Editorial from the November 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
So UKIP have won their first MP, Douglas Carswell, ex-Tory, currency crank and free-marketeer who wants to bash those on benefits even more. Quite how UKIP feel this can appeal to Labour voters is unclear. From a policy point of view, UKIP are still Tories, an external faction of the Tory party, financed by jumped-up, opinionated businessmen who think they can buy themselves into politics.
The trouble is that people don’t always think rationally when it comes to protest votes. In this instance they are voting against something –the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem Westminster politicians – not for anything. UKIP voters won’t be interested in anything beyond the party’s anti-foreigner stance and don’t know or couldn’t care less what else it says it stands for. Nor would they expect UKIP to carry out its promises if they got into power any more than they expect the other parties to.
There have been protest parties before that have done well at by-elections. That’s what the Liberals used to be in the 60s and 70s, and then there was the SDP in the 80s. They attracted people who were put off by the Punch and Judy show between the Tories representing big business and Labour perceived as representing the trade unions, which they saw as reflecting the industrial disputes of the time. The Liberals were a pretty pointless lot but you could hardly describe them as nasty. In fact, in some ways they espoused some decent values such as tolerance.
It’s different today. Times are harsher and the protest vote is going to a nasty party. In periods of economic downturn people turn more easily to this kind of party. Nationalist, protectionist and anti-foreigner views flourish when people, who already mistakenly consider themselves to be a nation, feel economically insecure. They tend to turn to the ‘nation-state’ to protect them from world market pressures and the competition of other states.
Panic-stricken, the Tories, who stand most to lose from the UKIP protest vote, are trying to compete with UKIP in the anti-immigration and anti-EU stakes. As far as the dominant section of the British capitalist class is concerned, this is a dangerous game. They don’t want to withdraw from the vast, single European market, nor to be excluded from taking part in decisions about it. And they see more advantages than disadvantages in the free movement of EU labour. They would be appalled if their favourite party, the Tories, in pursuit of the personal ambitions of its MPs and would-be MPs, manoeuvres itself into a position where they have to campaign for an Out vote in an In/Out EU referendum.
People are right to be discontented and to protest about their situation, but they need to be more discerning and choose the right target. It’s not the Westminster politicians, nor the Brussels bureaucracy, nor the East European migrants who are to blame for their plight. It’s the world-wide capitalist system of production for profit. That’s what they should target. But protesting against it and its effects is not enough. They need to go beyond this and organise politically to bring the whole system to an end and replace it by one in which the resources of the Earth have become the common heritage of all humanity and used to improve the lot of people everywhere.