My personal interest in international politics ashamedly does not translate into British politics on quite the same level, so I was intrigued by the prospect of learning about Europe’s latest phenomenon: the rise of the right wing. Matthew Goodwin – Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham and co-author of Revolt on the Right – gave an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of UKIP, and an insight on Farage’s interaction with the broader ‘rise of the European far right’. His academic and non-politically aligned view meant that a coherent analysis of the party could be made, rather than the social media/Channel 4/Daily Mail lambast of Farage that feeds society’s brains (well, mine at least).
We all know that the Lib Dems have hit Clegg bottom, but I was shocked to find out that UKIP currently holds 22% of opinion polls in comparison to the Lib Dems’ measly 8.57%. This is despite UKIP’s regional weaknesses in Scotland, London and Wales (as a result of poor strategic marketing and uneven resource distribution in the party’s early days), as well as its significant lack of support amongst the young, females and ethnic minorities. Indeed, only 0.4% of UKIP supporters are of minority backgrounds, and only 0.1% of its voters are under the age of 35.
It was this latter statistic that mildly scared me. May it be UKIP or the Green Party, to be allocated an influence in British and European politics – and by default international politics to a certain extent – due to a group of voters who won’t be around to reap the long-term benefits/woes is frightening. In this case, I take it to be more woe than benefit. Considering the political grouping of UKIP on a European scale, despite the fact that right-wing European policies do not necessarily mesh well, explains why.
Whilst Farage does not wish to align himself with the likes of France’s Marine Le Pen, who opposes globalisation and big businesses, the fact of the matter remains: they belong to the same broader political family and thus will be influenced by or associated with each other to a certain extent. This ‘family’ includes the openly anti-Semitic Hungarian Jobbik party, which is currently polling ⅕ of the votes. I may not see my twice-removed cousins often, but at the wedding of the year we will undoubtedly have a drink together.
This association issue is where the UKIP dilemma emerges. Whilst Farage wishes to minimise any such reputational issues that would damage the currently growing support, he also realises he cannot grow without merging. Even similar-minded parties, such as the Alternative for Germany Party, clash with UKIP over immigration plans. The stagnated impact this has on UKIP’s growth is to a certain extent accentuated by its leader, who is constantly repudiated from anything from his choice of wife to his choice of poster-boy.
However, despite that only 5% of voters consider Farage’s charisma as UKIP’s biggest asset (first place was awarded to the party’s focus on Westminster’s elite), the UKIP leader is considered priceless by Goodwin: Farage has learnt from the mistakes of his predecessors and perfected the equation to constituency and political success. The fact that Old Labour-ists are amongst his party voters, and that the traditionally Labour North Midland seats could be a challenge in 2020, is testament to this. Miliband – and Cameron, given that UKIP is a mostly working-class party and thus not a Tory splinter group – need to wake up and realise that one of UKIP’s biggest strengths is capitalising on the damaging effect of Labour’s 13 years of bad immigration handling.
Indeed, the three ‘-ism’s’ to ‘Farage-ism’ is no to immigration, no to Westminster elites, and no to Brussels. Given the state of austerity Europe is currently in – as well as the various boat house/summer house/winter house expense scandals that are forever circulating – is it really a surprise UKIP has seen an element of political growth? Indeed, voters holding all three points have increased since the crisis and subsequent evolution of the political dissatisfaction factor.
Given also that immigration is the second biggest topic in British politics (particularly the issue of low-skill migration), is it really a surprise that there is a rise in overall right-wing politics? Voters are concerned about social, not just economic, problems, thus creating huge problems for the left. This also explains why the narrative that it was the fiscal austerity that aided the right wing is not entirely true. Indeed, if it was the case, we should be seeing the rise of the right wing in Spain and Portugal (given that they were hit most by the crisis) rather than Germany and France. If anything, the far right should have done better with the austerity crisis backdrop.
It is true that UKIP’s handlings of contentious and personal topics isn’t exactly rainbows and butterflies. However, there is no point in attacking Farage in a bid to dissuade voters; it probably only impacts those who would never vote for UKIP anyway. This need to shift the focus to actual policies is proven, given that 7/10 people currently sympathise with UKIP billboards. Goodwin considers this a sign that, contrary to people’s beliefs, UKIP cannot theoretically be called a racist party. Indeed, its pull factor transcends what a typically far-right party could obtain.
Granted it is a big assumption to say that UKIP will be able to indefinitely hold it together, it is this pull factor that makes an UKIP triumph at the European elections an outright possibility. Whilst such a triumph would not be enough to cause a mass shutdown in Brussels, the domestic polls in the two months following the European election is where potential chaos could ensue. Indeed, the real story to watch out for is whether UKIP’s domestic results remain strong post-May 25th, rather than drop as they did in the 2004 and 2009 elections.
Since Goodwin doesn’t foresee UKIP’s numbers dropping to 3% like in 2010, he hinted that political correspondents should warm up their pens if the domestic poll figures reach 7%. Not only would this figure mean a potential Labour-UKIP coalition, but it would also set a worrying political precedent. Indeed, if UKIP as a radically insurgent, poorly resourced (in comparison to its competitors) party, is able to win, it raises huge questions for Westminster today and for the Milibands and Camerons of the future. UKIP may be a symptom of social division, but it has walked into the casino of British politics with a strong hand.
By Meera Kotak
I have written this article from a purely apolitical sense, commenting on the facts presented by an academic and linking it to observations I have made , rather than providing my personal view on UKIP.
Meera is a third year History student with a specific focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a wider interest in Middle Eastern current affairs. For further articles such as the one above, check out her blog. You can also follow Meera on Twitter @kotakmak.