Is UKIP a bigger threat than the BNP?
Labour does like a bit of a ruck against the BNP. It tends to motivate activists and often galvanise support too; this was especially true in the last General Election. Of course, there are issues about how far the BNP’s agenda tends to permeate through to Labour campaigns as we saw in the case of Phil Woolas and often see, I would submit, in our leaderships attitude towards immigration and sometimes other issues.
This is not the only problem however, this article on Conservative Home got me wondering if we might also be missing who the real threat is from the right. It’s an interesting and thoughtful piece. Certainly, like the authors, I think it would be naive in the extreme to rule out the rise of a radical right party in Britain. This is one way a crisis in democracy (which I believe we are currently in) could negatively resolve itself; in a anti-democratic alliance of the dispossessed and disenfranchised around a radical right party.
The article rightly recognises the similarities between UKIP and the BNP and that the former is more ‘acceptable’ and therefore has broader electoral appeal. Worryingly for Labour it shatters the illusion that UKIP voters tend to be more middle class fellow travellers of the Conservatives. It argues there are essentially two kinds of UKIP supporter:
On one side are ‘strategic defectors’, who vote UKIP at European elections, but then return to the Conservatives at domestic general elections where more is at stake. These voters tend to be more economically secure, more middle class and motivated mainly by their Euroscepticism. On the other side, however, are the ‘core loyalists’ who vote UKIP in Westminster elections as well as European Parliament polls. It is the ‘core loyalists’ who have most in common with BNP supporters: they are poorer, more working class and more dissatisfied with the main parties. This electorate resembles those voting for far more successful radical right parties elsewhere in Europe.
If we take this as being broadly true you can easily imagine how UKIP’s support could quickly rise. The economic security of the first kind of voter is being shattered into a thousand pieces and what is more this isn’t by a Labour government but by a conservative Coalition one. It’s possible that some of the second kind are coming over too Labour through fear but the question has to be asked still if we represent their concerns. My submission is we don’t; when we engage with them all we do is reflect their prejudices back at them rather than give them a positive agenda for change.
I think the leadership prefers fighting the BNP because its so much easier. Essentially, all you have to do is demonise them and shout Nazi at them, mobilise campaigns like Hope Not Hate and its pretty much job done. Fighting UKIP however, would probably require alot more and this something the leadership doesnt want to do because it would involve filling the empty hole left by the abandonment of socialism that not even Tony Blair in the prime of his electoral omnipotence could manage to fill more than temporarily with the vaporous ‘third way’.
My feeling is that the problem in general with radical right movements is they sometimes struggle to sustain long-term electoral challenges. This stems from the fact that they become too reliant on becoming a party of Parliamentary/electoral protest and they fail to gel this with a ‘street movement’ outside of Parliament. However, in UKIP’s case the problem seems to be currently very different; it’s unable to muster a truly credible record in Westminster elections and severely under-performs as even a vehicle of electoral protest.
However, UKIP benefits from the fact it is not targeted and mobilised against in the same way the BNP is. No Hope not Hate campaigns run against UKIP in the way they do against the BNP. It’s pretty much allowed to tootle on and go quietly about its business. If we are to face the threat from the radical right then not only do we need to start offering a positive programme for the radical transformation of society we need to also, without letting the battle against the BNP slip, make sure we are targeting UKIP too. A failure to do this could have serious consequences not just for Labour but for our entire society…