Tuesday, 7 May 2013
UKIP and the Anti-Establishment Vote
The big story of the local elections in (rural) England was the rise in the vote for UKIP, gaining 139 council seats and gaining almost a quarter of the vote, and finishing second in the South Shields by-election. Certainly, that is how the mainstream media have portrayed it, and of course it was huge stride forward for UKIP.
To place this into context though, the Green Party made on the surface of it, only a modest net gain of 5 seats, but this was in going from 17 to 22 seats, an increase of nearly a third to our representatives, which is good result for us. And even though now UKIP are now slightly ahead of the Green party in numbers of local councillors, who in the mainstream media ever made a story of us being well ahead of them before?
The media do tend to give a disproportionate amount of attention to UKIP and they have done so with the BNP in the past, although we have many more elected representatives than they have ever had. So, I think the media have played a part in the success of UKIP, almost a self-fulfilling prophesy, but I don’t think that this explains everything.
Nationalist parties are gaining ground all over Europe in this time of imposed austerity, and in some ways UKIP are more benign than other right wing nationalist parties scattered across the continent. With the failure of the economic system in Europe (and the US) people’s living standards have been slashed and in circumstances similar to the 1930’s, simplistic, scapegoating solutions have again bubbled to the surface.
For UKIP in Britain, there is almost the perfect storm. The UK government blames our economic woes on Europe and immigrants, the Coalition parties have failed to improve the situation and Labour is still held responsible by many for getting us into the mess, and so a desire to protest and look for politicians untainted by the present problems, becomes an attractive option. At least at local or by-elections, whether this will all carry to a general election, I have my doubts.
But we should not be complacent about the rise of UKIP, but more we should question why people vote for basically another shade of grey, rather than a truly radical party of the anti-establishment, the Green Party?
As mentioned the media and simplistic solutions play a part, and UKIP have a lot more money than we do, so the challenge for the Green party is to effectively communicate the message that the system has failed, and needs to be radically overhauled. No tinkering with immigration rules or human rights laws is going to change the fact that we have an economic system that is failing to deliver for the vast majority of people in the UK and across Europe. And all of this, with little money and not much in the way of favourable media coverage.
And this is hard message to sell anyway, even in the dire straits we find ourselves in today. To pretty much tear down the system and start again with a sustainable, socially just political agenda is a scary concept for many people, so we have our work cut out to be sure. But if we prove by our actions and deeds, where we do have democratic influence, and by campaigning hard around issues that illustrate the failures of the status quo, maybe we can ride the anti-establishment zeitgest too, which is so obviously a real feature of electoral politics today in this country.