For a single-issue party based consisting of mostly lunatic fringe members, Ukip have done very well for themselves over the last few months. In particular, they’ve established themselves as the protest vote for people who aren’t really that bothered about politics but “just want to see something done”. I’m not sure that Ukip or their voters know exactly what they want – and if you think I’m wrong about that, then please feel free to show me Ukip’s manifesto. I’m not really sure how you can even support a party that has no manifesto, and is considering buying policies in – as was reported by the Guardian on April 27.
I’m nothing if not a pragmatist, and I congratulate Ukip for forcing, seemingly, the entire debate around to the party’s sole issue. No matter how many racist councillors get sacked, Nazi saluters eat plants, or holocaust deniers claim that the Jews gassed their own people, the Ukip seems to be profiting from the fact that the three main parties are completely unable to make significant forward progress. The Conservatives are bogged down by the right side of their own party, who have been galvanised by Ukip. The LibDems have been pulled under by their association with the Tories, to such an extent that they are now significantly trailing Ukip in YouGov polls.
Unfortunately, Labour also seem to be up to their knees in the same quagmire. At this point, the Red team should be streaking ahead but a combination of poor leadership from Miliband (the catastrophic showing on Radio 4, for example) and a muddled “One Nation” message that’s not getting across to the electorate means the Labour are drifting, sometimes forward and sometimes sideways, rather than forging ahead.
However you view Ukip – bonkers bullshitters or campaigning crusaders – you can’t deny the effect that they have had. From nowhere, they now have the media and the main parties talking about their issue. It may be racist, retrograde and utterly divisive, but it’s their issue that’s now become the nation’s agenda.
At heart I suppose I’m a Fabian Socialist. I believe the way forward is “to advance the principles of socialism via gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary, means” as it says in the Fabian manifesto. My head says that society couldn’t withstand an abrupt volte-face; it’s so fragile that the single hacked tweet or the resignation of a football manager can wipe hundreds of millions of pounds off the stock market or individual companies.
In fact, to borrow another red, footballing analogy, I’d liken the progress of Socialism to what happened to Liverpool FC under Graeme Souness. When Souness arrived at Anfield as manager, he inherited a team who were growing old – Rush, Molby, Barnes and Whelan for example – with a scattering of players who were probably never good enough in the first place, such as Nick Tanner, Barry Venison and Jimmy Carter. Souness’ mistake was to try and turn things around too quickly. He introduced expensive new signings like Dean Saunders and Mark Wright alongside homegrown youngsters like Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman. For the most part, his intentions were correct. His execution, however, was faulty. There were too many changes of personnel, too quickly, and these were accompanied by his own substandard appointments – Istvan Kozma famously played just one game and that was enough to see him voted the fourth worst premier league player of all time in 2007 – whilst Torben Piechnik played only 1 full game in Souness’ second season, and Paul Stewart scored only one league goal and was eventually converted into a midfielder.
But I digress. As much fun as it is for me to mock Liverpool, that’s not the point of this article.
The point is, that the Left needs its own Ukip:
- We need to see whether Ed Miliband is a leader. We see how David Cameron flaps in the wind, unable to predict, manage or counter the hot air coming from Nigel Farage. If Miliband had such a challenger, we might be able to end the question of whether he is a fit leader of both Labour and the country. At the minute, he has no substantial challenge from either inside or outside the party.
- We need to open the debate. At the minute the country hears only two messages. “Blame the scroungers!” says the government, whilst handing out tax cuts to its supporters and sweetheart tax deals to – well, anyone really. “Blame the immigrants!” says Ukip, who clothes their naked villany with odds and ends scrounged from the BNP, Mein Kampf and the Fortean Times.
- We need a valid protest vote. The Ukip are the only protest vote for those floating voters who don’t fully engage with politics and want to give the three big parties a slap in the face. I’m sure we’re not really a nation of racists, but unfortunately the protest vote is going to a party who is happy to use race as a wedge to split the political status quo. As a result of their moderate and overstated success, the whole debate is moving from the centre to the right. There are no debates around left-wing issues.
Let’s take that last point: “there are no debates around left-wing issues”. If we take the Fabian Society’s central tenets, we can see just how far the debate has moved to the right. The Fabian Society aims to promote:
- greater equality of power, wealth and opportunity – currently, we see that money, power and opportunity is being concentrated in ever smaller groups. The rich get tax cuts, whilst the most needy see reductions in benefits, more taxes and fewer opportunities. There’s no debate about redistributing power, wealth or opportunity; the debate is about reducing opportunities for scroungers and immigrants.
- the value of collective action and public service – the Conservatives favour smaller government and the power of the private sector. Privatisation over Nationalisation, and the dismantling of the NHS. No-one buys into this Big Society waffle, which seems mostly to consist of closing down valuable public services and hoping that someone will do the same job for free in their spare time.
- an accountable, tolerant and active democracy – it’s difficult at present to envisage this. Confidence in politics has never been particularly high during my lifetime, but the damage done by the expenses scandal in particular has just sapped it. Now we have PCC elections and maybe a referendum on EU membership, and no confidence in democracy or government, and no-one working to restore that confidence by doing what governments should be doing.
- citizenship, liberty and human rights – New Labour must take its share of the blame in this area, with its myopic and bungled attempts to push through ID cards. The coalition is still, as of the most recent Queen’s speech, trying to grant itself powers to snoop on anyone’s electronic communications, and the debate about why that’s bad doesn’t have sufficient volume.
- sustainable development – in an environmental sense, there was just a gaping hole in the Queen’s speech where the low carbon strategy should be. In an economic sense, the government’s plan for growth seems to hinge on a fast train so that people can get to London quicker, because of course that’s bound to help all those small shops on our high streets and SMEs on suburban trading estates.
- multilateral international cooperation – and now we come back full circle. There’s no real debate about whether we should remain part of Europe, not while Ukip is driving the government’s message.
And that’s why the left needs their own Ukip. At the minute, all we have is the choice between a wishy-washy centre-right, and a chaotic, bungling far right dedicated to building an Aryan nation.