Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ukip leads the race to the bottom of politics

The apparent rise in support for the right-wing, populist Ukip in the polls is further evidence of the break-up of traditional party alignments which we saw at the 2010 general election and the break-down of Westminster parliamentary politics.

Once written off by David Cameron as a party of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, Ukip is a clear and present danger not just to the Tories but to Labour as well, as Ed Miliband’s party might discover in the Rotherham by-election later this week.

The couple at the centre of the fostering row in Rotherham, where children were removed from their home because they are members of Ukip, were previously Labour voters.

The background to the by-election might help to explain their defection. In this former heavy industry town, unemployment at 10% is far higher than the national average. While the total has been falling, in Rotherham it has actually increased in the last year. During this period, youth unemployment has tripled.

Then there is the town’s council, which Labour has controlled since the metropolitan borough was first created in 1973. A record of bureaucratic incompetence, combined with the implementation of Tory cuts, has eaten away at Labour’s image in Rotherham, leaving it something of a rotten borough.

It wasn’t helped by the sense that Labour – and the notorious South Yorkshire police force of Hillsborough and Orgreave infamy – did little to tackle rampant sexual exploitation of young girls in Rotherham.

Add to this the woeful story of Denis MacShane, whose resignation triggered the by-election, and you can see why Ukip is making hay in the town. The Labour MP was forced to quit parliament after falsifying a number of expenses claims.  

Into this political morass steps Ukip, hard on the heels of extreme right-wing and neo-fascist thugs who have descended on the town twice in recent months. They feed on the contempt many people have for parliament, which MacShane’s activities only helped to reinforce.

In an economic and political crisis like we have today, the search for scapegoats is always a priority. For Ukip it is the European Union (although Ukip is content to rake in the salaries and expenses from its 12 MEPs), immigrant workers from Eastern Europe who allegedly take the jobs destined for British workers at lower wages and the “political elite” who champion such mad ideas as “climate targets”, leading to higher energy prices. So says Ukip leader Nigel Farage, given space in the Daily Telegraph to launch his very British brand of simplistic, reactionary populism.

And he has Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband trying to play catch up, especially on Europe. Both parties are edging towards a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, although they know it would make not one jot of difference to economic prospects.

Miliband is toughening up Labour’s policy on immigration, welfare benefits, crime and just about everything else in a bid to prevent Ukip from winning over disillusioned supporters like the couple in Rotherham.

It’s a race to the bottom of politics, with Ukip leading the field. It could also conceivably result in the ousting of Cameron in favour of a more right-wing Tory. Certainly, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail would support that if it helped Tory prospects at the next election which are looking bleak.

Scapegoating minorities, immigrant workers or “Europe” itself expresses the bankruptcy of the major parties who have opened the door to Ukip. More than that, the rise of Ukip is a backlash against a political system that ostensibly favours the rich and the powerful.

These are indeed dangerous, unstable, turbulent times. The right-wing historically has played on prejudice to shut down enfeebled democracies. Our response should be to develop strategies and proposals to extend democracy in new ways that transfers economic and political power to the people, away from the bureaucracies, the corporations and the banks.

In other words, our fight for democracy also has to be the struggle against capitalism as a defective, unsustainable social system. Anything less will serve to reinforce parties like Ukip.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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