by Chris Jarvis
I am loathe to further add to the column inches that have been devoted to UKIP. The problem is that we haven’t yet spent enough time talking about them.
This might seem a bizarre assertion, seeing as it is seemingly impossible to open a newspaper, look at a Facebook feed or watch a news bulletin without seeing a sprinkling of purple and yellow, but where we’ve gone wrong is that we haven’t been talking about UKIP in the right way. Up to now, we’ve been talking about the abhorrent views of UKIP members, the media obsession and pontificated and theorised on explanations for their popularity and support. What we’ve failed to spend enough time talking about is how we’re going to beat them.
Rising UKIP support allows us to make three major observations. Firstly, that the middle class, little England xenophobia is no longer being effectively channelled by the Tories. Second, that Labour’s abandonment of working class communities on the East Coast and in parts of the North and their abject failure to deliver the most basic of support and social provision to these communities is beginning to emerge in a way that could have dire consequences for our political landscape. But finally, that UKIP are, as a social and political phenomenon, a manifestation of something far greater than any political party. They are emblematic of conservative and reactionary values that ought to be resisted at every opportunity. They are a demonstration of the fact that we are now entering a culture war.
they are just as guilty of perpetuating repugnant attitudes of intolerance
And what UKIP represents is the side of that war which seeks to undermine even the woolliest of gains that the left, liberals and liberation movements have fought to achieve over decades. While the UKIP leadership will frequently distance itself from the comments and views of its members who claim homosexuality to be capable of causing flooding or refer to parts of Africa as ‘Bongo Bongo Land’, they are just as guilty of perpetuating repugnant attitudes of intolerance. Over the last six months, Nigel Farage has argued that women should go to a corner to breast feed, that he feels uncomfortable when hearing somebody speaking a different language and that he wouldn’t feel comfortable living next door to Romanians.
Such proclamations and the concurrent rise in support for his party, demonstrate that these views are, for whatever reason, gaining apace. The question for those of us on the left, therefore, is how do we tackle them?
Here is where, once again, the Labour Party has fundamentally failed. Rather than tackling those attitudes head on, they have pandered to the scaremongering and scapegoating that UKIP purport. By painting themselves as ‘tough’ on immigration as well as suggesting they will make claiming for welfare more difficult, Labour will only serve to further entrench the views that UKIP seek to exploit.
Instead, the left must place itself firmly in opposition to the values of Farage and co. Where UKIP stands for the politics of division, the left must stand for the politics of inclusivity. Where UKIP stands for the politics of hate, the left must stand for the politics of hope. Where UKIP pits welfare claimant against worker and native against migrant, the left must stand up and boldly articulate that the forces that keeps one group down, are the very same that keeps down the other. The left must demonstrate that the enemy is not the person next door or the ‘other’, but instead the economic and political system which exploits those at the bottom of the ladder, wherever they were born, or whatever situation they now find themselves in.
Without doing this, without standing side by side with migrants, with welfare claimants and with everyone else that UKIP seek to scapegoat and victimise, we end up in a situation where each concession to the right pushes us further towards a country built on intolerance.
The surge in support for independence and the subsequent sky rocketing of polling figures for the SNP has demonstrated the politics of hope can win.
And while at times we may feel as though we are swimming against the tide, we have seen just how that argument can be had and that argument can be won. Throughout the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign, the paradigms of debate were shifted to our side of that culture war. The surge in support for independence and the subsequent sky rocketing of polling figures for the SNP has demonstrated the politics of hope can win. The successes north of the border were not gained by allowing the right to control the terms of debate, by conceding to the values of conservatism and the rippling of UKIP, but instead through placing a flag firmly in the ground and winning the argument on our own terms. If it can be done in Scotland, it can be done in England too. And Labour, Greens and all others must take heed.