As mad as Hell: UKIP’s political success

Frederick Cowell 

Image© IndependentThinkerUK

Nigel Farage is the most dangerous man in British politics. Why?  He leads a party with no MPs and his party’s most well known policy, a referendum to leave the EU, is so popular among Conservative MP’s that should they win the 2015 election they’re offering their own version of it.  On TV he often comes across as a charming pub bore, the sort of chap who begins an argument midway through the second round saying “look, I’m saying what we’re all thinking here”. Yet as they manage to gain a quarter of all votes cast in this month’s local elections they are turning into a fourth force in UK politics and a real political headache. Even before the May election their influence on UK politics, outside of a vehicle of protest against the EU, had been growing steadily; at both the Eastliegh and South Shields by-elections they came second and since the start of 2013 have been absorbing defections of councillors from the Tories at the rate of one a week  Read more of this post

Question Time – Democracy Lite?

Lincoln Green 

BBC Question Time

Copyright UK Parliaments photostream

I was an audience member in the BBC Question Time broadcast from Lincoln on 17 January 2013, when David Dimbleby chaired a panel which included Mary Beard (Professor of Classics, Cambridge University), Nigel Farage MEP (Leader of UKIP), Caroline Flint MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change), Roland Rudd (Chairman, Business for New Europe) and Grant Shapps MP (Conservative Party Chairman).

Whilst the aim of the programme is to entertain and to provoke, attendance prompted thoughts about broader issues and about the underscoring attitudes which inform opinion and which programmes such as Question Time by their very nature fail to address.

Perhaps the most well debated issue was not actually broadcast but took place earlier, chaired by the floor manager to warm up the audience and to check the broadcasting systems.  The theme of responsibility for diet was discussed for almost an hour, raising issues such as personal responsibility, education for change, busy working parents and child care, and most pertinently the nature of the food industry.  Even with the luxury of extra time allotted only hints of the real issue were addressed – that the function of the food industry is to make a profit, and the easiest way to do this is to create something on which people will spend plenty of money (junk food) which is very cheap to produce and highly addictive (fat, sugar and salt).  Read more of this post

Beware: Anti-politics

Frederick Cowell

Image © John Kirriemuir

With two days to local elections and four days to the anniversary of an unloved event, anti-politics is everywhere. The surprise from-behind victory of George Galloway in Bradford west and UKIP’s sudden surge in the polls are both symptomatic of a rise in anti-politics. The local election result are likely to result in the expected drubbing for the governing parties but also a boost for anti-politics candidates and well placed sources have detailed Labour’s panic at the thought of by-elections later this year, in particular in Birmingham Snow Hill which they fear could be lost to another Respect insurgency.

Anti-politics is becoming a feature of UK politics – Matthew Flinders of the University of Sheffield has identified a complex tendency among the public to dislike all political parties and politicians. To an extent voters should be healthily sceptical of politics and for many years those who have cared about the environment have voted Green, those who have cared about the national identity of regions have voted SNP or Plaid Cymru and those who have cared about immigration and race have voted BNP. Both UKIP and Respect make a different appeal to voters in that they deliberately stoke and then feed off the anger of anti-politics.

The ascent of UKIP in the late 1990’s was triggered by rage at the Maastricht generation of Tories and their 2010 election slogan “sod the rest – vote UKIP”, whilst a little to naked for many voters taste’s, basically described their electoral strategy for the previous decade. On the Left, the Iraq war provided the catalyst for the Respect Party to absorb those alienated by New Labour. To be clear, UKIP and Respect are single issue parties but the issues that both parties run on, Euroscepticism and anti-imperialism< are defined by the inability of the mainstream Left and Right blocs in British politics to fully absorb these issues. Both parties also mercilessly attack government as the great diluter of principles to create a betrayal narrative out of every decision that governments make, whether they be foolhardy (invading Iraq) or pragmatic (not pulling out of the EU).  This can poison political debates during local and city elections as the supposed betrayal of the former supporters of Labour and the Tories drowns out other concerns and scrutiny of local issues. Previously the Lib Dems benefited from this but after entry into government they are no longer able to take advantage of this phenomenon. A key part of the upsurge in both UKIP’s and Respect’s support in the last year is that they, like many other anti-politics parties across Europe, offer a rhetorically appealing account of how to fix the economic woes currently facing western economies. As appealing as these messages may be many of them are ultimately unworkable, socially divisive or both, but the fury many voters feel as living standards fall generates a lucrative gig for the Nigel Farages and George Galloways of this world.

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