Tag Archives: UKIP

Answering Ukip



How can you solve a problem like Heywood and Middleton? The fear in Labour circles is not caused by the Clacton result, which both main parties had long given up as a lost cause but by Heywood where Ukip had been a 20-1 longshot with the bookies until just a week ago. An immediate response has been to criticise Labour for failing to “campaign” around immigration, ie for failing to argue, like Ukip, that its candidate’s principal task in Westminster would be to demand policies to reduce the number of migrants to the UK.

The way migration functions, in the mind of a Ukip voter or those who are now calling for a Ukip of the Labour right, is like a distorting mirror in which you can see a person’s knees and neck but hardly anything of the rest of their body. If in 2015 not a single migrant entered Britain, wages and benefits would not rise, nor would the coalition cease to cut pension and services. The policy of the state would still be to warren the public services with a thousand privatisations. There is not some magic year (1960 perhaps? combining the the security of the postwar boom with an equilibrium between those nostalgic for the nuclear family and the rest of us who have run from it) to which Britain could be returned if only there were no ads for Polish builders in the newsagents.

At least when Ukip promises an exit from the EU there is a logical end-point. It would theoretically be possible for the UK to do just that and then you could pause and evaluate sensibly: we have done it. Were we right? But there is no end point in anti-immigrant politics, no moment of “accomplishment”.

It is the nature of anti-immigration politics that even to call only for a pause is to demand that some people are sent “back”. End, as Labour once did, the rights of foreign born but British educated doctors to work after finishing their studies in the UK, and inevitably people who were in the country then (as students) would have to leave (when they finished). But people who come to study also live, work, settle and have children.

When we talk about people coming to Britain we think of them (us!) arriving in waves: Saxons, Danes, Normans, the Empire Windrush generation. If you dig beneath a city you will see the remains of hundreds of years of human habitation squashed down upon each other in narrow wooden and brick layers. But migration happens neither in waves nor layers: a typical London child might have a father whose parents first crossed the borders as long as 50 or 500 years ago and a mother who was not born here and whose immigration status was uncertain until recently. Take the one migrant away and three lives are diminished. Take the migrant away and even an “indigenous” citizen must leave with her.

Mere observation teaches that the parties which promise ethnic welfarism as a strategy supposedly to delay cuts and privatisation are also the parties least enthusiastic about welfare or workplace rights and keenest about school and hospital privatisation.

So if Labour wants to stop UKIP, its present debate has to shift from one in which the two loudest groups are those saying “steal Ukip’s clothes” and “don’t panic”. The former mis-identify Ukip’s present ascendancy. It is not a party of the dispossessed; it is not an SNP south of the border. Rather it faces Labour as a real and urgent threat of a different origin – a return of Tory working class voting, liberated from the terrible stigma of the Tories’ association with the the employment-cleansing that befell industrial Britain under Thatcher. The latter meanwhile are only half-right: Labour will be weakened if immigration dominates the political conversation and the Labour Party is mute or acquiescent. The Left does indeed have something which it must say, and that is to defend the right to cross borders.

To Labour’s left, there are tasks to escape from habits which are as stale as a milk which has turned brown.

One is the idea that Ukip is a party pregnant with the threat of fascism. No: it is a party of economic neoliberals with a different (eulogistic rather than hostile) relationship to the centres of ruling class power. Even the way it does anti-immigration is different from the ways in which the fascist right does elsewhere in Europe. Ukip does not call for repatriation; in Clacton, Carswell (an ideological libertarian of the right) was rhetorically pro-immigration in repeated contrast to the people voting for him. The problem with Ukip’s anti-immigrant politics lies not in the coherence with which it demands an all-white Britain but the determination and militancy with which it says “something must be done”, when that “something” cannot be achieved without making many thousands suffer.

The key task of the moment is not to isolate Ukip from the other parties (painting its politics worse and theirs better); nor is it to reposition the left as yet another adversary of the enormous, general sentiment that the old ways of doing politics have passed their time and something new must be found.

The benign point of political organisation will be reached when activists can show that the working class is reconstituting itself and that people who are presently on the periphery (because they are migrant workers, because they are on precarious contracts) are remaking forms of organisation in the way that the New Unionism of the 1880s pointed the way to the pensions and proto-welfare state that were introduced in the early 1900s. If we can achieve that then we will have a message of hope to argue back against Ukip’s vision in which the deckchairs in first class must be swapped around but the workers and the poor are still sailing the Titanic.

UKIP: a party of the dispossessed taking votes from Labour?



Three years ago, to coincide with the aftermath of the 2010 general election, Matthew Goodwin published a book setting out to explain what he predicted would be (in the book’s subtitle), the “Rise of the British National Party”. The book combined a narrow, institutional history of the internal clashes which had produced the BNP’s then leadership, with an televisual style of interviewing in which Nick Griffin et al were asked a series of open questions and given every opportunity to present their view of the world. Finally, a series of opinion polls were used to test the social base of BNP voting and bolster the book’s analysis of that party’s rosy electoral future.

In 2014, Matthew Gooodwin (with the assistance of Rob Ford) has published a strikingly similar book. It follows the same method as its predecessor and reaches similar conclusions. This book is rather more compelling (2010 was after all a rout for the BNP) for the fortunate reason that at some stage in the project’s genesis, the interest in the BNP has been scored through and replaced with UKIP.

A large portion of the book is devoted to an institutional history of UKIP. This material is made valuable by the relative absence of previous studies to which it can be compared. In acknowledging the existence of Nick Griffin, Goodwin’s last book was treading very well-trod ground, by contrast there have been fewer previous studies of UKIP. That does not mean there have been none – Amazon supplies at least three previous institutional biographies of UKIP, by Mark Daniel, Bill Etheridge, Peter Gardener, none of which are acknowledged in Goodwin and Ford’s book. Yet none of these earlier accounts are well known. This time, at last, the authors have successfully identified a relative gap in the market.

Being the first there does not mean that the account is authoritative. Every dozen pages or so, there is an error or a significant omission which sticks in the memory and causes you to doubt the judgment of the writers. When UKIP was launched in 1993 Alan Sked, UKIP’s founder, had a more interesting political past than just having stood as a Liberal candidate (page 21). He had indeed stood for the Liberals, but that was once, 23 years previously. In 1993, he was a Thatcherite of several years standing. The pre-UKIP Sked was an economic liberal (i.e. a neoliberal) and a social libertarian, and the early UKIP well reflected its founder’s enthusiasm for the interests of business. Nick Griffin was not a young member of the BNP in 1993 (page 54). He was neither in the BNP nor especially young, having already spent over a decade in the leadership of the NF and its splinters. The Race Relations Amendment Act, passed in response to the Stephen Lawrence campaign, required public authorities to take steps to prevent race discrimination. It did not make “religious prejudice a crime” (page 132). Equally annoying is the passage on the same page where Goodwin actually auto plagiarises from page 56 of his last book the fantasy that the Labour government of the early 2000s “liberalised” immigration policy. In thirteen years of government, Labour passed six major immigration statutes, innumerable statutory instruments and several hundred changes to the immigration rules; almost every single one of which made the law more restrictive. As with his book on the BNP, Goodwin suffers from a serial absence of scepticism in repeating when he should be questioning the stories that the right likes to tell about itself and the world.

The biggest problem with this part of the book is that UKIP is never placed in any meaningful context, whether in terms of the interests of the various funders who have switched from the Tories to UKIP, or in terms of the press that sensed an opening to the Tories’ right and have actively promoted UKIP since 2010, whether out of a dislike of the Coalition or revenge for Leveson. UKIP is an anti-European party which has until recently polled much better in European rather than domestic elections, there is no engagement with why millions of voters might have disengaged with the European project and be willing to vote for the most anti-European option available to them. The Tories, the war on terror, the dismantling of the welfare state and the refocussing of the state on the interest of business – are all placed somewhere in the background, none in any compelling relationship to UKIP. Rotherham, which should provide a vivid example of UKIP’s ability to exploit racialised fantasies about male sexual violence, gets just a single paragraph.

The second major component of the book is an attempt to characterise UKIP’s voting base, which Ford and Goodwin, again drawing on Goodwin’s past in fascism studies, compares to that of the French FN or the BNP. UKIP is portrayed as a party of the dispossessed which prospers principally from New Labour’s strategic decision to put more effort into recruiting young, socially liberal, urban voters and its relative lack of interest in working-class voters who had no option but to stick with Labour.

This narrative is buttressed by an impressive array of statistical charts. It is however flawed. One wrong assumption is that working-class voters historically had a party with which the vast majority of them identified – ie the Labour Party – until, at some recent point in the past, Labour stopped representing them. The mistake here is to assume that Labour has always had a clear majority of working class supporters, and that it has lost touch with its base only as a result of Blairism. The more complex truth is that at every election in British history there have been large minorities and usually absolute majorities of working class voters who have voted against Labour.

Liverpool is often held up as the most anti-Tory city in Britain; its Wavertree constituency had Conservative MPs until 1983. South Sunderland had a Tory MP until 1964. A plethora of older analyses tried to explain the resilience of working-class Tory voting in terms of attachment to Unionism (important in Liverpool, Birmingham and Western Scotland), white-collar Toryism, deferential voting, etc.

Maybe at some point in the future, writers will grasp that what brought millions of voters to Labour was not class position (as if people’s class was something static, which their politics would simply reflect) but class experience so that for example Labour voting has always been dramatically higher among trade union representatives than it has been among trade union members.

The data the authors use as a proxy for class derives from the Goldthorpe-Heath class schema, which divides up members of the public according to the skills associated with the job they do: so nurses, as professionals, are near the top, while someone who owned their own business is plumb in the middle of the ladder. To try to write a sociology of how people vote which takes into account their education but not their income or capital leads to a wholly distorted picture.

Even if we accept Goodwin and Ford’s sociological analysis that UKIP voters left education at a younger age than non-UKIP voters, and are more likely to have worked in manual jobs, voters are not switching to UKIP in equal numbers from Labour and the Conservatives. At page 166 of their book, the authors suggest that among people who switched to UKIP between 2010 and 2013, former Conservative voters outnumbered former Labour voters by a staggering seven to one. This fact alone drives a cart and several horses through Ford and Goodwin’s portrayal of UKIP as an equal threat to the Tories and Labour.

A further weakness is the lack of any serious attempt to map the intersection of class and age. If UKIP’s recruits are mainly of retirement age then the voters who have switched to UKIP since 2010 overlap with the generation who benefited from right to buy in the mid-1980s and who delivered the Tories their election victories in 1987 and 1992. Their formal education may have finished early, but home ownership provided several hundreds of thousands of people with a sum of capital which has been equivalent to decades in the workplace. To present such people as “disadvantaged” is to assume that a person born in 1950 who left school at 16 will have less income and a worse life than their younger counterpart who left education at 18 or 21 in 1990. But the older group will have – over their lifetime – more disposable income, a larger home, greater security in their house and their job and a better pension.

Goodwin and Ford illustrate their view of the UKIP demographic with the example of John, a hypothetical construct, who worked in a factory all his life, and always voted Tory (really; why – surely someone with that work history be much more likely to be a non-voter?), but switched to Labour in around 2000 on being made redundant at 50. He is now 64, has not worked in years, and has no prospects; voting UKIP enables him to kick against everyone.

No doubt there are some Johns out there. But they are not the whole or the largest part of that political generation.

Two further biographies might get you closer to the sociology of UKIP switchers. Imagine John has two cousins, Paul and Maureen. Paul worked in the Post Office in outer London till the mid-1980s, always voting Labour. He was made redundant as were many of the people he worked with but rather than just feel sorry for himself, he used his redundancy money to buy his council house. By the end of the decade he had three houses, two of them paying enough rent to cover the mortgages. Later, he took different office jobs without ever settling down. He tells friends they are his “hobbies”; it is his income as a landlord which keeps him afloat. The third house he sold ten years ago just before the recession hit. Successive moves have taken him away from London; his jobs will earn him almost no pension at all, and he is relying on selling the second house to tide him through retirement. The tax bill alone will be in six figures but his profit on the sale will be larger still; and between the state pension and his savings he will be on the same absolute income as twenty years ago – even if with inflation it will feel like a small, and shrinking, allowance. Paul voted Tory between 1992 and 2010 but dislikes Cameron and promises to never vote Tory again.

Maureen also grew up in a city, in her case Manchester. She left school, as all three did, at 16, and then worked in nursing. If she made it in the public sector, then her headline salary would now be double Paul’s, but this is misleading since she has had to cut her hours to care for her two elderly parents. If she is in the private sector then she will be on a zero hours contract and the minimum wage and working every shift she can – her salary will be half Paul’s – and someone else will have to cover her family’s emotional and physical needs. She has mainly voted Labour but never really identified with the party, and switched at times to the Liberal Democrats and even once or twice (although she does not like to admit it) to the Tories.  She lives in a council flat. Unlike Paul, she has a pension. But on retirement her disposable income will fall by three-quarters. She has no savings, and is not looking forward to the future.

An implied message of Ford and Goodwin’s book – although this is never adequately explained – is that immigration has supplanted anti-European sentiment as UKIP’s key policy and that this shift has accompanied UKIP’s break from tradition after this year’s European elections (it had secured high votes in the 2009 and 2004 elections but then subsided in the polls, this time it has held its ground). My sense is that there are hundreds of thousands of voters who have switched to UKIP principally because of its anti-immigrant message, and for whom race acts as an organising belief: it structures their nostalgia for their childhood, and their resentment at a world which offers declining opportunities to them.

But among this group, a number of years spent campaigning against the BNP – in London, Sunderland, and elsewhere – makes me that think there are many more Pauls switching to UKIP than there are Maureens or Johns (the Maureens of the world are noticeably a core demographic of many anti-racist campaigns). Ukip identifiers are people who grew up in working class families but who found that the politics of the 1980s offered them certain opportunities to accumulate savings and advance socially compared to the people around them. Rather than being grateful to the politicians who tried to split the working class (and even to some extent succeeded) this generation attributes its relative success to its members personal attributes (hard work, intelligence) which it finds missing in the younger generation. From a position of relative (but not absolute) security, this layer feels intense feelings of resentment at those who are “milking the system” – the single mothers you can read about in the Express with their football team-sized families, the asylum seekers living in their imaginary mansions – and somehow catching up with them. The fear of immigration shown by Farage’s newer admirers it follows is not a revolt of the most dispossessed but the resentment of people who believe they have something to lose, and are determined to keep ahead.

I may be wrong. This is the reason why people do research, in order to challenge their own assumptions (and, in this case, the stories that parties put out about themselves). But little in Ford or Goodwin’s sociology would enable you to predict which of Paul, John or Maureen would be the more likely future UKIP voter. In terms of the figures on which they focus, Paul, John and Maureen are near identical – white, fast approaching retirement, after having left formal education early.

If Ford and Goodwin were asking better questions, we would all have a clearer sense of which groups in Britain have been moving UKIP’s way.

Anti-fascism without fascists: how should the left organise against UKIP?



In spring this year, some different fragments of the British left, with former comrades of mine to the fore, launched “Stand up to UKIP” (SUTU) promising to turn against UKIP the strategies which were said to have been decisive to the recent defeat of British fascism. SUTU is a strange campaign: formed to challenge a solely electoral party, its website says very little about the coming by-election in Clacton, which has generated more publicity for UKIP than anything for months, but focuses instead on the coming UKIP conference, outside which SUTU promises to hold a protest. 

With the electoral defeat of the British National Party in 2010, there is no longer any far-right group in Britain capable of operating meaningfully in both elections and on the streets.

The demise of the BNP gives every impression of being fatal. The number of its elected councillors has dropped from 58 in 2009 to just 2 today (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/05/why-has-bnp-collapsed). Its declared membership has fallen from around 12,600 in 2009 to just 4,097 by 2012 (https://pefonline.electoralcommission.org.uk/Search/SearchIntro.aspx). In UKIP it faces an electoral rival which is well-financed, has support from important sections of the mainstream press, and shows every signs of being sufficiently durable so that the BNP should expect to be shut out for a generation. In the future, when individuals from fascist backgrounds win elections, they will almost certainly not be members of the British National Party.

Moreover, the British National Party has not been supplanted by an organisation with any discernible roots in fascism. The present conjuncture would be different if the English Defence League was not also in a seemingly irreversible decline. The EDL had among its membership a number of individuals who had come from the BNP, most notably its leader Tommy Robinson. In its few attempts to formulate an independent statement of its aims, the EDL attempted a fusion of militant English nationalism based on a nostalgic invocation of the separate interests of the white working class with surprising details from the history of the left (a clue is the author’s name in ‘Billy Blake’, Coming Down the Road (London: VHC Publishing, 2011). This combination was at least arguably comparable to similar attempts by different interwar groups.

The EDL too has lost all energy: it has no membership figures, it does not stand in elections, and even the “demo calendar” it used to publish on its website is no more. Wikipedia gives the following estimate of EDL assemblies: 9 in 2009, 18 in 2010, 24 in 2011, 12 in 2012, 5 in 2013, and exactly none in 2014 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_Defence_League_demonstrations). Yes, the Wikipedia page is an arbitrary source, and a number of early EDL marches are missing from the list, but the largest EDL assembly was three years ago at Luton (3000 people); the last time that the EDL turned out more than one tenth of its peak numbers (i.e. more than 300 people) was over a year ago, on 8 September 2013 at Tower Hamlets.

So should anti-fascists transfer their energy – and tactics – to UKIP? Should we see combating UKIP as one of our principal strategic priorities, something to which we devote people and resources, to the exclusion of (for example) campaigning against the Coalition government? Should we say – as we would of the BNP – that every UKIP candidate who is allowed an unchallenged platform, represents a temporary defeat for our movement? Should we offer UKIP, as we would the BNP, physical resistance?

The normal way in which an “anti-fascist” approach to UKIP is defended is by the argument that UKIP is pulling politics to the right.

I don’t think this is enough. In the actual context of a universal revulsion with the Thatcher-Major governments of the 1980s and 1990s, when the mainstream if politics was moving rapidly to the left (as shown for example, by the enormous 25-point poll lead Labour had stormed into within months of the 1992 election) it is arguable that Tony Blair’s election as leader of the Labour Party in 1994 pulled politics to the right. He used his enormous authority as Prime Minister in waiting, to argue against traditional social democratic policies of redistribution, nationalisation, etc, beginning with his immediate attack on Clause IV. Yet Blair was not targeted as a “fascist” or proxy fascist, and rightly not.

Moreover, UKIP is pulling politics to the right from a position as an outsider party. Part of the way in which people experience contemporary politics is as an unreal show, in which the same faces, supposedly representing different viewpoints but in fact disagreeing about nothing of significance, recur again and again. By the mere election of new people, UKIP promises to shake the snow globe of the existing order; opposition to UKIP, no matter how well handled gives the impression of trying to protect the old.

Now UKIP’s external status is of course contradictory. From the point of view of its policies, the class background of its leading figures its access to funds and even to press support, it is of course no outsider at all.

When anti-fascists fought the National Front or the BNP, there was the same risk of being perceived as the establishment’s shield, but the danger was significantly mitigated by what you might call the fractal nature of fascism. The BNP might bring new people into politics but behind them there were usually familiar figures from the long history of British fascism, people with criminal records for attacks on their opponents, the skinheads protecting the suits. Opposition to these local bullies, as to Tyndall or Griffin nationally, could connect with a local audience. UKIP, being a different sort of party, its national leaders are themselves an eclectic mix; and locally, its supporters often do not replicate UKIP as a whole.

(In fact, taking this point further, anti-fascist electoralism has worked best too when we could apply something like the same logic in reverse: when the people canvassing were involved in local unions or tenant campaigns or struggles to defend particular services, and were already locally known, so that they were bringing the credibility they had established in class campaigns into electoral politics, rather than being perceived as yet another set of outsiders).

While it was certainly arguable that the fascism of the 1970s was “spearheading” the country’s move to authoritarianism (i.e. the NF’s electoral defeat at the hands of Thatcher came at the cost of the partial absorption of NF ideas into state policy on immigration, the family, etc), there is no meaningful sense in which UKIP is any more at the forefront of a national lurch toward sexism, racism, militarism or towards any meaningful attack on the political left.

Anti-fascism places an exclusion zone around fascist politics, by arguing that they are unique and distinctive and particularly bad. It says, to a greater or lesser extent: we are all good people, save for those few who are not. In the coming Clacton bye-election, those canvassing against UKIP will be pressured by the logic of their situation to call for a Conservative vote as the only party who could keep them out. And yet, nowhere on the present British left can you find anyone with the confidence to argue this openly and support canvassing for the Tories as the last defence against the threat of Douglas Carswell (who was, after all, a Conservative until recently). Even my former comrades while promising to call for votes against Carswell (“Stand Up to UKIP will be campaigning locally against Carswell”; http://standuptoukip.org/clacton-dont-be-used-by-ukip/), will not say directly for who they will be urging people to vote: an uninspiring Labour candidate, an eco (rather than a social) Green…

50,000 people were deported from Britain in 2013 (http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/deportations-removals-and-voluntary-departures-uk), this figure is twice as many as in 2004, you cannot blame Carswell for any of these broken families. The mass impoverisation of welfare recipients through the bedroom tax, welfare caps, and attacks on the disabled, was pioneered by Cameron and Clegg as a conscious attempt to shift the blame for the 2008 bankers crisis – other than in the limited sense that he too is a banker, Farage was marginal to that process. UKIP cannot be blamed for Coalition policies to set up lecturers, doctors and (from next year) landlords as immigration police: these policies come from the Coalition, and predate UKIP’s recent rise.

For about 35 years, the dominant approach within important parts of the socialist left towards fascism has been what is known as No Platform. Loosely translated, it goes something like as follows.

Fascism is a unique political doctrine in that on the two occasions when recognisable fascist parties have held power they have actively rejected the parts of modernity which all other political traditions have respected. IE They have suppressed political democracy even in countries where there was a long history of democracy. And they have waged both war and genocide even in the heartlands of capitalism. Any recognisably fascist political party, granted sufficient power, carries the risk that it would do the same. That is what exactly fascism is for. Therefore while, for example, free speech is a cardinal principle of ordinary democratic behaviour, it must bend to the overriding need to defeat fascism, since free speech for fascists carries the seed of the risk of their victory.

Here is Lindsey German, a veteran of the Anti-Nazi League, justifying No Platform in the 1980s: “The experience of fascism in Germany and other countries before the war demonstrated that fascists could not be treated as simply another political party. They would use democratic channels to build their support, and then suppress all forms of political opposition – not simply left wing organisations, but trade unions, campaigning groups and so on.” (http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/german/1986/04/noplatform.html)

This idea is also expressed, by a previous generation, in the historian Edward Thompson’s memoir for his brother Frank, a British army officer who served alongside Bulgarian partisans, was captured by pro-fascists, and executed in 1944. EP Thompson publishes a letter Frank sent home to his family, in which the young soldier recalled the anti-fascists who had died in 1936 in Spain. He said that the conflict between England and Hitler was essentially the same struggle. In his words, “Those of us who came after” (i.e. the generation who died in 1939-45) “were merely adopting an idea, that they proved, that freedom and fascism can’t live in the same world, and that the free man, one he realises this, will always win” (http://www.dkrenton.co.uk/antifascism.html).

What happens though when the far-right party is not fascist, contains no recognisable fascists in its leadership, and carries no threat to the right of minorities to organise?

Anti-fascism is an imperative of left-wing politics: a call that caused the volunteers in Spain to give up jobs, homes and ultimately their lives. Opposition to UKIP may be defensible, useful and positive if done effectively, but it is not an urgent cause of the same moral stature.

Imagine Frank Thompson, ten years older, and having morphed seamlessly into the perhaps surprising role of career British officer, had been sent by the British government to fight Colonel Nasser “the new Hitler on the Nile”. I don’t doubt that he would have revolted against Eden’s logic and insisted that Nasser was no Nazi.

The Lindsey German piece I have quoted continues, “racists and sexists should not go unchallenged … But the way we challenge again has to be sensitive and not just a blanket ban.”

I am not suggesting that campaigning against UKIP is by definition wrong – I can imagine areas where it should be a local priority, indeed in some places the local priority. A genuine campaign against Farage, where he is standing Kent, makes a lot of sense to me, not least because such is his media profile that he will dominate the local contest – in a way that UKIP is unlikely to in the majority of its target seats. I would campaign against UKIP locally, temporarily and tactically – whereas I would campaign against the BNP, nationally, consistently and strategically.

And where people campaign against UKIP, I would hope that their tactics can have the effect not of cordoning off UKIP as an unhealthy aberration within the benign ecology which is British parliamentary politics; but of linking up activists’ dislike of them to their allies and to all Tories beyond. I would make the Rees-Moggs of the world (UKIP’s allies) as much of a target as the Carswells.

If no platform is an exceptional measure justifiable only because of the extreme risk fascism poses, then logically similar tactics – eg trying to prevent a UKIP speaker from addressing an audience at all lose their legitimacy when they are stretched beyond their original target. Applying no platform to non-fascists is like turning on a fire sprinkler in a lecture hall where there is no fire: strange, ineffective, and incomprehensible to your audience.

Escaping UKIP-land



Twelve days ago, in anticipation of UKIP’s victory in the European elections, Parliament introduced a first law aimed at appeasing UKIP voters. The Immigration Act 2014 makes it a criminal offence for a landlord to let a property if the tenant lacks the right to live here. It will not be the last legislation intended to prove that our politicians are “listening”, but it may be one of the nastiest. How is a landlord supposed to know that a prospective tenant lacks immigration status: from their accent, from their clothes, from their skin colour?

We have in Britain a ruling class that is already intensely relaxed about racism. Just ask the families of the 140 black or minority ethnic people killed by police officers since 1990, resulting in not a single conviction for murder or manslaughter. Or, look at the Cabinet: twenty-two London residents, chosen without any discernible connection of diligence, morality or talent. A city where just 45% of the population is white produces a leading syndicate in which just one out of 22 members is black, and he was picked, it seems, chiefly to ensure that alongside the many former public school boys turned PR professionals there is at least someone to represent the most vital demographic – bankers.

UKIP are not bad because their Deputy Leader was once a young David Irving fan, nor are they undesirable because Nigel Farage has brought into life something we never had before, a second, still more expressly racist version of the 1990-era Conservative Party.

They are contemptible because the racism which they preach and justify is an obstacle to the one thing that could take us out of the neo-liberal moment which the vast majority of people in Britain, Europe and the world regard as utterly opposed to their interests. Sick of the way in which the public sector was dismantled in order to protect the bankers’ bonuses; angry about the running down of the NHS, state education, and care services? There is a better answer, of course, than racism, it is to let the people who work in the services – the classroom assistants, the canteen staff, and the doctors – run them.

But to get there, we would need a huge increase in our capacity for collective solidarity, and we would need organisations (the trade unions, the tenants associations…) to have vastly more willingness to fight than they have now. And how can we get any of those things, if the 20% of Britain that is non-white is having its very presence here questioned? Racism divides; it does not protect a single white worker, its sole beneficiary is the rich.

We live in a democracy, in which how votes are cast can be just as important as who is elected. One in three voters has just opted for the most racist option open to them. Every other bigot watching will take heart from this.

But if something new did emerge on the left; a campaign which mobilised; a force serious about its anti-UKIP politics, what features would it have?

Part of UKIP’s success has been the ease with which it has manipulated a class of journalists always receptive to the message that the poor are switching rightwards and the sole remaining repositories of virtue are well-meaning university educated professionals (“an MA will save us”). If you stick Nigel Farage on Question Time every week, it’s no mystery that he will start to look as credible as any other politician.

Anti-racists need to occupy this terrain. Use social media, makes ourselves the rapid response unit that the press goes to for an anti-UKIP quote. We should demand to go on Question Time, or Have I Got News For You. We are entitled to: anti-racists are the majority. And if these programmes refuse, we should challenge the editors who give UKIP an easy ride.

We also have to learn to distinguish the forms of communication capable of a mass message, and those (the more intimate) which actually persuade. If we are going to speak to voters against UKIP then we need to shed the idea that by leafleting a half or a quarter of a constituency, or even a street or two, you have persuaded a single anti-UKIP voter. Do it, this is necessary work. But a street in which every door has been knocked and every voter spoken to is worth 10 that have received a general leaflet. No-one should kid themselves they are serious about “stop[ping] the new right-wing populism” unless they have the ambition of organising in Kent, with 2 of UKIP’s 20 target seats, in Essex, and in Rotherham.

We have to win positions in the minds of millions of people. That means that even if we have a short-term goal of winning certain positions on the left (for example, that UKIP cannot be normalised, within the unions or the political left) – that can only be the very first starting point in a much, much longer and more important discussion.

Ultimately, anti-racists can only win, if at the same time we succeed in getting millions of people to identify new solidarities appropriate to an age where only a minority of people are in full-time work, and only a minority of that minority are in unions.

The new face of the working class cannot be a miner or a steelworker; the unions in those industries were smashed years ago. Nor will it be a teacher or a lawyer. Maybe the future face of labour will be a nurse resisting privatisation, or a precarious cinema worker, or a worker in a fast food restaurant or a sports shop. Whoever it is, we have to find the campaigns that can resonate with millions and push them as far as they can go.

Unless we can find a new “we” – against the rich – against the bankers – against austerity – we will be ruled for ever by laws like the Immigration Act 2014 with its barely concealed purpose of protecting those landlords that keep foreigners out of their flats by bringing back the once-familiar signs, “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish”.

And we will be doomed to wake up in due course in a political system in which the political choice is limited to whichever one of David Cameron or Nigel Farage is, this week, the media’s favourite “outsider”.