2nd December 2015

Farage’s confusion is our confusion

Tristan Parsons on the confusion that exists between the various levels of UKIP support

Nigel Farage stands up, head held high, rising above the Eurocrats that fill the room he so dreads. The short speech he delivers is typical of his many such speeches made in the European Parliament: He damns the institution’s authoritarian nature, points to recent examples, and then makes his case for Britain’s exit.

In this speech specifically, he made the following case. In 2011, Alexis Tsipras was elected in Greece on a socialist platform. On arrival to the European Parliament, he was told that his manifesto was unworkable. This kind of disagreement was continued throughout the recent Greek crisis. Some voices (such as the Financial Times, and in the aftermath of the Greek crisis, were saying that Portugal would face the next crisis.

Well, over a month after the Portuguese election, and largely uncovered by the mainstream media, power has still not transitioned from the minority conservative coalition to the majority socialist coalition. President Silva denied the socialists power on the grounds that they did not represent pro-EU ideals, and in fear of the financial and monetary implications of a reversal of the previous government’s austerity policies. If we look at the Greek experience, he may—rightly or wrongly—have a point.

In the same defiant speech, Farage even made the claim that the EU’s policies of controlling member states was similar to that of the USSR’s Brezhnev Doctrine. He suggested that EU states have had democratic rights taken away if they have disagreed with the European project.

Yet, to the people of Britain, UKIP is still talking about immigration. They are still using scare tactics to win the rural or semi-urban, conservative, often working class vote. He is still dividing populations into ‘us’ and ‘them’. As the group currently leading the anti-EU campaign, they have a responsibility to broaden their arguments. This would help to draw in supporters of other parties, and help to extinguish some of UKIP’s negative connotations.

David Cameron recently confirmed Britain’s longstanding support for Turkey’s inclusion into the EU. UKIP’s campaign against this policy stinks of this failure to discuss a broader set of issues—such as geopolitics. Particularly in the wake of the Ukraine crisis (arguably an event of attempted EU expansionism) we should be more aware of how crucial the inclusion of Turkey would be. Already a strong US ally, it would provide another excellent foothold in the Middle East for the West, and further secure the key pipeline, trade, and migration routes that run through the country. Despite this, the campaign remains firmly fixed on tapping into fear of a new wave of ‘poor people’ landing on Britain’s shores.

Admittedly, furthering the economic inequality between states of the Union is dangerous. Farage also makes an interesting argument that Union has a business-driven agenda for importing cheap labour.

The left is to blame for this too. Although the problem of immigration is largely an imagined one—as seen by the negative spatial correlation between immigrant numbers and UKIP supporters—it is still top on Britons’ policy concerns. This needs to be dealt with. Corbyn’s complete lack of concern for the issue does not help.

The immigration debate needs to be opened up on the left so that we can properly discuss the practicalities of how to better integrate immigrants into our society. We need to further the debates on issues such as education programs, faith schools, transport policies, de facto segregation, and labour rights of immigrants. These are the policies that will help to ease tensions, and thus help to remove the largely imagined concerns about immigration.

Furthering the confusion of Farage and UKIP is the news that the party has been struggling with finances since the election. Here is a wonderful contradiction: Party donors—millionaire lawyer Andrew Reid, for example—often donate because of the party’s libertarian leanings. Yet, many voters are from areas that the policies of Mrs Thatcher hit the hardest. The confusion goes beyond the leader himself; it is clearly visible between donors and regular supporters.

The country still faces hard times. Economic downturn and then austerity made as all vulnerable for the creation of a scapegoat. This time round it was immigrants, and particularly Muslim immigrants. The reason public services are struggling is partially due to the effects of years of high net migration; but austerity economics is a far more significant factor.

The confusion of Farage and UKIP between criticising the great power of the EU and scapegoating immigrants reflects the confusion of us all. We live in societies that, with the help of much of the media, too often blame regular fellow citizens as the causes of our woes. It has become a modern day version of divide and rule, and has successfully reduced the scrutiny of those with power and wealth.

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