Understanding UKIP #1: I Am Disillusioned Too

by George_East on May 28, 2014

Nigel FaragePart of UKIP’s appeal is plainly their stance on immigration, which much more than ‘Europe’ explains, I think, a large part of their growth.  In times of economic insecurity many feel threatened (and some are in fact threatened) by immigration as competition for jobs is perceived to increase and there is a downwards pressure on wages.    ‘Europe’ is a symbol of this as it is seen as foreign and the reason why the British authorities have lost control, but it is, also, of course substantively part of the cause as a result of freedom of movement laws enshrined in the European Treaties and which form the heart of the European project.  I will write a little more about this in a second post on UKIP over the coming days.

However, just as a big a part in UKIP’s appeal is that they are the ‘none of the above’ anti-politics as-it-is now-practised party.   Lynn Featherstone, the soon to be ex-Lib Dem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, during the election night coverage last Thursday said that all three of the mainstream parties (these days it is hard to see the Lib Dems as one of the three main parties) were too boring, too scared to say what they really thought and too remote from ordinary people.   On the other hand UKIP and in particular Nigel Farage have cultivated an image that they are the kind of party which is populated by ordinary folk, rather than career politicians.  It is this image which allows their eccentricities and unpolished candidates to become part of their appeal, rather than something which puts people off.   They are the anti-politician politicians.  However false this really is (and is anyone’s image so manufactured as that of Farage?), it has a gut appeal to many people alienated by the political clones from Westminster.

While watching the results come in on Thursday night and again while watching the counts on Sunday night I became conscious that every time the election shows went to the panel of politicians for comment I would flick over. From Sky to BBC and then back again.   Although I stayed up to 3am for the London Euro result to come in (to complete all of the results due on Sunday night/Monday morning) – damn you Tower Hamlets – I did everything I could to avoid having to listen to the politicians themselves.  I would happily sit through Jeremy Vine doing his second rate Peter Snow impersonation or the electoral wonkery of John Curtice on the BBC and Michael Thresher on Sky, but as soon as the dreaded words and ‘now to our panel’ were uttered my heart sank.

Thinking about this some more, I realised that this was not simply an election coverage thing.  Although I can fairly say that I am as interested in politics as ever – otherwise what would I be doing staying up to 3am watching election results for the European parliament, I have reached the point that I cannot bear politicians. And I mean that in respect of all parties.  There is in fact not a single one (well Caroline Lucas – but how often does she get on the telly?) who I look forward to hearing what they have to say.  That was never the case in the past – however disillusioned I was at any moment in time, there were politicians who I was interested in what they had to say and who I would turn over to watch.    Yet now, I will turn over to avoid them when they appear on news programmes and in fact I hardly watch or listen to news programmes anymore for precisely that reason (politicians are so much easier to avoid on Twitter or on online news sources). I will almost religiously avoid any newspaper article written by them.   A guarantee of an asinine platitudinous waste of trees is a piece with a politician’s byline.

The reason for this is that they will simply parrot the same tired two or three lines, dictated to them from the centre.  Hardworking people, cost of living crisis, blah di fucking blah.   Now it has been a long time since I have watched an episode of BBC Question Time, probably 15 years or more.  But the reason I stopped watching that  was that I could not deal with the godawfulness of the people  in the audience who asked many of the questions (it is one of the reasons I am deeply ill suited to being a politician) rather than the politicians.  Now I would not go near it with a barge pole because of the politicians themselves.     

There may well have been good reasons why this came about – the 24 hour news cycle, the obsession of the media with splits in parties etc, but it is also, I think, about the take over of politics by a professional political class, schooled in message discipline and focus group lowest common denominator messaging.  It is deeply depressing.     I have written previously of just how refreshing it was to watch the quality of the debate on one of the re-runs on BBC Parliament of the 1983 general election night coverage, which I watched with a hangover pretty much gripped throughout a year or so ago, politicians and all.   There were real men and women saying what they thought and engaging properly in debate, not overly polished automatons repeating ‘the line’ like speak your weight machines. 

If I feel like this – as a member of the professional metropolitan middle classes who is actively interested in politics, then what on earth do normal people with a healthy lack of interest in politics think.   To the already disengaged they are faced with robots from another planet – no one they know or will ever meet speaks like Ed Miliband or makes highly contrived facial expressions like David Cameron.  In those circumstances how can someone who looks at least like someone you’ve seen down the pub and who appears capable of speaking vaguely human fail to appeal, just by way of contrast.     The Labour Party in recent years has only had one politician even marginally capable of this and that was Alan Johnson.  The Tories have Boris – who if he is the last person you will ever meet down the pub – at least doesn’t run away from his poshness and comes across as himself rather than spun half to death.  The Lib Dems have no one at all since they shut Charlie K away in a box.      And if you look at the way the parties select their candidates, this is not going to change anytime soon.

The anti-politics mood then is not simply about policy issues or a feeling of a lack of security or control in a changing world (though it is that too), it is also about the complete take over of our politics by an alien class of political professionals for whom it is impossible to feel empathy and who are largely in a dialogue with each other and those who are like them in the media, rather than with the British people.   This mood is not going away anytime soon.


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Ray_North May 28, 2014 at 11:41 am

Amen to that George!


Fionauk512 May 28, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Nailed it! How can we effect any change though? Compulsory voting, like Australia? Do away with party politics? No career politicians….limit years of service?


nino May 28, 2014 at 2:31 pm

your message is clearly “to thine own self be true”. But what happens when the “self” you are supposed to be true to is a monstrous hybrid removed from most people’s daily experience? The professional politicos in the westminster bubble are indeed a weird lot but then so are politicos throughout europe including Nigel Farage. I’m old enough to remember towns with working class culture and the industrial work associated with it. Old enough to remember passion and ideals in politics and a world in which the Reds chose the underdog in any struggle whilst the Blues invariably sided with the strong, the arrogant, the racist and the corrupt. Two factors have destroyed my idealistic romantic view of the past – the decline of traditional industry replaced by ephemeral financial conjuring alongside servile consumerist “service” industry and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The failure to manage the glaring imbalances between East and West has already led to carnage in ex-yugoslavia and in economic terms is still poised to wreak further havoc in the jumble that is the 27 nation EU. Interestingly the first to complain about Romanian workers seeking work in western europe were polish emigres who anticipated Farage’s comments about Romanians moving in next door by several years. The decline of traditional industry was a mixture of an ostrich mentality about ownership and the supposed necessity of getting rid of the trade union obstacle to competitiveness and was hastened by the deliberate destruction of the same by that great patriot, yea the female Churchill herself the Blessed Margaret. Of course she “did a lot of good” and we can all see that poor Germany is struggling because it is burdened by traditional industries like VW, Mercedes, Bosch etc…I ponder this every time I drive off in one of Zipcar’s VWs…. and very nice it is too.
UKIP frightens me. It is also part of a professional political class and Nigel Farage has been benefiting from the largesse of the EU parliament for some time and now many others will join him. Vested interest in remaining in Europe? More worryingly, two BNP seats have disappeared and it is easy to see where those votes went. I doubt if they recanted their racist views along the way. Will the professional politicos still be talking about listening to what UKIP voters are saying if gangs start going round Romanian bashing? I hope the latter never takes place and that somebody somewhere has the courage to passionately campaign for ideals which are not appeasement of a far right racist agenda.
Traditional trade unionists I recall were critical of the EU before it became fashionable. I’m sorry to say that I was one of many who refused to listen. Real people with passion sadly come from real environments with real lives and not TOWIE.


Mike Killingworth May 28, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Well said George, and well said too to my old mate Nino.

UKIP need to stay away from power – there is a substantial oppositionist vote (up to half the right vote and a fifth of the left vote, i.e. Greens) because those voters no longer believe that politicians want to make their lives better, or could even if they did want to.

I don’t suppose Nigel Farage visits this site, but if he does, here’s a cautionary tale for him. Some years ago a populist party (whose name escapes me) won control of the legislature of British Columbia, promising, among other things, to abolish MPs’ pensions. Once in office however they discovered that such abolition was “technically impossible” and come the next election the voters tipped out every last one of them. So, Nige, whatever else you do, make sure you don’t wind up in the same position that the Cleggster found himself in after the last election. It ages you. It really does – just ask Nick!


John Lett May 30, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Very good article. It is the first time I have felt sorry for a Politian. Nick Clegg has done his best and that’s all one can expect. The Westminster bubble has burst. Headless chickens are easy meat for the UKIP fox. There should be a blog http://www.nothingleftinthehenhouse.co.uk


Sam Beresford June 12, 2014 at 4:46 pm

I think you’re point about the mediocrity of mainstream politicians is a big part of UKIP’s appeal; Farage is a contrast to it and he is a very effective communicator.

Another element is that people reacted against being told that a party they might have some sympathy for was racist, on the basis of the Facebook rantings of some local council candidates. This is hardly evidence that the party was racist, and the more Diane Abbot type figures kept saying or insinuating it the more angry people got. I voted for UKIP partly for that reason. Seeing Barbara Roache talk about ‘Euracism’ without any actual evidence to support just pissed the hell out of me. So there was an element of ‘F*** You!’.

Fundamentally though it is about culture. You have three parties that essentially represent different angles of the same viewpoint – an urban, privileged, middle class, dare I say it ‘post-material’ world view that it at odds with what many working class people think and feel. Its interesting that UKIP did well in places like Rotherham – places where Labour have had sole control for donkey’s years, but which were essentially taken for granted by New Labour and written off by Cameron’s modernising agenda.

Now that there is a voice for these disenfranchised people that is – whatever you think about it – infinitely more decent, more credible and more widely appealing than the BNP, I think you’ll see UKIP grow and grow.

PS. Mike Killingworth – Are you thinking about the Reform Party of Canada?


Dave August 3, 2014 at 11:20 am

Two points:

The problem is not just that politicians all now say what they are told to say – it’s also a problem of what they are saying, or rather not saying. In other words it doesn’t seem to matter what they say, or which party is in power, nothing seems to change. The actual key issues are not discussed i.e. issues relating to the neo-liberal project of reducing the general population’s share of national income.

Second, I agree with all you say about UKIP and immigration – but I believe one of the main reasons why UKIP does well is not to do with economics i.e. blaming immigrants if wages are reduced, whether the country is better off with immigration, etc. What a lot of commentators, bloggers and journalists seem to ignore is the fact of numbers and the rapid changes to the nature of communities. Yes, of course, there are and always will be idiots who hate foreign people. But I also believe there are many people who are totally reasonable who have found the rate of change in the neighbourhoods too rapid. I think it is normal to feel that way. And I think any analysis of UKIP or the Front National, is lacking if it ignores such issues. It is wholly natural, to my mind, that a level of continuity, cohesion and identity is required in a society, and I think this has been disrupted by the free movement of people. In fact, I think the EU has shot themselves in the foot with this policy, big time. I am all for immigration, I think it is good. But I think it should be more controlled.


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