British politics is in a panic over UKIP. It deserves to be

by Kevin Meagher

The sound of flapping emanating from SW1 is the panicky reaction to yesterday’s YouGov poll for the Sunday Times which has UKIP set to win next month’s European elections, leading the pack on 31 per cent.

But that noise is also the sound of Westminster’s chickens coming home to roost.

The threat from UKIP seems to mystify many, but probably gets clearer the further away you are from the bubble. As identity becomes more important in our politics, voters seek out those who look and sound like them and stand for the things they feel are important.

As both the Tories and Labour have coalesced around a new centre-ground consensus in recent years, leaving millions of their traditional supporters behind in the process, space has been opened up on both the right and left flanks of politics, with UKIP successfully fusing together elements of the traditionalist Tory Middle England and the disgruntled working-class.

There is nothing startling about UKIP’s advance, indeed it might have come a decade ago but for the fact the BNP exercised first option on becoming Britain’s reactionary, anti- politics movement of choice.

Of course, the BNP could never shake off its associations with neo-fascism and skin-headed thuggery. UKIP has no such baggage, despite the fact that some of its local election candidates are currently being exposed as crackpots.

For a new party with a skeleton structure, it’s hardly surprising they’ve picked up a few misfits along the way, even those with repulsive views like William Henwood, a council candidate in Enfield who urged Lenny Henry to “go and live in a black country.”

But UKIP is sharpening its act and digging in for the long haul. The party now has 35,000 members and wealthy benefactors like Paul Sykes, who funded their current poster campaign.

So how does the mainstream respond to UKIP’s insurgency? Well, not by shouting ‘racist’ at Nigel Farage and hoping for the best, which seems to be the current strategy. If we are saying that challenging the Westminster consensus on immigration with a few spicy posters is tantamount to the rise of the Third Reich, then what invective do we reserve for those with truly horrific views?

More prosaically, it doesn’t work. UKIP plies its trade as the outsider in the cosy club. Farage simply soaks up the notoriety as proof that UKIP is getting under the skin of the other parties. To voters inclined to wave two fingers at Westminster, it’s hardly surprising when the rest of politics gangs up on him.

But the politics of smear-and-point simply leaves us all with dirty hands. If our public debate has descended to sniggering about Farage’s German-born wife, then its presumably fair game on other leaders’ spouses too?

The only way to curtail UKIP is to remove the issues it feeds upon. Pro-Europeans who have misled the public for forty years about the scope of European integration and neo-liberals who offer the economically disadvantaged nothing more than the prospect of being priced out of their jobs by cheaper migrant workers shouldn’t be surprised when some voters throw the offer back in their faces.

Europe remains emblematic of how so many people feel that politics has moved away from them. Yet our political class completely under-estimates just how much poison has now built up and just how angry and disillusioned so many millions of voters have become. Refounding our relationship with the EU through an in/out referendum would help drain that poison.

As would being clearer that immigration and the free movement of people should fulfil its original purpose: facilitating a few Belgian architects to work on French hydro-electric projects, rather than allowing millions of eastern Europeans to undercut the low-paid.

It’s about our political culture too. A self-perpetuating Westminster elite, framing our public discussion and deciding which issues are acceptable and unacceptable, has served to alienate and infuriate the millions of voters who now flock to UKIP.

To see how our political class deals with UKIP on twitter is to read accusations of insanity, immorality or racism. Is this designed to win potential UKIP voters back for the mainstream?

UKIP isn’t bothered in the slightest that it’s mainly disaffected older people who are attracted to its unfashionable, reactionary message. As the academics Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford point out:

“UKIP has virtually no support among the financially secure and the thirty- and fortysomething university graduates who dominate politics and the media. Support is weak among women, white-collar professionals and the young. Ethnic-minority voters shun the party totally.”

But it doesn’t need to appeal to a wide spectrum of voters. It represents a niche offering targeted at specific groups. Neither Labour nor the Tories seem to understand that this is how the free market in electoral politics works: if you don’t want those voters who you consider hold outmoded views any longer, then someone else does.

Westminster doesn’t look or sound like vast swathes of the country any longer, or say and think the same things. Until it does, Nigel Farage will continue to blow cigarette smoke in the faces of our befuddled political class.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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24 Responses to “British politics is in a panic over UKIP. It deserves to be”

  1. Terry Casey says:

    It surprises me how popular UKIP is but not how unpopular the other parties have become.
    UKIP appeals to the homophobic, racist and xenophobic part of our population and as the latest survey shows the over sixties are those that are their biggest supporters, those brought up in an era that was racist, homophobic and xenophobic.
    UKIP will be undone when people take a serious look at their policies, especially their 31% flat rate tax which alongside most of their policies will hit the ordinary worker very hard.
    The other Parties are a different thing, being a card holder I will probably vote Labour but I can honestly say it is a vote to keep out the others rather than a vote of confidence for Labour. I am utterly underwhelmed with what is on offer or what went before, I feel let down by my Party, I feel my Party has been hi-jacked by those devoted to themselves and not the people who vote them in, I am disgusted no one is shouting about the sell off of the NHS, it is as if it isn’t important, it is like OK we have lost it, lets move on! People will not vote for that Kind of inaction, the NHS is the most important thing in this country and they are not fighting for it. I want my “Labour” party back not the champaign Charlies we have had over the last 17 years. The biggest mistake we ever made was to allow apparatchiks to be parachuted into seats rather than have local representatives, all it did was to fill the chamber with like minded career politicians, and they are failing us dreadfully. they don’t care if we lose the NHS they are rich enough to have Private health care and private schools etc. etc. we need a change as we have lost the core vote and we will lose those like myself if nothing changes, we are not a soft Tory Party we are The Labour Party and we need to get back to that.

  2. steve says:

    Although I’d vote to leave the EU I am baffled as to why Labour fails to present the pro-EU case. If there are benefits why not tell us about them instead of hiding away and hoping the matter goes away.

    Miliband could have walked-the-walk by participating in the Farage TV debate but declined the opportunity.

    My impression is that there is very little that can be said in favour of the EU, apart from it being an extravagantly resourced job creation scheme for the elite, which is why they’re so keen on it.

    But if there are benefits, let’s hear about them.

  3. Guest says:

    I agree with much of this article but when it says that, “both the Tories and Labour have coalesced around a new centre-ground consensus in recent years, leaving millions of their traditional supporters behind in the process” I disagree. I think some negative experiences of immigration and globalisation has shifted the centre-ground as opposed to politicians moving onto the centre-ground.

  4. Tafia says:

    UKIP will be undone when people take a serious look at their policies, especially their 31% flat rate tax which alongside most of their policies will hit the ordinary worker very hard.

    Well lets hope they’ll take a more serious look than you eh? You omit to mention that it’s linked to a ‘citizens income’.

  5. Terry Casey says:

    The Citizens income will replace tax allowances so will make no difference to ordinary taxpayers but an increase in tax, but will make a hell of a lot of difference to top rate taxpayers, I con on the british people.

  6. bob says:

    Terry Casey: the NHS has been effectively sold off under the last Labour government led by Blair and subsequently Brown. They embraced PFI to keep the money off the Treasury books. They could have stopped this on day one. At the moment Central Manchester NHS Trust has a ‘mortgage’ due to PFI in the region of 5.5 BILLION, yes billion pounds over the next 35 years, South Manchester NHS Trust is looking at 20 million pound deficit reduction over the next couple of years, there PFI is 1.1 Billion over 30 years, the initial cost of the new build was about 70 million.

    Blair and Brown could have stopped PFI on hour one, day one in 1997, but DID NOT.

    Vite Labour, get NO CHANGE and the potential for it to get worse.

  7. Tom Hadland says:

    Why not see if the Daily Mail or Express will publish this, Kevin – UKIP have managed to convince millions of people that Romanians and Poles are after their jobs, and by dismissing freedom of movement as ‘millions of Eastern Europeans undercutting the low paid’ you are doing their job for them, well done.

    You ignore – as does everyone so far – that freedom of movement has allowed millions and millions of British people to live and work in EU countries at some point. More of us are currently living / working abroad in the EU than any other EU nation. Something like 300,000 Brits went to work in European countries last year. How many of those would survive your ‘Belgian architects’ test? Definitely not the hundreds of thousands who retire abroad, or have a holiday home that they can come and go to as they please. If we’re using UKIP-style arguments to stop people living abroad, then you could say that those people create enclaves of their own culture, fail to learn the local language and price. learn the local language, and price locals out of desirable regions of their own country.
    What about Brits who work abroad? Again, definitely not those who run the thousands of ex-pat pubs, restaurants and shops, employing their own friends and family members. Nor would the thousands of young Brits who work in the tourist industry on the Mediterranean or ski resorts.
    Perhaps some of the rest of Brits who work abroad could define their job as ‘highly skilled’, but who gets to decide that, exactly? We would have to persuade European countries that our citizens are generally ‘highly skilled’ and should be allowed in, but that theirs are generally not, and should be shut out. Good luck with that.

    In short, what you – and UKIP – seem to be pushing for would lock hundreds of thousands of British people out of the chance to live and work in the EU. We would in effect become like a former communist country where a tiny proportion of the people who wanted to live and/or work in the EU were actually allowed to. That sounds like a pretty miserable place to live. I venture most people – even UKIP supporters – would rather reject a future for their kids and grandkids in which living and working abroad is only something that the elite few are able to do.

  8. John reid says:

    Steve, word for word Yes.

    Terry Casey ,although I would use the Word prejudice, to define a lot of those so called over 60’s you feel vote Ukip, ,the Tag racist and Zenophobic seems a bit,il judged, concerns over other religious cultures, ,rather than race,that have happened due too immigration, are misplaced, but look at everyone from former Labour MP Robert Kilroy silk,too Peter Shore’s widow,both of whom have stood for Ukip, both over 60′ I wouldn’t call them racist

  9. Kevin says:

    Tom – you say:

    Something like 300,000 Brits went to work in European countries last year.

    So less than 1 per cent o the UK workforce. A niche point to make a general argument?

  10. Terry Casey says:

    John Reid, you miss my point, this country is a very different place than 60 years ago, I am 67 and was brought up in those very prejudiced times, a lot of my age group have not embraced the enlightened times and reflect back to those days when even the Irish were deemed not wanted here. indoctrination starts young and it takes a lot to break away from the format from which we were reared.

  11. Tafia says:

    Terry – The Citizens income will replace tax allowances so will make no difference to ordinary taxpayers but an increase in tax, but will make a hell of a lot of difference to top rate taxpayers, I con on the british people.

    And therein lies your utter naivety. Ordinary tax payers couldn’t care less about top rate taxpayers paying less so long as they themselves don’t pay more and it’s not less than them (which it currently us because of clever accountants – no allowances removes that).

    Most people would support a flat rate income tax (absorbing NI) with no allowances – because it’s simple to understand – and simplicity is the key. If your policies on everyday matters can’t be understood by someone only bright enough to stack shelves then they won’t vote for them. Why should they.

    Tom/Kevin – So less than 1 per cent of the UK workforce. A niche point to make a general argument? And the UK workers who went out are mainly skilled whereas the eastern europeans coming in are not. People know this – they see it around them all the time day in, day out. Having to compete for low skill, no skill jobs, being overtaken in social housing waiting lists, being unable to get NHS dental places, struggling to get their children into the school of choice, their kids falling behind because half the other kids can’t speak English. Comparing skilled graduates going to Germany (such as my daughter), to supermarket workers and labourers etc coming here is a false argument that people have seen straight through and until the main parties not only acknowledge ity but also do something about it then UKIP will continue to grow. The main topic at the next General Election is going to be Europe now and there is nothing the main parties can do to stop that

  12. Vern says:

    The main parties have allowed UKIP to grow by simply disengaging with the electorate. More than a decade of Labour and i thought that the Tories would have been listening carefully to the people on the streets, waiting for their moment to gain control again (in particular the disaffected youth) but it would appear that they had their fingers in their ears throughout Labour’s term. The electorate can see little difference between these 2 parties.

    Whether you like it or not – Farage is listening and can be seen as genuinely having the country’s interests at heart because he responds to them. People sniping in the background about their lack of economic policy need only look at the other parties who also lack a credible and visible plan.

    And Tafia, people do care about the tax payed by people – they expect fair and reasonable treatment based on ability to pay. Adopting Blair and Brown’s mantra that “nobody cares how rich the rich get, as long as the poor dont get poorer!” simply doesn’t wash. It just makes the gap between rich and poor greater but champagne socialists know all about this.

    Personally, i fit into none of the strereotypes that Kevin thinks UKIP voters drop into, neither do the broad spectrum of individuals that i mix with – but all are moving closer to UKIP!

  13. Tafia says:

    And Tafia, people do care about the tax payed by people – they expect fair and reasonable treatment based on ability to pay.

    Nope you are wrong. People get annoyed about the fact that at the bottom they pay the basic rate plus national insurance and at the top the are supposed to pay the higher rate and national insurance but in fact employ accountants to use every allowance they can dig out to reduce their tax burden to below what ordinary people pay whilst at the same time national insurance is capped. That is what people care about.

    What UKIP propose is amalgamating NI with tax (which effectively removes the NI cap which only benefits the rich anyway) and doing away with all the tax breaks (which again only benefited the rich anyway) and bringing in 31% across the board. 31% is less than the cumulative tax/NI that ordinary people pay now, and because of current tax avoidance by the rich, more than the rich end up paying now.

    Therefore, it is a system in which the lower paid pay less and the higher paid pay more, that is simple to understand, simple to administer and very very difficult to avoid.

  14. Vern says:

    Tafia, this may be very hard for you to believe, but on this occassion it is you that is wrong. You see, i wrote the response based upon my own principles and those i understand are shared by many others and not simply regurgitating your parties mantra.

  15. Tafia says:

    My party? My party is currently Plaid Cymru. You see vern, just because UKIP have some ideas does not mean they are wrong. In fact there are ‘progressives ‘ in Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, SNP & Plaid who also think that there should be some form of guarenteed income ( a citizens income or whatever you wish to call it ) and then a flat rate of tax with no allowances. There is also substantial support for that in Ireland as well and it is already in place in several european countries and more are considering it.

    What you are avoiding saying is that the people in the high tax bracket do not pay that tax – they use accountants to swerve it and end up paying a lower percentage of their income than people on the standard bracket and by avoiding it, you are actively supporting it. Unless you are terminally stupid and think Labour will close the tax loopholes – hardly likely being as their MPs use them and they are now a middle class party so their now favoured middle England also use them.

  16. Ex Labour says:

    @ Tafia

    You are typical of the politics of envy brigade. Why should people who are successful have to provide for the feckless, feral and workshy ? The wealthy (1%) contribute almost 30% of our Income Tax revenue. Where would the country be if they up-sticks and move on ? What happens to the NHS, schools, social support services etc.?

    The tax burden in this country is too high for every tax bracket, and thats because successive left leaning governments have tried to make us into a collectivist nation where all the social studies show that we are individualistic in nature. So the vast majority of the population sick and tired of being milked, not just the rich.

  17. John Reid says:

    Well said ex labour, and yes Tafia ,there are those even in labour who support a flat rate of tax

  18. Tafia says:

    Ex Labour – Have you not read what I wrote? Go back and read it again – it’s not complicated to understand. A flat rate of 31% (with NI absorbed) across the board above a certyain gurenteed income with no allowances is actually less tax than the low paid pay now. So therefore you are opposing the low paid paying less tax.

    It is also less than the rich are supposed to pay now but will raise more because they will be unable to dodge it. Therefore you are opposing lowering the riches % obligation which they never pay anyway, in return for a bigger take.

    So you support allowing the rich to continue to dodge their tax obligations and at the same time you support not cutting tax to the low paid.

    And you oppose a more streamlined system thaty eis easier to understand, requires a far smaller bureacracy to administer and thus costs the Exchequer less to supervise.


  19. Ex Labour says:


    I suggest you go back and read what you wrote in several responses and understand what my point was.

    You claim the rich don’t pay the tax they should and they all use accountants to dodge paying. You have bought into the Siliband meme of the “rich bankers”. To suggest that every wealthy person avoids tax, and by the way tax avoidance is legal, is just a complete nonsense.

    I agree a simplified tax system is preferable to the mess we have at the moment, but you seem to suggest that our problems lie with the wealthy. This is a massive oversimplification.

    When Labour put the tax up to 50% the treasury lost 7 billion in revenue. Of course the numpties in Labour didn’t want to hear that and still don’t. However if they gain power and put the tax rate back up what will happen ?

    The people who are really being milked are the middle income earners. The headline rate of 40% is complete bollox, they are actually paying more like 62%. This is not the fault of the rich, it’s the fault of the previous Labour governments policies and also the failure of this government to address this inequality.

    My point was previously it’s too easy and lazy thinking to blame the wealthy. The tax system is a mess but fault lies with successive governments, particularly Labour who have tried to “redistribute”. Now we have Siliband talking about “predistribution” and this will surely make a bad situation worse.

  20. Tafia says:

    To suggest that every wealthy person avoids tax, and by the way tax avoidance is legal, is just a complete nonsense.

    You assume I mean the rich – I mean those on the higher rate, of which I was one and one year I walked off with 60 grand net and paid just 16 quid tax, all perfectly legally and was even helped to do it by the local tax inspector. Not once in the 5 years I was in it did I ever pay more than a couple of hundred quid in tax and not once did I ever meet anyone on the higher rate that was maying very much either.

    That is not right. Not only that it is not unusual either. Nobody on the higher rate actually pays it so stop all the pretence, lower the higher rate and remove the allowances.

  21. Ex Labour says:

    @ Tafia

    You dont say what you did or what you were “in” but the fact that you and those you knew did not pay tax is not proof that everyone paying higher rate tax employs accountants to avoid it. Read up on David Hulmes ‘Induction of Logic’. Induction is the practice of drawing general conclusions based on particular experiences and where this leads to the wrong answer.

    I have friends who are on higher rate and they pay what HRMC demand, so bang goes your arguement.

    Why is it “not right” ? You did nothing wrong; you did not evade tax, you used the current tax law to avoid tax – nothing illegal there. I for one would gladly use accountants to avaoid tax if I earned enough to make it worthwhile. Sadly I dont, but HMRC still see me and millions like me as a cash cow.

  22. Tafia says:

    I’ve done many things including soldier, police, supermarket, agricultural labourer, hospitality and entertainment, contract security, transport, tourism, warehousing, secure courier, computers, bit of body guarding and even dabbled in journalism and now – at the age of 56, I work on a beach in North Wales and already have two good pensions paying out and two more to come in the next few years and live a pretty stress free laid-back life. Only been out of work once, for 10 days in 1975. I have never had a loan, never had an overdraft and never had a credit card. All my spare money I buy bullion and foreign currencies (if you ever want to know how to buy silver without paying VAT drop me a line. For some reason in UK gold is VAT free, but you have to pay VAT on silver. There’s a way around it though.)

    I even bought a BMW once – brand new in cash. But I currently drive a beat-up 13 year old diesel Corsa van cos it’s ideal for my fishing kit.

  23. Tafia says:

    Oh – and I designed and fitted disabled kitchens and bathrooms with one of my mates who owned the company for a while as well.

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