Friday 23 May 2014

Anti-politics, UKIP and the incompetence of the political classes

A source said: "You do not deal with an anti-politics party by calling them names. What you should do is call them out."
Quite so, and this is what all the major parties have singularly failed to do to the UK Independence Party, which has made substantial gains in yesterday's local and European elections. There are dissenting voices within the Labour party claiming that the leadership didn't go after UKIP strongly enough, assuming that they would do more harm to the Conservatives than to Labour. This was surely misguided, if true.

The predominant strategy against UKIP from all quarters has been to label them racist, loudly, and to create as many sensational headlines as they can from the odd, nasty and objectionable views of their more extreme candidates. This has only played into UKIP's hands, perfectly complementing their narration of themselves as anti-establishment outsiders (who just happen to be led by a former City-boy millionaire, who just happens to have a socially conservative, economically libertarian agenda).

If UKIP are anti-politics then I'm not sure what the rest of the parties are. They're certainly not 'pro-politics.' They have no interest in actually engaging with those who, rightly or wrongly, feel marginalised or providing alternative narratives that explain these peoples' problems. They're anti-politics in a whole other way. In this sense the Ukippers have a point: there stands before us a strong and insular British Establishment, resplendent in its self-congratulatory cronyism, that stupidly lashes out at anything it perceives to derive from outside its empire. Where Ukippers are wrong is in not realising that, however outside the Establishment many of their candidates and voters may hail from, their politics squarely follows that of the most venally establishmentarian elements of the Conservative party; see Rees-Mogg for details.

Whether or not they are a 'racist party,' they most assuredly have significant numbers of racist members and their election posters have been dog-whistles for the far right. However, reactionarily labelling such a fractious group of millions of people 'racist' in the name of anti-prejudice, as so many in politics and the media have done in the past few weeks, is not only wrong, it's politically stupid. The way to counter racist stupidity is not with non-racist stupidity.

Many who voted UKIP yesterday did so because they yearn for the imaginary halcyon days of racial and cultural homogeneity - but by no means all. Treating Ukippers like they're all, every one of them, just jackbooted thugs in disguise doesn't help anyone. It makes matters worse.

UKIP's policies alone should be enough to discredit them. No one should ever apologise for or distract from racism in politics but nor is the R word a silver bullet - treating it as such only lets racism slither along further, beneath the stampede.