Socialist Appeal - British section of the International Marxist Tendency

On the back of two televised debates, Nigel Farage and UKIP have seen their popularity rise in the opinion polls. Farage has frequently taken to banker bashing, posing himself as the defender of the hard working people of Britain against the evils of the EU, immigration, and big business. But far from being an anti-establishment party, the real programme of UKIP is that of attacks against the working class.

For workers and youth, it is clear that the fallout from the 2008 global economic crisis adversely impacts upon the majority of households in the UK. It is plain for all to see: as jobs are lost by the thousands, public services are cut to the bone, and the juggernaut of austerity ploughs on desolating communities, synchronously wealth continues to flow upwards into the pockets of the elite.

Millions of families face another year of austerity, as Osborne continues trying to roll back living standards to the 1930s. Meanwhile, as inequality increases, those running the nation become ever more detached from an increasingly alienated and bitter electorate.

No alternative offered

The Conservative Party, as per tradition, aptly fulfils its function of fighting for the interests of Britain’s wealthiest. Regardless of the ‘We are all in it together (just some are more in it together than others)’ rhetoric that the Prime Minister blows off from time to time, the truth is evident for those who wish to see it. Indeed, it is an increasing challenge to ignore the reality: that Osborne’s never-ending programme of austerity is digging Britain deeper into a hole from whence a genuine recovery becomes progressively more difficult.

Nick Clegg, Cameron’s understudy, signed his party's death warrant after he bartered away any electoral trust and goodwill the Liberal Democrats had for the thirty pieces of silver offered by a taste of government. Now disliked and distrusted by many of their former supporters - not to mention students upset over the broken promise to abolish tuition fees - the party faces a slaughter in the 2015 general election. Whatever remaining parliamentary presence remains post-2015 is likely to be a shadow of the Liberal Democrats in their heyday and it is possible the party will never be thought of as a serious political force for a long time to come, if ever.

The BNP, meanwhile, has been drastically weakened in recent years from its already small base. Having had a total of 55 councillors in 2009, the party now has only two local government representatives. The remaining political parties with a parliamentary presence are either confined to regional politics, such as Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru, and the Scottish National Party, or lack mass support, such as the Green Party or Respect, who both have a single MP in government and are unable to singlehandedly constitute a force against the Coalition.

Missing an open goal

The Labour Party - set up by the British trade union movement to promote the interests of the working class - has, however, failed to seize the opportunity presented at its feet. The Labour leaders are shooting at an open goal, but yet they continue to miss. Rather than putting forward a bold socialist programme as a genuine alternative to austerity, they continue to put forward a “Tory-light” programme of “slower and lower” cuts.

The Blair years tarnished the party’s image with the blood of Afghanistan and Iraq. Simultaneously, the march into the arms of big business left many Labour Party members and supporters appalled by the failed New Labour experiment. Significant numbers of rank and file members, including some of Labour’s best activists, have abandoned party politics altogether, additionally appalled by the increasing bureaucracy and influx of careerists.

Considering the present state of affairs, one would expect the Labour Party to be surging ahead in the polls. A deepening global economic crisis with no hope on the horizon and the undeniable reality that the Coalition have no realistic programme for bringing Britain out of recession ought to have people flocking towards a genuine alternative to the crisis…if only such an alternative was being presented by the Labour leaders.

In the present climate, after years of crisis and cuts, a socialist programme that offered an alternative to further austerity would be immensely popular with the electorate. In the absence of such a viable alternative, there can – and will – be swings in opinion both to the left and to the right as large sections of society are tempted towards whoever promises a way out of this crisis. Enter Nigel Farage of UKIP with his anti-establishment image.

A plague on all your houses

The majority of UKIP supporters are old Tory voters from the home counties, appalled at David Cameron’s perceived ‘softness’ on immigration, Europe, and gay marriage. Yet several recent polls estimate UKIPs share in the European elections next month at nearly 20% of the total, possibly even bumping the Conservative Party down into third place. Such figures suggest that other voters, not just those ex-Tories, are being attracted to UKIP’s image.

In particular, there will be some who are attracted by Nigel Farage’s self-cultivated image of being a “man of the people” – an image that stands in contrast to the leaders and other politicians of the main three parties, who all speak and act in a manner that is entirely divorced from that of ordinary workers. It is this – the disgust with the traditional parties and leaders, and indeed of the entire political class – that has helped to fuel the fire of Farage’s popularity.

Farage has consciously posed himself and UKIP as being the “anti-establishment” party – the only man and the only party willing to take on the vested interests and institutions that have caused this crisis. In a recent televised debate between Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and his UKIP counterpart, the UKIP leader made reference to a “white working class” becoming an “underclass”, blaming immigration - and not the anti-union policies of the Thatcher years - for the above. Here, then, we finally have the true champion of the working class – as long as they are white!

Behind the mask

Farage’s self promotion as an anti-establishment figure who will champion the cause of the “white working class” obscures his true political identity. Behind this mask of “man of the people” hides a public-school-educated former member of the Conservative Party, who followed his father into a lucrative career as a stockbroker - not the sort of character one might envisage when thinking of a class warrior!

With his anti-establishment, populist rhetoric, Farage and UKIP are seeking to plug an electoral void that ought to be filled by a Labour Party offering a socialist programme. In this respect, UKIP are a protest vote against the three main parties, who have little to offer the majority of British people.

Even a casual glance at UKIP’s policies, by way of their 2010 manifesto, reveals their real anti-working class nature: a proposed flat tax rate of 31% that would benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor; an increase in military spending, with plans to “buy three new aircraft carriers and 50 more Lightning fighter jets”, which sits alongside plans to scrap Jobseekers Allowance and Incapacity Benefit; meanwhile, plans to cut state spending to 1997 levels, with a potential loss of two million public sector jobs, does not sound altogether different to what the Tories are currently doing. This same 2010 manifesto also proposes that GP surgeries and hospitals are auctioned off to the highest bidding charity or private enterprise.

A five year freeze on immigration; an end to the promotion of multiculturalism; more prisons and longer prison sentences; scrapping of the Human Rights Act; a ban on schools showing Al Gore's film “An Inconvenient Truth”, which demonstrates the destructive effects of climate change; plans to hold all asylum seekers in secure units: all of these are also thrown into the previous UKIP manifesto.

As for the party’s public image, Godfrey Bloom, a former banker and until recently a UKIP MEP, adds a flavour of misogyny with comments such as “no self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age.”

The reactionary voice of capitalism

Whilst Farage has recently tried to distance himself from the 2010 manifesto, describing it as “drivel”, there has been little mention of what concretely would be in the 2015 manifesto, other than the UKIP silver bullet of withdrawal from the European Union – a panacea that is supposed to solve all the problems facing ordinary British people.

An interview with Bloom, one of the leading figures behind UKIP’s economic policies, however, highlights the real programme that workers can expect from UKIP: a flat tax rate of 25%; abolition of inheritance tax and National Insurance; a 100% cut in overseas aid and significant cuts to education, welfare, and the public sector in general; and, of course, the elimination of all payments to the EU.

“...public sector jobs...are taking money out of the economy and wealth creation. I hope hundreds, thousands of jobs will be lost...You will never understand UKIP until you understand this point. Public spending takes money out of the economy, it doesn’t put it in.” These words of Bloom’s represent the real voice of UKIP: the distinctly anti-working class voice of the most reactionary, libertarian, pro-free market section of the capitalist class.

Attacks on workers

To distract from these blatantly pro-capitalist policies, Farage and Bloom happily partake in a bit of banker bashing, trying to tap into the anti-banker sentiment that has been bubbling away in society since the beginning of the crisis. Alongside this, Farage cleverly aims his anti-EU arguments against the technocrats and bureaucrats in Brussels, crying crocodile tears about the austerity in southern Europe and blaming this EU-induced austerity for the immigration of Greeks and Spaniards to Britain.

However, whilst highlighting the irresponsibility of the bankers and the austerity of the EU technocrats, Farage and UKIP fail to talk quite so loudly about their own pro-business programme of austerity and attacks on workers’ wages and conditions. Whilst nominally speaking out against big business, the UKIP leader happily champions himself as the defender of small and medium enterprises by promising to abolish “regulations”, i.e. workers’ rights – again, “regulation” that is “imposed” on the good people of Britain by the evil bureaucrats of the EU.

As the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) demonstrate, UKIP’s less promoted policies are aimed at the abolition of a whole host of worker and trade union rights, including: an end to statutory maternity, paternity, and adoption pay; the repeal of much employment rights legislation; “an end to most legislation regarding matters such as weekly working hours, holidays…overtime, redundancy or sick pay”; and the mandatory introduction of “very short employment contract” templates. As the IER correctly state, “Many voters who chose UKIP as a vote against the ‘political class’ might be surprised at what they have planned for the working classes.”

For all the bluster and criticism by Farage of the EU and the austerity it imposes on workers in southern Europe, it seems that UKIP would be all too happy to impose similar brutally exploitative conditions on workers (of all ethnicities, religions, and nationalities) here in Britain. Far from being an anti-business party for the hard working people of Britain, it is clear that Farage and co. would make the people of Britain work even harder for the sake of the profits of the capitalists.

Exposed by power

Despite the protest-vote-popularity that UKIP currently enjoy, if they ever came to power - as part of a coalition government or in local government - they would quickly be exposed to the electorate at large as just another party which serves the interests of the ruling class.

The chance of UKIP picking up more than a handful, if any parliamentary seats, in the next general election is slim. However, the party poses a threat to the Tories, who could lose votes and seats in parliament to UKIP. Hence sections of the Tory Party are putting pressure on Cameron to move further to the right as they try to outdo their UKIP rivals with reaction, bigotry and callousness.

Worryingly, a section of the leadership within the Labour Party also panders to the anti-immigration rhetoric whipped up by UKIP and the Tory backbenchers. Rather than explaining the real causes for the lack of jobs, housing, and public services – that is, the crisis of capitalism – the Labour leaders all too frequently try to out flank the Tories in terms of their “hardness” on the question of immigration.

Labour must offer a socialist solution

The Labour Party ought to offer voters a real alternative by returning to its original principles, namely Clause 4 of the 1918 text of the Labour Party constitution which states:

“to secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

A socialist alternative to the crisis is needed: houses for the homeless; jobs for the jobless; and decent pensions and public services – all funded through the democratic and public ownership of the banks and major monopolies. Such a solution to the problems of global capitalism would give the working class ideals to rally around, a voice in parliament, and hope for a better future. Such an alternative to austerity would present a real choice to the electorate - one between two distinct sets of policies, rather than between the different shades of grey that are being offered to working class by the current main political leaders.

Capitalism has outlived its historical usefulness. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic does not offer the stricken passengers a way off the boat. The transition to a system run by the majority in the interests of all is needed now more than ever.