John Westmoreland concludes his series with eight ideas for halting Ukip’s surge and rebuilding the movement
This article forms a conclusion to two previous articles about Ukip’s conference, the demonstration against them in Doncaster and an analysis of the real Nigel Farage. What follows is intended as a possible response to Ukip’s rise, especially in Labour’s northern heartlands.
Pity the poor Labour voter
People like myself, who vote Labour, don’t do it out of blind loyalty. Despite Labour’s appalling record in office most working class people understand the idea of voting Labour is to unite against the party of the bosses – the Tories. However, there is a real possibility that in Labour’s northern heartlands the point of voting Labour is lost to an increasing number of working class voters. True, many of Ukip’s new voters are also from working class Tories and the self-employed, but there is a real swing to Ukip from those enraged by Labour’s pathetic response to austerity and Miliband’s weak leadership.
In towns like Doncaster where the Labour group has imposed the Tory austerity cuts without protest, and closed care homes and community learning centres despite serious campaigns, many are looking to vote against Labour because of what they perceive as a betrayal. The ‘Caregate’ campaign to save the care homes and learning centres, once the Labour cabinet rejected their petition, went onto the streets and urged the people of Doncaster to ‘vote against Labour’. Tory voters will do this too, making Ukip’s threat greater.
The fact that Ukip now have two Doncaster councillors suggests that a sizeable group of voters are prepared to kick Labour by voting Ukip. They see Farage as a credible anti-establishment voice, and Ukip are talking about ‘standing up for ordinary people’. Ordinary people do feel very strongly that the country is sinking and their lives are getting worse, with some justification as austerity is ripping the heart out of the welfare state and living standards plunge.
Farage uses simple and reactionary arguments about who to blame – politically correct politicians, immigrants, European bureaucrats. And we should not be surprised when workers take the bait. There must be another way than attacking ordinary people, and Farage seems to be the only politician of note saying it.
The prospect of Ukip even becoming the third party in the UK should fill us with horror. A big vote for Ukip will not push Labour to the left but further to the right. Anti-immigrant attitudes will harden, and the debate will not be about stopping austerity, but cutting foreign aid, giving council houses to white people first, and cutting back on the welfare state to reduce taxes on the poor.
Knocking Farage off his perch
Farage has had an incredibly easy ride by the media. As Westminster politics becomes ever duller the media have seized on Farage’s populism as a way of spicing up the news and putting mainstream politicians on the defensive.
Working class voters need to see through the façade and recognise a city spiv and enemy of everything we hold dear. At the same time we need to reveal Ukip as a party whose politics appeal to the right wing of the Conservative party, the bankers, and the boardrooms of the giant corporations and the enemies of the welfare state. They hate trade unions, equality and the ‘burdensome regulations’ that protect workers lives but stand in the way of their super profits. Every working class vote for Ukip is an indication of how much we need to rebuild our movement.
Eight ideas for halting Ukip’s surge and rebuilding the movement
1The Labour movement, with over 6 million trade unionists, should be able to halt Ukip in its tracks. Add to this the millions of workers who suffer wage, food and fuel poverty and there are millions who can be brought together to oppose the ultra-Neoliberalism of Farage and Ukip. We need a united front to stop Ukip precisely because we need to build the movement against the populist rhetoric which will ramp austerity up further if Farage can pull in a sizeable vote.
2While demonstrations have a place, defeating Ukip will not be like taking on fascist parties like the BNP. Workers see Ukip as anti-establishment and their rhetoric seems to match the urgency of the situation. Therefore we need a strategy that engages working class communities. Working class communities have diverse ethnic and religious affiliations, some are in work and some unemployed. The point is that every community is potentially divided. Farage welcomes the divisions – we don’t. It is the job of the movement to make sure that all are represented.
3To overcome the democratic deficit we need community based meetings (or assemblies) that facilitate the kind of dialogue which will release the anger against austerity, and can be used to nail Farage’s lies. In order to give the assemblies the credibility to mobilise the community they need to be called by trade unions, campaigns and in particular the Peoples Assembly – the Labour movement. We have to do the initial work and locate the people who will want to be part of it. A good title for a first meeting could be ‘Who is Nigel Farage?’ Let’s use his populism to his detriment. We can draw in the people who want to see him come unstuck as well as those who have illusions in him.
4Meetings should create a framework that brings people together and allows them to take ownership of the event. Lectures should be avoided. We need to start by raising what people think Farage stands for – then explore the reality. Each meeting needs to identify three or four Ukip issues to look at. One of them needs to be immigration. Immigration is not an issue to duck nor to become aggressive about. Workers are naturally concerned about immigration. Wages are going down. There is a housing crisis. The response of the media and all the main parties is to speak out about the need to have a ‘real debate about immigration’. The ‘debate’ is always far from real. We have to use the argument of uniting against austerity to work the contradiction in workers heads to the left. We should welcome the debate, but make sure that the ground rules of the meeting forbid racist or disrespectful behaviour. At the end of the meeting the only people who should feel unhappy are hard line racists and right wingers.
5Meetings which are successful should drive some holes in Ukip’s credibility as an electoral alternative. That doesn’t mean we have won. We have not got a social democratic alternative party to Labour, and elections are about voting. The lesson from Scotland is that community based politics can massively shift the terms of reference in the election – witness Gordon Brown’s appeal to solidarity and other Old labour values to counter the Yes campaign. We have to replace the meaningless activity of voting with something real. We aim to move people into real political activity during the elections. We need to really stimulate the anti-party politics in the room. The last half hour of the meeting should be about creativity. What can we do to make those posh bastards who want our vote listen to us?
6We can agree to organise hustings for candidates in the local government elections in each community, and we can start to lay out our rules for the candidates. For example, we should instruct all party representatives that they will have to speak about the democratic deficit or zero hours contracts. Let’s get the community to prioritise their concerns and how we can take our politics to the parties. Then we might have something tangible left to work with after the electoral anti-climax next May.
7Building the movement has to be done by workers themselves. Can we get people from the first meeting to organise another one on the neighbouring estate? The art of politics is to mobilise. Uniting a community overcomes the politics of division and establishes the real class interests that need exposing. If people come out of the meeting empowered – their political views were articulated, they got cheered, they struck a blow at the real enemy – they will want more. The movement can create a band-wagon that can roll over Farage and then home in on the others.
8This should be a real united front against Ukip, built in the same style as Stop the War. Our aim is to stop Farage and Ukip. Our success will not be measured by how many votes the Labour party gets. It will be measured by how many people move from considering a protest vote as a means of fighting back, to how many actively fight for the policies that we all want. Farage’s worst nightmare is a mass campaign to tax the rich to build council houses; to see diverse communities come together against the corporate interests he represents.
These are only initial ideas. Let’s begin to act and push out. Better answers will only be discovered by making a start.
John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.