Who are the people who vote for UKIP? Are they “Fruit- cakes, loonies and closet racists” as was suggested by David Cameron? Perhaps they are simply fascists, as countless Unite Against Fascism demonstrations would appear to imply. Maybe they’re a bit of everything: “racists, sexists, homophobes and bigots” as claimed by the Public and Commercial Services Union.
But maybe, just maybe, to the irritation of those who like colour-coded ring binders, the world isn’t as simple as the liberal elite like to make out. Instead, such moral absolutism in condemning UKIP supporters might not only be misguided but also actively damaging to the values we on the left try to uphold.
The problem has its roots in the tacit assumption that everyone else is ‘like us’. That is, we tend to erroneously hold people who espouse the anti-immigration, Islamphobic narrative that is rife within UKIP doctrine, to the standards of the university-educated middle classes. We are too ready to suggest that everyone is as culpable for their political views as the next person.
The reality is that not all UKIP voters are the spawn of Slytherin. Class is a privilege that must be checked along with race, gender and sexuality. What is true is that many people in Britain have experienced a discontent and disaffection few of us can begin to imagine; racist parents and peer groups, the necessity of seeking full-time employment at a young age, all-white council estates void of any ‘other’. These factors and more can become the parameters of a person’s existence. In many cases these people are victims – victims of social inequalities which manifest as a misguided ideology. Instead of demonizing and ignoring these victims, we should tackle the root of the problem: the social ills which created them.
Nevertheless, under a veneer of moralism, the liberal elite are unrelenting in their anti-UKIP dogma. More elaborate and creative ways are used to disparage their supporters as crazed bigots in a outburst of self-righteous moral exhalation. The narrative reaches its peak at the most sacrilegious of accusations: the racist. Once deemed as such, the liberal elite is allowed to abdicate responsibility from correcting whatever it is that has made them this way.
The inevitable consequence of this ostracization of the UKIP voting demographic is a strengthening of UKIP’s appeal as a party for real working people, creating a cycle of denigration and reaffirmation. Ideas and ideals, allowed to pass unchecked by the estranged left, are able to fester into something much uglier. There is no intellectual counter-voice for such disenfranchised people — just one which presupposes lunacy and bigotry on their part.
Sunday supplements packed with resorts, agar reviews, and hummus recipes are perhaps testament to the hijacking of the left wing press by the middle and upper classes. The disaffected UKIP voting working class are simply ignored, except that is, when they’re being ridiculed.
However, the values lefties fight for can only come with complete inclusion — we cannot neglect sections of the population by condemning them to society’s fringes. Thus, we cannot be so quick to demonise the UKIP as a troupe of racist bigots. Pretending this is the case serves to relieve guilt about the fact that our society is failing some people, but we must realise that it gets us nowhere near eradicating the injustice which produces political parties like Farage’s.
Instead, we need to try and understand precisely why this nationalist party has become popular. To do this we need to connect to the humans experiencing discontent, and furthermore, we must challenge the discontent itself. The left will work this out eventually, but whether or not they will through a premeditated change in strategy or brutal market forces, remains to be seen.
Concerns about the impact of immigration, the effect of the EU, and the disconnect between politicians and ‘real people’ are legitimate; they are important debates that need to happen within the realm of popular politics. That some people support UKIP on account of those concerns is undoubtedly the case. Nevertheless, to allow UKIP to get away with claiming that they represent the ‘ordinary working man’ is both an insult to the vast majority of Britons and a dangerous narrative that assumes only UKIP can provide the solutions to such problems.
The crucial question is whether you sneer at UKIP, or those who support them. It is perfectly possible to laugh at the dinosaurs that inhabit such a party, without necessarily laughing at those who share certain viewpoints with them. Yet, I cannot help but think that UKIP is a fringe party with fringe solutions. A broadly libertarian economic policy — a national flat tax — is combined with protectionist rhetorical flourishes — “Nationalise the Railways!” — to produce an utterly incoherent message. Does UKIP support a smaller or larger state? Does UKIP want us to trade with the outside world or retreat into protectionism? Googling the ‘UKIP position’ on these questions didn’t help.
Admittedly, other mainstream political parties do not have entirely coherent answers to these questions either. Nevertheless, the Lib Dems, a party that seems to have undergone a five year identity crisis, at least have some common ideological ground. A vote for the Lib Dems means a vote for a centrist party, which is somewhat economically interventionist, anti-war and strongly believes in civil libertarianism. I could not sum up UKIP’s position as a political entity in this way. It is so broad a church that its members seem to worship different political gods.
A common stance on one referendum question, the EU, does not make up for this. There is no shared vision for a post-EU Britain, except for the continued assertion that it would be better. In fact, Farage repeatedly avoids answering difficult questions on various political issues by claiming that they are less important than EU membership, or somehow tangentially linked to it. Blithely ignoring the fact that the European Court of Human Rights is a separate institution to the EU, he dodges answering queries about UKIP’s position on, for example, media regulation, by broadly blaming ‘Europe’ for any and every problem.
This lack of coherency is exacerbated by the fact that the councillors and MEPs of UKIP often show themselves to have views that deserve to be ridiculed. Without any ideological basis, it becomes impossible to claim that these ideas are ‘not part of UKIP’. In fact, these idiosyncrasies and the avoidance of ‘politically correct’ viewpoints in part define Farage’s popularity. He laughs off the hateful statements made by his party representatives as if they are just part of its fabric. In reality, they seem to be the defining feature of his party.
At this point, I’ll confess to being a member of the privately educated liberal elite that is so often accused of sneering at UKIP. I sneered at them when they attempted to pretend that one councillor warning of ‘gay floods’ was not representative of entrenched homophobia in their party, and I sneered at them when Farage tried to claim that being scared of Romanians was not xenophobic. Angling my nose when any party member appears on TV is one of my favourite hobbies.
So, any time you see UKIP campaigners, don’t try and find out what they stand for, there’s no point. You’ll just end up getting the same evasive answers to the same boring questions. No matter how intelligent the party representative is, they can’t claim that UKIP has a policy on anything but unfounded post-Europe optimism. Laughing at their party is much more fun, and about as productive.