Nigel Farage should not be allowed to hijack the widespread disaffection with the Westminster elite argues John Westmorland
In March this year Channel 4 produced a programme entitled ‘Nigel Farage Who Are You?’ The programme intended to find about the “political whirlwind” that is “turning British politics upside down”. Actually the programme failed to deliver. It allowed Farage to be the laddish bon viveur his self-publicity is based on – visiting his “favourite watering holes” and mischievously trying to sneak the camera crew into the European parliament.
The truth about the success of Farage is far simpler than the media like to suggest. Farage is, like many other of the New Right leaders across Europe, such as Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party and Marine Le Pen of the French National Front, a child of the decay of Europe’s social democratic parties.
When Labour fully embraced neoliberalism under Blair the divisions between Labour’s natural voter base and its parliamentary representatives grew. Tony Blair was the political son of Margaret Thatcher. He tried to popularise neoliberalism with a mixture of authoritarian lectures to trade union leaders about the need for ‘reform’ in concert with holding tight to the Tories anti-union laws.
New Labour went, as Gordon Brown boasted, further than the Tories in the financial deregulation of the city. And finally they took Britain into a succession of wars that gave rise to the biggest anti-war protests the world has witnessed.
This is the story that accounts for the current political realignment that we see across Europe. The working class and many of the normally quiescent middle class too, have been hit hard by Neoliberal policies that have hugely discredited the mainstream parties. However, this is the story that the mainstream media will not tell, and indeed studiously avoids.
In the absence of any political conversation about the failures of Neoliberalism, working class people are encouraged to focus on the ‘failures of the Westminster elite’ and to blame immigrants for their suffering rather than the bankers and corporations that have got richer and more powerful as the pain for our side ratchets up.
Miliband is somewhat feebly trying to address that by using defence of the NHS as his electoral pitch, but then allows Ed Balls to immediately undermine it with his manifesto for further economic austerity. Thus we have political anger and change being driven by the social politics of the left, being contained by the political solutions of the right. Nowhere was this issue fought out more comprehensively than in the battle for Scottish independence.
Enter Nigel Farage.
Farage like all right wing populists from Hitler and Mussolini to the present day has to offer a fusion of left wing catch-all policies that act as the bait that hides a more sinister right wing hook.
Two examples serve to make the point. The first example blows away Farage’s claims to be a man of the people, a defender of British sovereignty from Europe and a friend of the man-in-the-street all in one go.
Farage stole a march on the Labour party at the Ukip conference in his pledge to ring-fence the NHS from any privatisation threat caused by Britain signing up to the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). TTIP is fully supported by Farage who worked for a mixture of European and US city firms such as Credit Lyonnais Rouse and Natexis Metals.
Farage is telling the truth when he argues that he is not anti-European and just opposes European “burdensome regulation and controls”. He really wants to see a full and free fusion of European and US capital as Owen Jones has recently argued (Guardian, 14 September). This terrifying scenario will potentially lead to Britain losing sovereignty to the giant multinational corporations, wholesale privatisation of services, environmental destruction and the loss of human liberty too. Corporate power will truly rival state power.
When Farage says the NHS will be protected this is the smokescreen to stop us asking about the sinister TTIP negotiations which are taking place in secret locations across the globe. The populist worm carries a Neoliberal hook again. But this is surely a major electoral problem for Ukip whose whole reason for existence is allegedly to defend British sovereignty.
Labour should be able to hammer Farage on this issue, if only they will come out against TTIP too. However, this is highly unlikely as Labour and Miliband run scared of confronting Neoliberalism politically and unleashing a social movement that could start to penetrate working class communities as did the Scottish Yes campaign.
Another example is the vexatious issue of taxation. The anger over tax dodging runs deep. As a former banker, commodities dealer and city spiv, Farage knows all about junk bonds, hedging and the financialisation of the economy that led us to economic disaster. No BBC journalist has ever thrust a microphone into his face and demanded that he apologises for his part in wrecking the economy as they have with Sinn Fein representatives.
Farage is for the rich maximising their wealth free from public accountability – potentially disastrous for him on the doorstep - and yet the mainstream media and Labour election material fail to nail him.
Farage’s tax policies made headlines at the Ukip conference last week. He promised a ‘wag tax’, taxes on Saudi and Russian billionaires and taxes on luxury goods. This was presented as ‘taxing the rich’ that all those hit by austerity can agree with. But again this is a smoke screen for letting the super-rich get away tax free. As Farage recently put it in his column in the Independent,
“Ukip wants an economy where success is encouraged and those who achieve aren’t made to feel “greedy” or obliged to have the Exchequer take an ever growing proportion of their earnings as a penalty for success.”
Where is the political whirlwind that is turning British politics upside down? Farage is himself a consummate Neoliberal whose ‘left’ promises are only there to fool disillusioned Labour voters. He knows the problem himself and at every turn he is ready to escape from difficulty into blatant racist scapegoating.
Come the elections, the more successful we are in exposing him as the spiv and city slicker that he is, the more his ‘I’m not a racist mask’ will slip too. The Rotherham grooming scandal, foreign aid and Muslim terrorists will come centre stage. He will be backe by large sections of the Tory press and encouraged by Labour’s timidity.
Man of the people?
All populists have to sell themselves as ‘of the people’ and Farage with his pint and fag is the British equivalent of Mussolini being filmed working in the fields during Italy’s ‘Battle for Grain’.
All right wing parties that hate democracy, equality and accountability have to develop a leadership cult. There have been extensive studies on the myths and cults that dictators generate from Stalin and Hitler to Pol Pot and Ceausescu. As workers are persuaded by force and fraud to give up their rights the role of the leader becomes ever more important.
Of course it would be a huge mistake to compare Ukip and Farage – a party of ‘fruitcakes and closet racists’ as Cameron rightly depicted them - with 1930s dictatorships. However, it is important to note that they are playing the same game. If Farage can get endless exposure while the cretins in his party are reduced to cheerleaders he can sell himself as the strong leader Miliband can never be.
The greatest electoral weakness of Farage is when the party he lords it over moves out into the open. The gaffes from Ukip representatives are legion with reference to British foreign aid going to “Bongo Bongo Land” possibly being the most well-known offensive comment. The fact that the right are utterly odious in their core beliefs puts extra demand on the role of leader to present himself as the authentic voice of the party too.
This is why right wing parties don’t have conferences that discuss policy. If they did they would probably end up killing each other, politically speaking. Right wing parties prefer rallies, stunts and razzmatazz. For the Nazis it was the Nuremburg rallies, for Mussolini the ranting balcony speeches and posturing.
However, Farage and Ukip are not part of a new fascist movement and this is vitally important when we consider how to confront them. Ukip are not supported by street thugs, and the party membership at their conference was overwhelmingly upper class. Furthermore the British working class are massively to the Left of Farage’s election promises. Therefore unlike the barnstorming rallies of fascist parties in the 1930s Farage has to be content with his evasive and grinning television interviews in some pub! And that tells us exactly why Farage can be beaten.
The greatest strength of Farage is that people who are being dumped on by the system want someone to stand up to it. They want straight speaking instead of Westminster babble. They want someone who offers a dialogue they can engage with. We should be clear that right wing politicians can do this if they are allowed to hijack the political mood of anger at the neoliberal juggernaut.
This article will be followed by one that looks on how the left can see off Ukip and start to release the pent up anger that workers feel at the same time.
John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.