Like many on the Left I was very troubled and puzzled by the UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) strong showing in the Local and European elections, and then alarmed again by their doing so well in the 9-10-14 by-elections. Were these protest votes against the big three Parties, an anti (political) establishment message, an anti-EU or anti-immigration vote?
UKIP’s policies in 2010 included attacks on welfare provision, more prison places, privatisation of parts of the National Health Service, a driving down of immigration and increasing military spending by 40% (1); nothing very alternative there! The UKIP candidate in the Clacton by-election had previously been the Tory MP so not exactly an anti-establishment vote!
Why would a party that is roughly equivalent to the right wing of the Tories appeal to so many, even (apparently) to people with a habit of voting Labour?
In the ‘i’ newspaper of 26 May 14 Ian Burrell argued that UKIP had done so well despite the antipathy of the media towards them, that UKIP “enjoyed it’s remarkable success at the European and local elections without the backing of a single national newspaper”(2). Burrell then went on to cite The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph as printing negative comments about voting for UKIP (2).
Burrell in effect distances the media from UKIP’s success, presenting them in opposition to each other. This. however, is misleading. The reason UKIP is doing relatively well at elections is that it is a party political representation of the right wing propaganda that people have been exposing themselves to on a daily basis day after day for years. UKIP is the reactionary xenophobic columns of right-wing daily tabloids come to life, it is an embodiment of the fears and prejudices that people have read and internalised.
When people hear UKIP leader Nigel Farage they hear someone repeating back to them the views that have become their own; his blokey reactionary persona is a personification of the culture of the tabloids, teetering on the edge of xenophobia, framing immigrants as ‘the other’. It is little wonder that UKIP is doing so well, all the ground work has been done for them by the media, all they have to do is key into the messages that people have read and internalised!
Gramsci wrote about ‘cultural hegemony’ (4) and at the moment UKIP is exploiting the hegemonic discourse within UK culture, a reasonably easy thing to do as the media have done all the foot work for them. The encouraging thing for the Left is that despite this cultural hegemony a recent poll showed that most of the public are to the left of Labour on important issues; supporting nationalisation of railways and energy companies (3), and despite a real lack of coverage The Green Party, the most overtly Left wing in the mainstream, came in 4th in the recent European election.
Obviously supporting state nationalisation of key industries is a long way from anarchism but it does show that despite 40 years of neoliberal economics and narrative many people still have an intuitive desire for social justice and greater equality. People know that they are living in a political economy that is shaped to serve the interests of the elite. Unfortunately they have been led to look for alternatives and solutions in wrong places.
The Situationists wrote about ‘the spectacle’: the seamless representation of life and society from a capitalist perspective that we are surrounded by and immersed in with alternative narratives pushed ever further into the margins.
The question for anarchists and others on the Left is how to overcome the cultural hegemony that UKIP have keyed into; how to disrupt the top down narrative of neoliberal capitalism and alert people to alternative ways of organising society.
(1) Booth, R. (7-3-13) ‘What would a Ukip Britain look like’, The Guardian (online). http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/mar/07/ukip-policies-manifesto-commitments
(2) Burrell, I. (26-5-14) ‘Media on Monday: Broadcasters and newspapers are not the king-makers they once were’, p.41, i newspaper issue 1091.
(3) Assinder, N. (5-11-13) ‘Public Far to the Left of Labour Party Finds Poll’, International Business Times (online). http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/left-wing-price-controls-nationalisation-yougov-poll-519684
(4) Thomas, M. (ed)(2012) ‘Antonio Gramsci: Working-Class Revolutionary’, Workers’ Liberty, London.