Ukip look set to make major gains in this month's European and local elections. Socialist Review looks at what lies behind Ukip's rise and how their racist populism can be challenged.
The United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) is dangerous. It is deepening racism, targeting immigrants and directing people's real fears about lack of jobs, poor housing, low wages and an unaccountable political elite away from the real culprits and towards scapegoats.
At the Ukip conference in February party leader Nigel Farage said that Britain was becoming a "foreign land". "In scores of our cities and market towns, this country in a short space of time has frankly become unrecognisable", he added. "Whether it is the impact on local schools and hospitals, whether it is the fact in many parts of England, you don't hear English spoken any more. This is not the kind of community we want to leave to our children and grandchildren."
Ukip threatens to create a big anti-immigrant party along the lines of those in other parts of Europe. There is a very dangerous idea that circulates in some trade union and Labour Party circles that Ukip is a bit unpleasant but that ultimately its growth is a helpful development. The theory goes that, by splitting the potential Tory vote, Ukip will open the gates of 10 Downing Street to Ed Miliband.
This is playing with fire. It's certainly true that if Ukip holds on to the 12 percent of voters who say they will back it at a general election then it might mean losses for the Tories - perhaps enough to decide who governs. But that's not the only factor.
Every time Ukip advances it drags the political debate rightwards. The other main parties pander to its rhetoric against immigration and promise to unleash even harsher anti-immigrant laws. Making racism "respectable" can actually bolster the Tory vote and also encourages Ukip further. It opens the possibility in the longer term of a growth of fascist forces. And Labour will lose votes as a right wing agenda dominates.
If Ukip continues to entrench itself it can go beyond doing well at European elections and start to grab some parliamentary seats. Ukip needs to be challenged. Now. That's why the SWP was right to call for protests at Farage's events during the European election campaign and to work with others to mobilise public campaigning and leafleting against Ukip.
Ukip is a racist party that poses as the champion of suffering workers, but serves to divide and attack the working class. In 2013 it demanded a further 77 billion pounds in cuts as well as those the Tories wanted to ram through. And it wanted even more cuts to taxes on profits and the abolition of inheritance taxes. Ukip has long been associated with the demand for a flat rate income tax so that billionaires would pay at the same rate as call centre workers. It has called for vouchers for people to use at private schools and hospitals that would drain funds from the NHS and the state school system. It is a party that serves the bosses.
Of course, substantial sections of Ukip support come from workers. You can't run at 30 percent in the polls for the European elections without winning workers to back you. But it's crucial to remember that a fifth or more of workers have always voted Conservative.
The biggest shift is not former Labour voters defecting to Ukip. It's Tories (including working class Tories) choosing Ukip. Some 22 percent of those pollsters describe as working class Tory voters in 2010 now say they support Ukip.
In an article in Prospect magazine in February Peter Kellner analysed a series of surveys of Ukip voters. He concluded, "Just under half (around 1.6 million voters) are people who voted Tory in 2010. The rest comprise a collection of far smaller groups: just over half-a-million former Liberal Democrats, around 400,000 each of those who voted Labour last time, or for Ukip itself, or did not vote.
He concluded, "Disgruntled Tories may not be the only source of Ukip support, but they are by far the biggest." He added, "Not surprisingly, Ukip does well among those who say they are 'very' or 'fairly' right wing, and among readers of the Daily Mail and Daily Express. But one of the striking things about Ukip is its appeal to older, working class, former Tories, especially those who left school at 15 or 16 and earn less than 20,000 pounds a year."
This confirms the detailed research in Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin's recent book, Revolt on the Right. The authors are at great pains to stress that Ukip supporters are not all tweed-wearing ex-majors living in Dorset. That's true. But their statistics show that of those who now say they are going to vote Ukip, 45 percent say they voted Tory last time and only 7 percent voted Labour.
Ukip has targeted those Tories who perceive that David Cameron is soft over issues such as gay marriage and global warming. And although the party wins some working class votes, its candidates are from very similar backgrounds to those of the other major parties. A study of the 2013 local elections by academics at Plymouth University showed that 75 percent were from professional or managerial/technical backgrounds - roughly similar to the three major parties who Ukip criticises for having "elite" candidates.
Ukip's growth is mainly (but not wholly) a shift on the right of politics. It does not signal a landslide rightwards in Britain. But it is a sign of the way the main parties accept austerity and oppose immigration. Ukip's rise is also an expression of a longer-term erosion of loyalties to the once all dominant two main parties. Where general elections in the early 1950s saw Labour and the Tories between them commanding 97 percent of all votes cast by 2010 this has shrunk to just 67 percent. The result is a growing potential for electoral volatility and wider political turmoil in British society as the tectonic plates of traditional politics shift.
Ukip builds through three main routes. One is obviously its hostility to the EU, framed as xenophobic distaste for foreigners and admiration for "Britain" rather than a critique of the EU as an enforcer of austerity and capitalism. But many surveys of Ukip supporters show that the EU isn't the main issue they think is crucial. Immigration is far more significant.
Ukip has cashed in where the other parties have led. It has been able to cohere voters around a viciously anti-immigration message because the Tories and Labour have seeded the ground over immigration, asylum and Islamophobia.
Ukip fastened on the issue of immigration from its beginning. Its 1997 manifesto promised to tighten borders and crack down on anyone deemed an illegal migrant. It made Robert Kilroy-Silk an MEP after he wrote an article in the Sunday Express headed "We Owe the Arabs Nothing". Kilroy-Silk referred to Arabs as "suicide bombers, limb-amputators, women repressors". And its 2004 Euro elections broadcast said that 73 million migrants from Central and Eastern Europe were poised to descend on Britain.
But it was not until 2010 that the party decided to shift gear, organising what internal documents called a campaign "against the effects of continuing unlimited mass immigration". The Tories had targeted immigrants well in advance of that. In 2001 party leader William Hague described Britain as a "foreign land" and said, "Talk about immigration and they call you racist; talk about your nation and they call you Little Englanders." Michael Howard put immigration at the heart of the Conservative election campaign in 2005.
Commenting on the Ukip billboards for the European elections, Financial Times journalist Janan Ganesh tweeted, "Those Ukip posters. Tories did similar stuff in '01 and '05, and many of them wish they still were. In fact, [home secretary] Theresa May still is." And every time the Tories attacked immigrants the Lib Dems and Labour failed to stand up to the racist tide.
Ukip seized its chance and went further down the anti-immigrant road. And in doing so it grabbed votes from the Nazi BNP. Ukip isn't a fascist organisation, and Farage has been careful to distance it from the open fascists for fear of electoral contamination. In 2008 ex-tennis star Buster Mottram (a former supporter of the National Front) came to Ukip's leaders with the offer of an electoral pact with the BNP. The fascists thought there was a good fit with Ukip and the two parties were close enough to divide up Britain. Ukip refused a pact, instead going on to win over a big section of BNP's vote. It isn't that Ukip has undermined the fascists. Anti-fascist campaigning has largely broken the BNP for the moment and many of its votes have subsquently gone to Ukip.
Ukip now links everything to immigration and the EU. So low wages are apparently the fault of migrants, and so are zero hours contracts because, wrote Farage, "with so much cheap labour flooding in from abroad, giant corporations are in an increasingly powerful position to dictate terms and conditions for workers". But Farage doesn't support the real antidote to big business power - well-organised trade unions.
He goes on to say, "I have no truck with militant trade unionism - never have and never will. Where over-mighty unions provoke frequent strikes and disrupt production then everyone loses. We must never go back to the bad old days of the 1970s."
Another factor building Ukip is that it claims to be an outsider party that says "Sod the lot" to the main parties. In his speech to the 2013 Ukip conference Farage claimed that the party appealed to those who are "fed up to the back teeth with the cardboard cut-out careerists in Westminster. The spot the difference politicians. Focus groupies. The triangulators. The dog whistlers. The politicians who daren't say what they really mean." The 2009 expenses scandal gave a big boost to Ukip just when its vote seemed to be flagging. The recent Maria Miller incident will have reminded many voters why none of the big parties can be trusted.
Ukip has also gained because New Labour consciously abandoned identification with the working class, and the Lib Dems have gone from being a party that could suck in protest votes to a governing party which is the butt of protest. When Farage recently debated Nick Clegg he gained from taking on an establishment figure.
It's a fake front. Farage went to a public school and then worked as a City trader. Much of Ukip's money comes from millionaires. Neil Hamilton was recently removed from his position as Ukip's campaigns director - not because of his political disgrace after the late 1990s "cash for questions" scandal but because he publicly attacked the party's main donor, Paul Sykes.
Sykes, a former Tory supporter, is reported to be worth 650 million pounds and has given a fortune to Ukip. In 2013 he said he would do "whatever it takes" to ensure the party's success. He has personally put up 1.5 million pounds to pay for Ukip's billboards for this year's European elections. That one giant donation is half of the maximum allowed for a political party campaigning in the European elections across England, Scotland and Wales.
Private Eye revealed that Sir Frederick Barclay, one of the two Barclay brothers who own the Daily Telegraph as well as London's Ritz Hotel, had "discreetly" moved to backing Ukip. The report said Barclay paid for a back operation for Farage, and that he enabled Farage's fiftieth birthday party to be held at The Ritz. Ukip treasurer and major donor Stuart Wheeler made millions from the spread betting empire IG Index. He handed out Britain's biggest ever personal political donation - 5 million pounds to the Tories in 2001 - before moving on to Ukip.
At the 2004 Euro elections total spending by all parties was 10 million pounds. Of this Ukip spent 2.3 million pounds - more than Labour or the Lib Dems. Only the Tories spent more. Ukip has also benefited from a very warm welcome from most of the media. In 2004, the year of its first big European elections breakthrough, Ukip was mentioned 4,000 times in British newspapers. By 2009 that had risen to 5,900 mentions, 6,200 in 2010, 10,200 in 2010 and then a staggering 25,000 in 2013.
Farage has appeared more than anyone else on BBC's Question Time - 26 appearances since 1999.
Fighting Ukip means exposing its pro-rich, anti-worker policies. It means demonstrating that it backs the establishment for all its false trumpeting about standing up for the masses. It means publicising the homophobic, sexist, elitist statements of its candidates and members - and its frequent support for openly racist views.
But we must not seek to avoid the issue of immigration. Lies about immigration are central to the party's appeal. The problem with anti-Ukip campaigns by groups such as Unions Together (the umbrella group for the 15 trade unions that are affiliated to the Labour Party) is that, although they rightly unmask Ukip's pro-business policies, they don't mention immigration at all.
That's fatal. At worst it suggests Ukip may be right about immigration, but wrong to oppose, for example, mandatory paid holidays. That won't stop Farage.
We need a broad campaign with the sort of publicity produced by Stand Up to Ukip which can show that Ukip's racism weakens us all. We need to give confidence to people who know Ukip is wrong but are unsure about how to take it on, or who fear to do so. The demonstrations against racism in London, Glasgow and Cardiff on 22 March were an important show of public rejection of the myths Ukip rests on.
Ukip is a right wing party using racism to bolster its electoral support, rather than a fascist organisation. Therefore, we do not call for "No Platform" for Ukip, in the way that we would for groups such as the BNP or EDL. But racist politicians should be challenged and that means contesting their arguments and protesting outside their meetings.
And when we campaign against Ukip we should not think we are in a tiny minority. Lots of people see through its lies and hate its politics. Nor are we isolated over immigration.
Robert Ford, lecturer in politics at Manchester University, has done detailed research on British attitudes to immigration. He writes, "Far from being a nation united in opposition to migration, Britain is instead a country evenly divided. In our 2013 data, 48 percent of Britons saw immigration as bad for the economy, while 52 percent as neutral or good. The split on culture is similar:
46 percent seeing the cultural impact of migration as negative, and 54 percent regard it as neutral or positive.
"Remarkably, given the harsh economic climate and the barrage of negative media attention, public perception of migration's effects has improved somewhat since 2011. The proportion rating the economic impact as negative has dropped four points since 2011, while the proportion seeing a negative cultural impact is down two."
Whether people blame migrants for the problems in society is a result of political struggle. And through what appears a negative campaign of urging people not to vote for racists, socialists can achieve the immensely positive outcome of strengthening the unity of our class.
And it's also indispensable to create a real force to deal with the genuine problems Ukip preys on. Instead of the destructive and sham unity peddled by the proponents of racism and scapegoating, we need the real solidarity of working class struggle. In the campaigns against the bedroom tax we can show the real enemy is the Tories and the bosses, not the Lithuanians who are our neighbours.
In the trade unions we can point to how some of the best victories recently have been by migrant workers at Ealing Hospital and Soas, and how these inspiring struggles strengthen us all. And when thousands of workers are striking together they will look much less to scapegoating, and much more to seeking to target the rich and the bankers.
Some of those who are attracted by Ukip can be won to left wing ideas if there is a larger, more coherent and more credible left rooted in workplaces and communities across Britain. And a stronger left can stop Ukip becoming even stronger. Only a socialist analysis can really unearth the roots of poverty, war, inequality and lack of democracy.
Review: Revolt on the Right
by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin
Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin's book Revolt on the Right has a mass of material about Ukip that is useful - and some of it is used in this article. But the book is marred by a confused and confusing understanding of class, and an obsession with rooting Ukip's rise in "left behind" sections of the working class.
It holds a static view of the working class so that it says that in 2010, "less than one in three workers toiled in working class jobs". But on the same page it correctly mentions "white-collar, public sector workers such as teachers and nurses".
The working class constantly changes and recomposes and different sections are rarely sealed off from one another.
The book is also wrong to say that the interests of older workers are different to younger ones. Ford and Goodwin write, "The voters of the 1950s and 60s prized material values like basic economic security and social stability. In sharp contrast their children and grandchildren take such things for granted and instead focus on post-material values like liberty, human rights and environmental protection."
If there were ever any truth in that, the era of austerity, mass youth unemployment, lack of housing, charges for education and much else have highlighted "material issues" for all workers. CK
Revolt on the Right is published by Routledge at 14.99