Queen’s speech calling for an early referendum on EU membership, swiftly followed by an attempt to derail the government’s reform on gay marriage.
Nigel Farage, UKIP’s leader, was quick to take advantage of the mayhem. Claiming to be a ‘libertarian, non-racist party’ with ‘common sense politics’, ironically UKIP aims to come top of the poll in the European elections and then to progress to win seats at Westminster. Posing as Mr Average, Farage is far from this in reality. Son of a stockbroker, privately educated at Dulwich College, and a former stockbroker himself, he has been an MEP since 1999, co-leading the multinational Eurosceptic group ‘Europe of Freedom and Democracy’ which contains other right-wing, supposedly non-racist parties like the Italian Lega Nord.
In the middle of the row, Farage was quick to take advantage of a reported comment by a senior Conservative that Tory activists are ‘mad, swivel-eyed loons’. In a full page ad in the Telegraph he summoned up the whole gamut of UKIP policies, calling for Conservatives to defect: ‘The political class in this country is completely out of touch with the thoughts of ordinary people. Only an administration run by a bunch of college kids, none of whom have ever had a proper job in their lives, could so arrogantly write off their own supporters ... Conservatives are used to a party that is patriotic, supports business and believes in aspiration. Today they are led by people obsessed with wind farms and introducing gay marriage and happy to open the door to 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians from 1 January next year.’
It is this toxic appeal to ‘ordinary’ folk against the elite that the Tories fear most. They can do nothing to outflank UKIP on Europe, immigration or even gay marriage without deepening the split in the party, but it is clear that UKIP politics will appeal to some voters. UKIP pretends that its opposition to immigration is without the taint of racism precisely because it wants to become a mainstream party. According to Farage, however, ‘old fashioned views’ that one might hear in the ‘private bridge clubs and golf clubs’ are entirely compatible with UKIP membership. Being ‘disgusted’ by gay marriage is acceptable, and many of UKIP’s new members and councillors are busy tweeting their racist views.
Nor can the Labour Party rest easy that UKIP’s popularity has grown at the expense of the Tories alone. In the South Shields by-election, also on 2 May, Labour held onto David Miliband’s old seat but with a reduced majority. UKIP came second, taking votes from both Labour and the Tories. Labour’s complete failure to put up any fight against austerity or defend the interests of the working class on any issue, affirms Farage’s view that the three main parties have the same policies, and leaves the Labour Party scraping the barrel to find a distinctive standpoint.
The UKIP phenomenon is not confined to Britain. It is a common feature of bourgeois politics, emerging when the ruling class is facing crisis. The Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo in Italy is another example, as is the Tea Party movement in the US (see Steve Palmer ‘The mid-term elections and the Tea Party’, FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011). Capitalist crisis is an anxious time for the petit bourgeoisie and the labour aristocracy who might, at any moment, be scorned by their masters and end up impoverished like the working class. Hence the fear that their privileges may disappear or their precious heritage be polluted by eastern Europeans, immigrants of all descriptions, muslims, sharia law, gays or even (for Norman Tebbit) the nightmare of a ‘lesbian queen’, drives them into UKIP’s arms. With the Tories running scared, as one commentator said: ‘Every day is Christmas for Nigel Farage’.
It is all the more urgent that we build a real working class movement to directly challenge the ruling class.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013