How popular is UKIP

| UKIP's halting rise

At the beginning of May 2013 the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) with its chairman Nigel Farage on the verge of a breakthrough: in the local elections it won 26 percent of the vote after national opinion polls had predicted around 20 percent.

How can that be? UKIP had been aggressively exposed in the press. The latest revelations had identified Nazis and other eccentrics from right-wing subcultures in their ranks. The media had pointed out racist and eugenic statements in social networks and published pictures of UKIP members who denied the Holocaust, wielded weapons and called out "Sieg Heil". None of this affects a minority within the party. Leading members, such as the EU parliamentarian Roger Helmer, speak out in a right-wing radical way about homosexuality, rape and climate change. UKIP recently voted in the European Parliament to be the chairman of the French Front National, Marine Le Pen, from possible prosecution for racist incitement. If anyone wanted to prove that UKIP is a party of right-wing extremist idiots, there would be plenty of evidence.

And yet: The UKIP voters obviously don't care. They are not deterred by racism and homophobia and seem insensitive to the alliances that UKIP is entering into. This may limit UKIP's electoral potential, but one fifth of the votes cast is not nothing. At least it is enough to drive the conservative Tories properly into the parade and likely to do a lot of other damage. It is time not only to expose UKIP, but to examine it closely.

What is UKIP? The reactionary milieu

The United Kingdom Independence Party was founded in 1993 by Alan Sked, a professor of London School of Economics, and former Liberal Party candidate. The historian Sked was and remains a politically marginalized figure. Nonetheless, he started this initiative just as the dispute over European issues left a deep wedge in the base of the Tories drove. Thatcherism always stood for a coalition between social-liberal, pro-European modernizers and the old, social-authoritarian, xenophobic hardliners. With the collapse of the USSR and the enlargement of the EU, UKIP became one of the early homesteads of Torieswhich overflowed to the right for precisely these reasons. Therefore, UKIP has always been a basis for the various gossip and conspiracy theorists of the extreme right. However, Sked left the party four years after it was founded, complaining that his former comrades were "racist and infected by the extreme right." He believed - wrongly, as it turned out - that the party, because of such alliances, could never overcome its marginality.

In fact, UKIP succeeded precisely because it was able to take a reactionary milieu under its wing. She succeeded in the right Tories to become hegemonic and rivals like the Referendum party or the Veritas to displace. The temporary fragmentation and weakening of the extreme right made UKIP attractive as a political home.

Unstable alliances

That doesn't make her an easy alliance. UKIP is nominally a libertarian party, which makes certain of its positions appear hesitant or even slightly distorted. Take LGBT rights, for example: UKIP is reluctant to equate homosexual partnerships with marriage. As traditionalists, however, they cannot tolerate interference in the church's right to define the nature of marriage. So their attitude is careful not to prescribe homophobia, even if that is difficult to reconcile with the view that homosexuality is a disease.

Until now the alliance holds. In a sense, UKIP is a secular transmigration of Thatcherism, a symptom of conservatism falling apart. It is also a refuge for British fascism: refugees of the British National Party (BNP) romp about at UKIP. The integration of the extreme right is likely to be deliberate. The fascists may not be the center of gravity within UKIP, but they are an element of this fragile coalition that is trying to rally enough strength to support it Tories attack from the right.

What connects the individual elements of UKIP is the social-paranoid ideology of the far-right camp. It is dominated by a conspiracy-theoretical view of the EU as a kind of socialist conspiracy, in which eurocrats ride on the backs of small business people and favor mass immigration as well as the welfare state.

Various implicit chains of meaning emanate from this central paranoid concept: They link the “EUdSSR” with insecurity, social disruption and an alleged ethnic ambiguity of the once respectable working class (“the whites are going black”). They link the social hardships of small business people to the domination of metropolitan elites who impose policies that are "aloof" ", not based on" common sense ", and squander the country to strangers. They link the democratic deficit in the EU and increasingly also in Great Britain with rationalistic, "politically correct" guidelines from the continent (keyword "Eurobananas") and contrast them with the more venerable, down-to-earth institutions of British society, which are rooted in a centuries-old tradition.

Who will join UKIP and who will vote?

The core members of UKIP are medium-sized. Rep. Godfrey Bloom illustrates this well: "We have doctors who are tax experts themselves, painters and decorators who know all about defense issues, and branch managers and retired dentists who understand the country's most complex political problems." To achieve the current level of approval, UKIP had to expand far beyond this domestic territory.

Voting for UKIP is not just an apolitical 'protest' against the status quo. Two key examples of UKIP's recent successes can be found in South Shields (26 percent) and Eastleigh (27.8 percent). The former has been a safe bank for Labor since 1935; the latter is the liberal democratic heartland. In both electoral areas, UKIP had the greatest support among ex-Tory voters (and to some extent liberals as well). This underscores that the voice for UKIP is deliberately right-wing.

An interesting study of UKIP support in the 2009 European elections - that year UKIP's success was accompanied by unprecedented, strong results for the BNP - found that the party was well positioned to dramatically expand its base and become one to build a much more permanent alliance than the BNP was able to do. Based on a broad database, the study identified two central types of UKIP voters: the “staunch loyalist” and the “strategic defector”. The former consisted of sections of the working class and the lower middle class, who are addressed by the populist and Islamophobic program. The latter included supporters from the wealthier middle class who are traditionally conservative but who wanted to force the Tories further to the right.

There were also geographical differences in approval of UKIP and BNP. While the BNP was doing well in the de-industrialized north and scored particularly well in the labor force, UKIP thrived in traditional Tory areas thanks to an appeal that was more widely distributed among all classes.

In the run-up to the May elections, the Christian Coalition for Marriage commissioned a survey in the areas contested by UKIP. It revealed a constituency that was much older, less educated, and slightly poorer than the average.

71 percent of UKIP voters were over 40 years old and 48 percent over 60. They were more likely to own their homes and rent less than the average voter. They were slightly more represented in the civil service than the Tory voters, but weaker than those of the Labor Party. They were also more unionized than Tory voters, but less than Labor supporters. And they were more often in “unskilled” and unskilled jobs or unemployed than the voting population as a whole.

While UKIP leaders are typically business people, active or retired, their electorate comes from the less secure and less affluent Tory milieu: a coalition of workers and the lower middle class. This is potentially a very powerful coalition that combines the discontent of parts of the population with the wealth and influence of privileged classes.

Popular conservatism

The UKIP thus offers a sociable space for a reactionary milieu by combining the individual elements of the fundamentally eurosceptic right. The UKIP thus offers a retreat for the extreme right, but its future does not lie in developing into a fascist organization. Its goal is to transform parliamentary politics, especially the Conservative Party. It's about who leads the Tories, and actually about indoctrinating the ruling party and the state apparatus with the socio-political goals of the middle-class right. With that they are not without allies in the Tory party there.

Lord Tebbit, the last Thatcherist hardliner, was ready to call on conservative voters to support anti-EU candidates outside the Tories as well. Tebbit is clearly pursuing a long-term strategy: even if it costs the Tories votes, he calculates, it will benefit them by pulling the mainstream to the right. Furthermore, if this happens in the form of an 'insurrection', it could renew the basis of 'popular' conservatism and thus at least delay or even reverse the worldly decline of the Tories.

A side effect of the UKIP strategy is that the reserves of the extreme right are being replenished. To the extent that it is successful, it gives motivation to violent and openly neo-Nazi groups, normalizes their campaign issues and offers their cadres useful contacts to other right-wing activists.

Stop the right push

UKIP poses two challenges for the left. The first is to counter the pull to the right that UKIP has. A purely negative attack won't work here. Projects like Left Unity (Left Unit) or anti-austerity initiatives like People’s Assembly (People's Assembly) are a good step forward - and would be even stronger if they had an anti-capitalist edge. As the right is doing today, such campaigns could set the pace by getting to work (albeit belatedly) developing a popular solution to the capitalist crisis: nationalizing banks and businesses, taxing the rich, safeguarding jobs and creating create green jobs. This is where UKIP could offer a fairly open flank as it will use its presence in local government to work towards cuts that are not generally popular with their own base.

That is what is meant by the demand for a ›left UKIP‹. The second challenge is how we can initiate a campaign that addresses Euroscepticism but links it with left-wing politics. The problem is that left voters are often hostile to the EU, and not without reason. If we bring the EU to the fore above all else, we overlook the fact that the executors of the current austerity in Great Britain are not in Brussels but in London.

The second challenge is to disrupt the political integration of ideas and forces of the extreme right and thus prevent the emergence of a stable new fascist formation. This is more difficult because it apparently requires us to face a larger problem in a way that we have no experience of. In general, anti-racist campaigns in the UK have been run and channeled through the lens of anti-fascism. Since fascism is the most disgusting face of racism, it is the weakest link in racist ideology: We target the extreme right and at the same time de-legitimize racism.

But that misses out on something crucial. Significant parts of the electorate, not to mention parts of the political establishment, no longer shy away from the stigma of the extreme right. On the contrary, thanks to the constant ideological work of the media and successive governments, the tendency is to see the behavior of the extreme right as merely the explainable, if slightly exaggerated, reaction to an 'extreme provocation' by Muslims and immigrants. This is the climate in which UKIP and its allies thrive. It follows that there is an urgent need to switch to a more comprehensive cultural and political offensive against racism itself. This is how we can stop the right push.

This article appeared on Translated from the English by Andreas Förster