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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