Sunday, August 11, 2013

UKIP, Godfrey Bloom and racism: how UKIP speak the language of the man on the street

The British political establishment is often accused of being "out of touch", Cameron's Conservatives most of all. The recent comments by UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom criticising foreign aid to "Bongo Bongo Land", put that issue into sharp focus.

What's most telling about the reaction to Bloom's comments is that of the political establishment, who quickly jumped on the racism bandwagon. This reaction defines the established view that racism is defined as any comment that is derogatory towards someone (or some place) that is non-white. I make no judgement either way on the "Bongo Bongo Land" issue; what interests me is how Bloom's comments were able to cut a sharp cleft on an "Us and Them" issue - that of "politically-correct language".

Whether it was intentional or not, Bloom's comments have put UKIP back again in the limelight, after a period of relative quiet following the aftermath of the May local elections. This showed in the dip in UKIP's vote in the polls, though this was always bound to happen when a "new" party like UKIP falls out of the electoral radar outside of campaigning seasons. As UKIP are a "party of protest" (according to the political establishment), they are always likely to have higher ratings when Nigel Farage and his collleagues have the chance to shine in the media circus, when elections are due. As of this weekend, after falling to just above ten per cent in the polls a few weeks ago, they are now reaching back up to their high-water mark of the high teens.Do Bloom's comments have anything to do with that?

Going back to the "racism" accusation, Bloom has shrugged off this saying that he is merely saying things that are normal for his age (he's in his mid-sixties). What is also unsaid is that Bloom's language more closely reflects that of the urban and rural working-class. Though it is an uncomfortable truth for the metropolitan, liberal-minded middle classes, many people in the UK are racist, at least in a casual way. But this is true in many countries.
The rise of "political correctness" in the UK came around twenty years ago, especially after the mistreatment and abuse people from ethnic minorities (by the police, for example). This led to a more careful consideration of how language can be abused as a psychological weapon against those who are "different". The result of this was what we call "political correctness".
From this, the political establishment began its cultural "modernisation": Tony Blair's "New Labour" was the best example of that put into practice, which Cameron forced the Conservatives to finally follow. But this still left the urban and rural working classes behind in the process, and complacently treated by their traditional parties (usually Labour and Conservatives respectively).

The rise of immigration could only be ignored by the political establishment for so long; the financial crisis was the tipping-point. Immigration can be tolerated by working class as long as it doesn't negatively affect them. But the financial crisis showed that immigration did have an effect on "native" working class unemployment when there was a surplus of unskilled workers; Eastern European immigration and the UK's membership of the EU therefore became a huge issue to the working class, because they could see the physical effects on the street - and in their own unemployment.

The issue of foreign aid to corrupt developing countries (largely in Africa) is therefore biting to the (working class) man on the street because he feels that money is being wasted abroad that could be spent on him at home. Godfrey Bloom's remarks, spoken in a way that he can understand and relate to, therefore hit home. Ignored by the "political correctness" of the establishment, who seem out of touch in their language and concerns compared to the working class, UKIP are the only party who seem to speak the language of the street.
I talked before about "cleft" issues: these are points that UKIP can clearly mark its identity as different from the political establishment: mainly immigration (anti), the EU (anti), and the role of the state (anti). UKIP have been able to identify and take advantage of the now-atrophied "social democratic" political dialectic that the "big three" have all accepted. Even on austerity, Labour have grown to accept much of the Coalition's tough stance, to the detriment of their own political clarity and credibility. This is where UKIP's role in the political landscape is clear: to play their part in forging a new political future, come what may.

Calculating Westminster influence from the polls

I've said before that UKIP's influence is underestimated by the "big three" parties at their peril. UKIP are here to stay: the four-party system is a reality now.
When translating UKIP's poll share (in the last few months, the average has been in the mid-teens), the polling companies use formulas that demonstrate that UKIP has very little chance of gaining a seat in Westminster. If anything, this shows how out-of-date their methods are, as much as the political establishment is out-of-date with its methods of dealing with fourth parties.

UKIP are following in the steps of the LibDems in using local government as a way to develop foundations that can be transformed into seats in Westminster, as I've alluded to before. This is why using any conventional formula to calculate seats is almost meaningless, because it fails to account for local idiosyncrasies that can be exploited by the FPTP system. Now that UKIP have real representation in the East and South-east of England, it's not too far-fetched to think that at least a few of the local (district) councils would become UKIP seats in Westminster in 2015.
Adding to that, is Nigel Farage's apt comment that UKIP are becoming the "seaside party": that many old English seaside towns (e.g. Margate, Hastings, Blackpool, Great Yarmouth) are becoming dumping-grounds for the unemployed and sinks of social deprivation; in other words, filled with precisely the kind of people who would feel most at home with UKIP's message.
Lastly, is Labour's "soft underbelly": the many run-down parts of the North of England that have never voted anything but Labour, but now are feeling taken for granted by the Labour machine. In one part of the North-east, UKIP have already become the official opposition.

So it's better not to trust these clever "election calculators" that appear, showing UKIP with 20% in the polls, but with no seats in Westminster. This is just part of the scare tactics, because deep down, the establishment is terrified.

No comments:

Post a Comment