Nigel Farage, UKIP & Europe - a bigger picture?
Posted by Doug Walters on 16th May 2014
Farage & UKIP

I recently attended a couple of UKIP meetings – one in Barrow where the speaker was Paul Nuttall, deputy leader of the UKIP party and a MEP; the second in Manchester (I happened to be in Manchester for an Action for Children Board meeting the following morning, so paid half-price membership of UKIP for the right to attend) where there were 3 speakers: Steven Woolfe, a local man (born & educated in Manchester, now a Barrister and MEP candidate), Louise van de Bours (a former Mayoress of Congleton and MEP candidate) and Nigel Farage. The meetings were very different:

Meeting 1 – was attended by a small audience that was quite varied in terms of age group, sex (including a very “camp” couple) and socio-economic background (as far as I could guess from dress, content and manner of speech.) Questions from the floor were very well-informed from attendees both for and against the UKIP propositions. The audience exhibited no signs (overt or otherwise) of racism. Paul Nuttall’s speech focussed on two themes: immigration and the shortcomings of the EU bureaucracy (non-democratic, cost, impact on UK sovereignty.) He made some telling points, which I think is very easy to do – whatever you think of the EU as a concept, any sane individual has to accept that its implementation is a mess. Most of the questions from the floor were “friendly” even though well-informed. There were some interesting questions about the actual mechanics of unravelling our membership if UKIP were successful, revealing that it would be an endeavour which would certainly keep the legal profession in full employment for a long-time.

I asked two questions: a) more of an observation – that the focus on immigration has the unfortunate effect of coupling UKIP with the BNP in the minds of the “sensible” sections of the voting public – it seemed to me that a focus on ensuring that benefits were less lucrative than working, and limiting immigrants’ entitlement to benefits was a better way to achieve the same end, because it would encourage local people to take the jobs that are available (too many are better off on benefits than working for the minimum wage and / or on zero hours contracts) without the racist overtones of a policy that focusses directly on immigration. Paul Nuttall’s response was lengthy but lacked any substance other than “immigration is the topic popular with the voters at thie upcoming elections” b) my second question was to ask what UKIP would do about filling the political and military void which would be created by the break-up of the EU (with obvious reference to the current Ukraine crisis.) I pointed out that a symbolic but largely irrelevant increase in UK defence spending (as proposed by UKIP) was unlikely to cut it – would they seek to re-affirm the role of NATO and cooperate in Europe through that mechanism? Paul Nuttall effectively ignored the question.

Meeting 2 – was attended by a fairly homogenous audience of 50+ year old, white people. There was a couple of people who were clearly of Asian (a Turban), European (accent) or Caribbean / African (skin colour) extraction (presumably second or third generation) but this was a very small group. While I think that this fairly reflects the UKIP constituency, it is important to remember that this is also the same group which predominates the audience at meetings of the other British political parties.

The speech by Louise van de Bours was simply a cheerleading, "rah-rah" speech. I ended up taking no notes from this. The opening speech was from Steven Woolfe was very good – it drew strongly on the themes of roots (Peterlee Massacre, his upbringing in Longsight and studying for exams in the local library) to link into the arguments about the aspirations of the working class and the rights of the people to a democratic voice, thereby landing a series of very telling blows on the EU / Sovereignty and Immigration / Jobs issues. This was a much subtler approach than that of Paul Nuttall a few days earlier, but the same themes really.

Obviously, the main event was the speech by Nigel Farage. Of course he was speaking to a friendly audience (so I was a bit surprised he felt the need to be flanked by 4 well-dressed but nevertheless thuggish-looking bodyguards) but he was very accomplished. Again, he avoided the Immigration issue, mentioning the word only once, in response to a question from the floor. He explained that he was in favour of immigration, if based on a points-system similar to that employed by Australia.

Farage’s speech, like that from Woolfe, was heavily laced with stirring historical references, such as to Sir Robert Peel (the son of a Bury mill-owner, who re-introduced a more caring conservatism through such measures as the Factory Act and the Repeal of the Corn Laws. He also invoked the spirit of Churchill and his “Voice in the Wilderness” years until the annexation of the Sudetenland (shades of Crimea and Ukraine?) The theme was the loss of sovereignty and the undemocratic nature of the EU constitution. The other main theme was the fact (and it is a fact) hat modern politicians are disconnected from the rest of the populace – there might as well be a moat (and duck house?) around the village of Westminster, with the drawbridge only lowered every 4 years when the politicians “re-connect” to woo your vote (although I’d argue that isn’t true democracy either.) Instinctively, I feel this disconnection between the professional politician and the electorate (and therefore the disenfranchisement of the latter) is at the root of UKIP’s popularity.

“Nigel farage enjoying a pint at the Westminster Arms - how many of our media-intimidated and politically-correct Politicos would allow themselves to be "snapped" in this sort of pose?”

With regards to Farage’s unwillingness to fight Newark, I think this is a combination of 3 things: a) lack of connection with the Newark constituency (see above) b) a desire to remain focussed on the EU elections (because of the next point) and c) they need the income from the EU expenses gravy train to continue operating as a party (although a few more sponsors like Paul Sykes will reduce that constraint.)

It is easy and therefore tempting to see Farage & UKIP as simply a "protest" vote similar to the role played by the Liberals until recently. However, I think that they have struck a chord in terms of the loss of sovereignty (this is not only a genuine turn-off for the electors but also at the root of the EU's palpable failure to establish a European identity - the subject of a future post) and the disconnection between the professional politicians and the electorate.
Putin & the Ukraine

Nationalism has always been a strong card in Russia, which has a historically tribal rather than feudal heritage. Hence the “mother tongue” argument (a clearly tribal identifier) is always a popular cause. However, popularity among the masses is only useful so long as it convinces the oligarchs that Putin is the best man to represent and defend their interests. Again, there is a complete disconnection between the political classes and the general population.

The key interest for the oligarchs (and hence Putin) in Crimea and Ukraine, is to create a feeble (and therefore controllable) buffer between its borders and the western powers, to ensure that control of the pipelines does not fall under western influence. Putin does not have the military power to gain a decisive victory in western Ukraine and maintain a meaningful occupation. Such an endeavour would be a crippling burden on an already ailing Russian economy, which certainly could not survive a legal but concerted attack on its financial system by the west. The effects of the collapse of the Soviet system is irrevocable – the Russian financial machinery is tied to the west just as much as we are currently tied to their oil and gas. This produces an impasse – Putin is merely “pushing” the envelope to counter unrest at home, but he can’t go too far. However, this impasse is the very reason why the west is committed to work on “alternate” energy sources such as wind farms and fracking. These are strategically important even if not economically viable at the moment. Wind farms are not a natural proposition for the UK – they need a constant and “moderate” wind source, such as you get in some vast tracts of prairie-land in USA (although the technology originally comes from Denmark.) In the UK propitious conditions can only be found offshore, where the costs are roughly double that of land-based farms. It is unlikely that this situation will change in the forseeable future. On the other hand, Fracking is much more promising for the UK; you can crudely view it as the logical successor to fossil fuel energy. Meanwhile there is a vibrant but largely unnoticed stream of investment and work on nuclear energy advances.

At the end of the day, the economic arguments around the EU are largely a smokescreen; our exports to the EU are significant but not predominant, and we have a natural market in the Commonwealth, which actually contains many markets which are ripe for significant growth in the near future Moreover, the UK is Germany’s largest export market (I have heard some dispute about this, and haven’t been able to verify for sure, but either way, our market is more important to Europe than Europe is to the UK.) So economic links (the Common Market which we originally joined) will survive whatever, purely through market forces.
In Summary

So in conclusion, I would say that the real questions are:

1) Can Farage & UKIP reconnect the general population with politics, or are they simply a pathfinder? I cannot believe that the continued and growing disconnect between politicians and electorate is sustainable in the long run.
2) Who is going to address the ludicrous imbalance between the benefits system and the minimum wage (this is closely tied to question 1 above, but is a very complex discussion about the relationships between the triangle of government – central & local – big business, and the local community)
3) Who / what is going to fill the power vacuum left in Europe as a result of the re-focus of USA policy and thus the weakening of NATO, and the complete ineptitude of the EU in the realm of power-politics?

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