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On UKIP and legitimacy

Screen Shot 2013-02-12 at 12.11.16Alex Andreou has had a go at UKIP on the New Statesman website. It’s a detailed, but relatively standard, attempt to critique the party – that they have no coherent, let alone costed, policies, and that many of the people in the party or associated with the party are either nasty or mad or both. I do not disagree with either of these broad points, but I wonder whether attacking UKIP in this way actually works as a means of opposition.

For UKIP this sort of critique does not matter. They are the anti-party party, and while Alex’s critique appeals to someone like me who reads the New Statesman, or the sort of political pragmatists who will already vote for the mainstream parties, such a critique is not going to really do much good to stop UKIP’s rise.

Another recent example made me reflect further about the sort of dilemma when dealing with UKIP.

In a debate last month in the European Parliament after François Hollande had spoken there, Nigel Farage stated that he was opposed to European military action in Mali. How and why can this be so, people wondered, because UKIP has been critical of islamic extremism in the past?

The answer is, I think, that before the pragmatic intervene-or-not question is even asked, a different question is asked by Farage and UKIP first and foremost. This question is essentially: how does a Mali intervention fit our world view? If it’s ‘Europeans’ doing military things, when military matters must be a matter for the British people, then whatever the intervention, it is going to be wrong.

To put it another way, you have Farage arguing for something on the basis of his interpretation of the legitimacy of the process, while everyone else is arguing about the grindingly pragmatic matters of whether to launch a military intervention or not.

Extrapolate this example to UKIP’s approach in general and you then begin to see why arguments against UKIP tend to fail, or at least not gain traction. The party’s view, in its essence, is that the European Union is to blame for a lot of the problems the UK faces – the economy, immigration, foreign policy etc.* – and vague policy pronouncements flow from that. The policies themselves may be unworkable and not pragmatic, but the way UKIP (and especially Farage) argues is often consistent and somehow ideologically driven. Meeting those arguments with a “your policies don’t work” response, or with a “well, politics is a the complicated matter of governing and compromise” doesn’t really cut it, because those are typically pragmatic, political class sorts of answers that in the current environment in the UK resonate less and less.

* – this doesn’t always work. I have no idea how opposition to gay marriage stems from that. That’s probably just pure populism.


22 Comments

  • Alex Andreou |

    I agree with much of what you say, Jon. However, I don’t think that, for example, their official association with the Lega Nord is sporadic evidence of “mad or bad” but official policy of which I genuinely think many people are not aware, including people who support them.

  • Jon |

    @Alex – yes, fair point. Complete information about their odd allies is never a bad thing. I was aware of this stuff with Lega Nord, but that’s perhaps only because I follow Brussels politics closely.

  • Rahul |

    There was an interesting report about a political consultant who was hired to run US campaigns against gay marriage. His approach was to tell people that opposing gay marriage wasn’t a sign of something negative like bigotism but a sign of something positive, say supporting traditional values, or religion. I think this is called ‘re-framing’ and I suspect this is exactly what UKIP does. ‘Take care of your own first’ sounds rather better than ‘Pakis out’.

  • guy-francis vella |

    Is there any need to counter parties like the UKIP?

    The anti-parties of both political extremes only gain mainstream acceptance when the mainstream parties destroy their own legitimacy (i.e. Greece today). From my very distant perspective on the EP and British politics the UKIP seem more like an irritant given unnecessary importance because of the oddities of first past the post voting in British national elections. Irony of ironies, if the Conservatives has backed preferential voting when it was put to a vote in 2011 the UKIP could have been safely consigned to national electorial irrelevence.

    They’re not the outright fascist of the BNP or its ilk, so they are more populist right than fascist right, surely best ignored. If the reaction of their voters in the UK is anything like the voters of similar parties I’ve studied elsewhere an article from any source that can be besmirched as lefist, progressive, or best of all both, is merely a red rag to a bull.

  • Jon |

    @Rahul – yes. The right have been masters of this for years in the USA. But the essential point is that words (and how they make people feel) matter, and I think UKIP has understood this better than many mainstream parties. Towards ends I do not like…

    @Guy-Francis – yes, in part. I do think that the political mainstream (and indeed the media too, and especially the BBC) gives them unmerited attention. But a better, and ideologically clearer, response to UKIP is also needed – just ignoring them is no good.

  • Druth |

    You don’t have a clue what UKIP is about, so you make a caricature out of your prejudices and then expect UKIP to defend the straw man.

    True UKIP have said significantly increase defence spending. However what doesn’t suit your narrative, and is missing from this piece, is that UKIP have also been against all the recent foreign adventures. The reasons given for this include; not wanting to be a stooge for American foreign policy and, the recognition that the UK is no longer a global superpower. Their attitude has consistently been; to respect the sovereignty of other nation states, to get on with those we can and try to ignore those with whom we can’t.

  • Druth |

    This Lega Nord stuff is UKIP 101.

    UKIP wants a debate on UK sovereignty. Benn, Kinnock, Blair, the Labour Party and Unions etc have all previously campaigned for this.

    We hoped for representative democracy, but the political classes ignored us and we have been forced to set up our own party. Our choice then is to get elected using PR to the EP or have no political representation under first past the post. The rules of the EP mean that you have to form political groups or loose funding. Basically we had a choice do this or be ignored.

    We’re not interested in bloody Lega Nord or the rest of the EP because if you remember we’re the ones actually campaigning TO GET OUT.

  • Jon |

    @Druth – you are not right. I am not making a caricature out of my prejudices.

    The starting point is that I have a view of how I would like the world to work that’s completely the opposite of UKIP’s. Politics is a matter of complex compromise, I want the EU to exist, for the UK to be in it, and for representative democracy to work within the EU.

    UKIP’s position is coherent – i.e. retrenchment back to the UK – but for me it is wrong, ideologically. That is a matter of my own personal values, versus your own personal values. You have your values, I have mine. Fine.

    When you take that as a basis, re-read the blog entry. I am saying the political mainstream in the UK is not paying enough attention to UKIP, and that they find it hard to argue against UKIP due to their own deficiencies. Considering I do not agree with what UKIP stands for, what is your problem with that?

  • Druth |

    A good response thank you.

    What concerns UKIP is that, after forty years of lies and political mendacity by the political elite of this so called representative democracy, we should have the right to be involved in an adult debate in which the people of Britain decide how and by whom this is country governed.

    “UKIP’s position is coherent – i.e. retrenchment back to the UK – but for me it is wrong, ideologically. That is a matter of my own personal values, versus your own personal values. You have your values, I have mine. Fine.”

    The point is that my values are worthless, they count for nothing and because of that SO DO YOURS. They don’t care what you or I think, the intention is to force the EU on us. They’re making massive changes to the identity and the sovereignty of this country which in a democracy should be subject to intense scrutiny but we are being systematically ignored. We currently have a system of ‘representation’ which only counts when the issues suit them and the outcomes can be guaranteed.

    You don’t have to like us, but what you need to recognise is that this is how the current version of the Westminster/EU operates and that one day it might be you asking “Erm do we have a right to a say here?”

    There are proEU groups which agree with this analysis and which supports UKIPs call for referendums and want to reform the EU.

    What would make me happy? I’m a democrat. If after a free and fair debate the British people genuinely did decide that they wanted the EU then I would go along with that.

  • Nick Crosby |

    Jon, another thoughtful intervention. Thank you.

    @ Druth
    Given that the British Parliament- the seat of our sovereignty and our democratically elected body- has consistently upheld the Treaties of European membership, in what sense is the EU being forced upon us?
    Who is this terrifying ‘they’ that you see pursuing you and repressing you?
    And if all politicians are liars (as you imply), why should I believe Nigel Farage- a politician- any more than anyone else.

  • Druth |

    @ Nick

    “Given that the British Parliament- the seat of our sovereignty and our democratically elected body – has consistently upheld the Treaties of European membership, in what sense is the EU being forced upon us?”

    There have been repeated polls over many years showing a majority of people would like to pull out of the EU, its currently at @55%. I’ve seen figures of 90% for those who want a referendum (many proEU).

    We currently have 3 parties who want to be in. Have they been fair with us, or have they lied to us, broken promises and tried to ignore us for the past forty years?

    The important point here is that MPs are not our leaders they are supposed to be our representatives, to do what we a clear majority say.

    Setting up a political party to contest this treatment has been extremely hard and it really shouldn’t have had to happen. If you plan to make enormous changes to how a country is governed then surely you must ensure that the changes have overwhelming popular support. They’re not even close to a majority. The reality is that only the political class wants this and they have betrayed us to get it.

    Whether you agree with this analysis or not, how sensible is to go into a political union when the majority of people in the country actively don’t want it and significant number regard it as an act of treason.

    We are not going to go away. Let’s make a proper decision about this and move forwards together.

  • Richard |

    “For UKIP this sort of critique does not matter. They are the anti-party party”

    Witness the fact that the last poll from the Guardian shows UKIP gaining traction even after Cameron offers a referendum and reduces the EU budget. I doubt Europe ever impinged significantly on the radar of most recent UKIP voters; the absence of alternative anti-parties is probably considerably more significant.

    “What would make me happy? I’m a democrat. If after a free and fair debate the British people genuinely did decide that they wanted the EU then I would go along with that”

    I expect they said that after the last referendum too.

  • Nick Crosby |

    @Druth

    The role of the representative in our democracy was argued cogently by the famous conservative MP Edmund Burke in his speech to the Electors in Bristol in 1774. Part of it is below. Democracy is NOT the straight translation of an opinion of an elector into a vote in a legislatur

    …..Certainly, Gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a Representative, to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and, above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But, his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgement, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you; to any man, or to any sett of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the Law and the Constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your Representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

    My worthy Colleague says, his Will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If Government were a matter of Will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But Government and Legislation are matters of reason and judgement, and not of inclination; and, what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one sett of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?

    To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of Constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a Representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; Mandates issued, which the Member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgement and conscience; these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental Mistake of the whole order and tenour of our Constitution.

    Parliament is not a Congress of Ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an Agent and Advocate, against other Agents and Advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative Assembly of one Nation, with one Interest, that of the whole; where, not local Purposes, not local Prejudices ought to guide, but the general Good, resulting from the general Reason of the whole. You chuse a Member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not Member of Bristol, but he is a Member of Parliament. If the local Constituent should have an Interest, or should form an hasty Opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the Community, the Member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it Effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject. I have been unwillingly drawn into it; but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you. Your faithful friend, your devoted servant, I shall be to the end of my life: A flatterer you do not wish for. On this point of instructions, however, I think it scarcely possible, we ever can have any sort of difference. Perhaps I may give you too much, rather than too little trouble.

    From the first hour I was encouraged to court your favour to this happy day of obtaining it, I have never promised you any thing, but humble and persevering endeavours to do my duty. The weight of that duty, I confess, makes me tremble; and whoever well considers what it is, of all things in the world will fly from what has the least likeness to a positive and precipitate engagement. To be a good Member of Parliament, is, let me tell you, no easy task; especially at this time, when there is so strong a disposition to run into the perilous extremes of servile compliance, or wild popularity. To unite circumspection with vigour, is absolutely necessary; but it is extremely difficult. We are now Members for a rich commercial City; this City, however, is but a part of a rich commercial Nation, the Interests of which are various, multiform, and intricate. We are Members for that great Nation, which however is itself but part of a great Empire, extended by our Virtue and our Fortune to the farthest limits of the East and of the West. All these wide-spread Interests must be considered; must be compared; must be reconciled if possible. We are Members for a free Country; and surely we all know, that the machine of a free Constitution is no simple thing; but as intricate and as delicate, as it is valuable. We are Members in a great and ancient Monarchy; and we must preserve religiously, the true legal rights of the Sovereign, which form the Key-stone that binds together the noble and well-constructed Arch of our Empire and our Constitution. A Constitution made up of balanced Powers must ever be a critical thing. As such I mean to touch that part of it which comes within my reach. I know my Inability, and I wish for support from every Quarter. In particular I shall aim at the friendship, and shall cultivate the best Correspondence, of the worthy Colleague you have given me.

  • ACA The Underground |

    * – this doesn’t always work. I have no idea how opposition to gay marriage stems from that. That’s probably just pure populism.

    How does that work then? Most people in the UK support gay marriage (if opinion polls are to be believed).

    Maybe instead that should read unpopular-ism.

  • ACA The Underground |

    Richard.

    When does the UK ever get a fair referendum?

    They are normally ‘fixed’ by the government, take the vote on electoral system change. What did we get? The status quo or flat PR, where was the choice? where was STV etc?

    There is no democracy. And don’t even get me started on the monarchy and House of Lords.

  • Druth |

    @Nick An interesting response, but sadly also just a sophism against the people which can be wheeled out whenever an MP wants to tell us ‘that they know best’. The central plank of the argument, that the voter is given to capricious whims, doesn’t apply in this case where a majority in the country wants out and we have had the majority for a number of years. People can ‘choose not to see’ this, or worse we get a lot of just ‘tough we won’, but the starting point for UKIP is not ‘out of Europe’ but ‘we haven’t been dealt with fairly.’ There no such thing a ‘selectively representative democracy’.

  • Jon |

    @Druth (replying to comment 12.02.2013 at 18:28) – you say “The point is that my values are worthless, they count for nothing and because of that SO DO YOURS.” I’m not sure this is true – my values are worth very little, but they are not entirely worthless. From time to time, and more by luck than judgment, I might happen to be able to shape something or change something. Now if only I could get more things like this going…

    But your point raises two further ones – I feel at least as disenfranchised by Westminster as I do by anything going on in the EU (I’ve never once voted in the UK in anything other than a safe seat), and secondly the internet gives us, as normal citizens (not sure what normal means, but anyway, basically people not paid to write who are armed with an internet connection) the power to see into corridors of power with greater ease than ever before. But when we don’t like what we see we do not have the tools to really do anything about it. We need everything the Pirate Party is doing in Germany, and then more.

  • Jon |

    @Nick Crosby (12.02.2013 at 19:12) and @Druth (12.02.2013 at 20:24) – I do not buy this “UK Parliament has sovereignty” thing, because as Druth says the UK parliament is so far out of kilter with the population on so many things that this issue is hard to defend. Let’s have proportional representation in Parliament please – I’d rather have 10% of MPs from UKIP (or whatever party) and for the debate to be played out sensibly in Parliament, than have the current situation where Parliament is no way close to a representation of the views of the people.

  • Jon |

    @ACA The Underground – you’re right re. equal marriage, for the population as a whole. I’m not sure that’s true for potential UKIP voters though? But how can their position be explained on this? I don’t know.

    Re. referendums – getting a fair one is a very hard task, and I doubt it is possible. At least in Ireland and Switzerland there is some experience to try to make things balanced, while the UK experience should give everyone cause for concern. I’ve been involved in YES to the Welsh Assembly, and YES to AV – dire in both cases, although one of the two got the right result.

  • Jon |

    It’s a bit tangential, but have a read of this – “Political failure modes and the beige dictatorship”

  • ACA The Underground |

    I think UKIP’s policy comes from them being right-wing, meaning they want to cling on to traditional things (the past) such as homosexuality = bad and women in the kitchen! It’s very outdated but I suspect that is part of it, they want WW1 Britain back.

    A time with much less foreigners and everyone ‘knew their place’ as it were.

    The sooner that party dies off the better.

  • Perry de Havilland |

    “For UKIP this sort of critique does not matter. They are the anti-party party”

    Exactly true. Indeed the fact Guardian reading folk dislike them is a plus, not a minus, for Farage.

    But what is true for UKIP-the-Party, is doubly true for their target audience. The more people call them swivel eyed loons, the more their target audience feels validated. Playing the racist card does this in spades, simply confirming there is indeed no need whatsoever to engage their critics.

So, what do you think ?