Sunday, May 11, 2014

UKIP, the European and local elections: why are they so popular?

With less than two weeks to go before the combined Euro and local elections, it looks like it's brown trousers time for the three main parties.

A recent national poll puts Ukip on a fifth of the popular vote, with signs that their vote is impervious to attacks from other parties, as well as any seemingly self-inflicted wounds. What is going on?

Tell it like it is

A recent investigation into what the man in the pub thinks discovered that one reason why more and more people respect Ukip is the honesty of their message. The fact that their candidates and members say things that sound "racist" or "sexist" is a sign to many voters that Ukip people actually say what they think.

This tells you as much about popular disaffection towards the main three parties as it does about Ukip. A significant portion of the population simply don't trust what they three main parties say. By contrast, Ukip's popularity is at least partly a result of their "genuineness". The gaffes and "un-PC" statements by Ukip simply demonstrate that the party is ran by real human beings who have their own imperfections and flaws. Due to the level of distrust with the "big three", their human flaws are working out counter-intuitively to be an advantage.

In contrast to the "professional politicians" of "LibLabCon", Ukip look like real human beings in contrast to the usual robots that churn out the agreed party line. And when they're not doing that, the "professional politicians" are saying whatever they want to say just to stay in power; in other words, lying. Much of the public may have known this for some time, but only recently have seen Ukip as a genuine (and serious) alternative to the establishment. This explains Ukip's rise in the last eighteen months.

This puts the big three in an impossible situation. As they have so clearly lost the trust of a significant part of the voting public, the only way they can get them back is if they radically overhaul their approach to politics. To an extent, Labour is trying to do this, by trying to overhaul its ideas to fit the economic times. But they, like the Conservatives (the LibDems are already near death), are playing catch-up.

It will take years for the "big three" to restore the "credibility gap"; the 2015 election is already likely to have Ukip playing a huge role on the sidelines. Until the big three start acting like they're parties run by real people, Ukip will take credit for simply "telling it like it is".

Am I allowed to say that?

One of the most curious social changes in the last fifteen years or so in Britain is the effect that "political correctness" has had on what people say in public.

The term "political correctness" came into the social sphere in the nineties, so that by the time of "Blair's Britain" and "Cool Britannia", there was an unprecedented light shone on the negative effect that prejudice had had on British culture. The Blair administration can now be seen as the high-water mark of how government used legislation to purge prejudice from the minds of everyday people. After the decades previously, this looked like a huge step in the right direction for inter-racial relations, as well as acceptance for the gay community, and the culture of casual sexism that still existed in the workplace and on the streets.

This was where the term "political correctness" came in. The problem with trying to use forms of government sanction to purge prejudice was that is was bound to eventually lead to a polarisation of society. At Blair's party speech in 1999, he railed against the "forces of conservatism" (i.e. small-minded prejudice), which only served to rile the likes of the "Daily Mail". Before long, it was the norm to see regular headlines in that newspaper, and others like it, about "Political Correctness gone mad".

But the real effect that the idea of "political correctness" had on society was that it made people aware of their own form of self-censorship. People would catch themselves wanting to complain about, for example, asylum seekers or immigrants in conversation, but then then ask their interlocutor "Am I allowed to say that? Is it racist?".

The real question here is: is it "racist" to complain about the effects of, say, immigration? Or even, say, the perception that Muslim rights sometimes seem to supersede secular rights?
The urban and rural working class are on the front line of these issues today, and it is they who are turning to Ukip in droves.

The appearance of "self-censorship" during the Blair administration led to the view in the establishment that, because "Middle England" was now relaxed about things like immigration, it meant that it had become taboo to talk about its potential negative effects. The effects of "multiculturalism" were similarly off the table. The same was true of the EU. On this basis a "consensus" developed amongst the "big three" that certain issues were agreed upon, and were therefore not worthy of debate.

It is into this vacuum of debate that Ukip has now entered.

Because of the perception fed by Westminster that in Britain, "we're all middle class now", the political establishment began to believe their own rhetoric. The abject dishonesty of this claim is now bearing fruit, and for those in Westminster, it is a very unpleasant-smelling fruit.

For those in Westminster, the rise of Ukip may well lead Britain into a very uncertain and dark place, but they only have themselves to blame.

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