here are two common reactions on the Left
to the recent rise of UKIP - the cynical and the hysterical.
New Labour analysts are nothing if not realists. A
combination of middle class frustration with an incompetently
led and divided Tory Party and an aggressive ‘climate
of fear’ security agenda designed to stimulate the
testosterone glands of the men in white vans should, in their
view, be sufficient to salami-slice the traditional Tory
vote at the next Election.
To such analysts, UKIP is a short-term opportunity to be
exploited. Its rise might even frighten enough liberals
into sticking with the devil they know and so ensure the
majority that is needed for four or five more years of power.
Liberals and progressives, meanwhile, are getting themselves
into a thorough tizzy about a chimera. UKIP is not
as nasty as they think it is. It only exists because
it meets the needs of a genuine groundswell of anxiety about
New Labour's programme of modernisation.
The true importance of UKIP lies somewhere between its
short term utility to New Labour and its occasion for moral
outrage. It is a uniquely English response to a broader
phenomenon - the revolt against centralised modernisation
and the perception that freedoms are being eroded by a political
elite that is neither entirely honest nor competent.
If there is a barrier to any further growth by UKIP within
the political process, it lies in the relatively sound economic
management of Gordon Brown even as his taxation and regulatory
policies fuel the anger of its small and medium-sized business
UKIP is fuelled by problems in regions that are decaying
as fast as inner cities in the Thatcher era but for opposite
reasons. The decay is cultural and environmental not
economic and it arises from a combination of over-concentrated
economic growth and lack of public expenditure on the ground
to manage its effects.
The inner contradiction of the UKIP revolt is that it has
the makings of a revolt against taxation, centralisation
and modernisation but its recent growth owes more to lack
of spending by Government than to any other factor.
Central Government imposes a vast range of duties on Councils
that are really extensions of national social policy and
something has to give. What gives are frontline local
services and any sense of responsible planning for the community. Local
people are accused of being Nimbys and are allowed no voice
on environmental effects yet they have to live with the consequences.
Voters, especially the older generation, are watching the
towns and villages they live in decay before their eyes under
the pressure of litter, small shop and post office closures
(now extending into these towns from the villages) and ‘anti-social
behaviour’. Levels of noise and pollution, without
the checks and balances introduced by inner city Councils
like Islington and Camden, are increasing.
From a core of europhobes regarded as fanatics by the rest
of the euro-sceptical movement, UKIP has grown to feed on
discontents that are not only about abstract issues such
as ‘freedom’ or single issues such as Europe
or migration. They are directly related to central
Government's attempts to use local Councils as transmission
belts. People cannot see why things are getting worse
and what they can do about it except to protest.
Outside the South East, the problem is the direct opposite
- duties imposed on localities without the economic development
to pay for it. The hospitals and schools may be improving
(and all the evidence suggests that they are) but neo-liberal
policies are undercutting the sense of place and locality
that is important to many of the indigenous population without
generating surpluses to spend on improvements. Protesters
have no analysis, only experience to call upon.
Hysteria from the Left about UKIP tends to come from accusations
of xenophobia and racism. Although UKIP may attract
nasty types who see more long-term opportunities with UKIP
than with the BNP, all the evidence suggests that, while
UKIP is culturally conservative and nationalist, it is not
Much of the assumption that UKIP is xenophobic arises from
the anti-Muslim diatribe, published in error in a Sunday
newspaper, that resulted in Robert Kilroy-Silk being
ousted from the BBC and into a leading position at UKIP.
In fact, Kilroy-Silk's first attempt to grab the leadership
of UKIP as a milk-and-water Jorg Haider ran into the sand
and the leadership of UKIP remains what it always was - small-minded,
petit-bourgeois and probably basically both decent and a
bit stupid at the same time.
It is far more convenient for the Left Establishment to
label UKIP as racist and fascist than to deal with its own
complicity in their rise through their policies of aggressive
development and centralisation of power.
If UKIP has an unintentional godfather, it is John Prescott
whose office appears incapable of understanding that non-urban
and small town communities need to have a stake in their
For example, more housing is a good but the use of the
market through the easing of planning laws without consensual
community-driven expert planning of the surrounding environmental
infrastructure is not good.
The short-term policy of encouraging housing to let has
degraded whole inner town areas, without providing the housing
needed in the villages. Licensing policies are turning
inner towns into imitations of Ibiza just as Government claims
to be concerned about anti-social behaviour.
The common denominator behind all this is Government's
odd combination of corporatism and market solutions. Local
Government is told what to do - and one of things it is told
to do is to obey legal frameworks that privilege private/public
partnership and the rights of business.
So, while the cynical New Labour view about UKIP is probably
correct, UKIP still represents, in part, a legitimate revolt
against both modernisation and the political class. This
is a revolt that should have been led from the Left and we
should still worry that it is UKIP and not us who are leading
UKIP might claim to be protecting England's liberties against
foreign encroachment, but it is instructive that right-wing
libertarians do not like UKIP precisely because it might
well have the propensity to protect those liberties through
This, we suppose, is the root of Blunkett's own argument
that New Labour must be decisive about security in order
to pre-empt the Right from capturing this territory. But
surely the Left should be dealing with the causes of the
discontent in Middle England instead of simply adopting more
palatable versions of policies that the Right might adopt
if they got truly nasty.
What should the Left do about UKIP? First, it should
take it seriously. Second, it should have a strategy
for undercutting its appeal. Third, it should not panic.
A key element of Left policy should be to end the cultural
war on indigenous rural and small town cultures, of which
the fox-hunting bill is only the most obvious example, and
to start devolving control of community planning and service
provision along democratic socialist lines.
Ideally, Prescott and Blunkett should be replaced with
people capable of understanding that economic development
and law and order require the informed consent of
the governed ˇ stealth measures in economic, planning
and security policy fuel distrust.
Above all, New Labour should understand that the European
experiment, the associated liberalisation of the European
economy and the creation of a security apparat for the European
State are justifiably matters of concern to the English people.
I have diminished the real long term threat of UKIP and
I hold by that view. However, I am concerned about
the next stage in our national political trajectory.
It is madness that a whip-driven House of Commons, under
both main parties, can over-ride local cultures and communities
and individual rights over and over again without recourse
to anything other than the judicial process, another accretion
of unaccountable power. It is madness that a whip-driven
New Labour can still (after seven years) not have established
the sort of democratic, libertarian, socialism that can build
on the sound economic strategies of the Chancellor, create
sustainable wealth, improve infrastructures and take us out
of the limelight of involvement in imperialist wars.
UKIP should be a wake-up call - not about the threat of
racism and fascism but about a divided nation. Activists
one day may not merely take to the streets in harmless demonstrations
and stunts that outrage the increasingly pompous Mr. Hain,
but they may provide the seeds for the sort of violence that
we might associate with Italian politics.
Perhaps this is what UKIP may come to represent - the first
serious strike in a coming war of State and People. As
in all such crises, the true statesperson finds a way not
to provoke the confrontation in the first place.