Dead Men Left

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

UKIP: rich man's BNP?

The only point of agreement I have with Nick Cohen over UKIP is that neither of us think they are Nazis. There is a worrying tendency to pronounce UKIP to be a "fascist" organisation, on a par with the BNP. The differences ought to be clear enough: to pick just one: the BNP is led by a Holocaust denier; UKIP eventually took some (admittedly limited) action against a Holocaust denier in its leadership. UKIP are unpleasant populist reactionaries, but describing them as fascist has three unwanted consequences:

1) it weakens the general position of "no platform" specifically against fascist organisations like the BNP: this is a "guilty until proven innocent" rule, applied in exceptional circumstances in defence of rights to freedom of speech under threat by a particular form of organisation. If we attempt to "no platform" UKIP as well, we make the case for no platform policies against genuine fascists harder to argue for, since we create a genuine argument about "freedom of speech", in which UKIP's softer support are aligned with the BNP's.

2) it fails to address the nature of UKIP's core support and membership: the party is based almost entirely around a mass-media operation, centred on Kilroy-Silk and with substantial financial backing, to exploit a particular racist discourse in the media about asylum seekers, "terrorists" and Muslims in particular. It does not depend on, unlike the BNP, and has not created (as the BNP have done to some extent) a politically-motivated local membership. Moreover, UKIP's members are, I suspect, politically somewhat ill-defined: from Holocaust deniers to someone like Frank Maloney, their mayoral candidate, who quite genuinely does not consider himself to be a racist, barely mentions asylum in his election propaganda, and who detests the BNP. The BNP operation models itself on Le Pen's Front National: media exposure to gain members and support, followed by deliberate attempts by the leadership to harden up this support (witness Le Pen's sick jokes about gas-chambers, attacks on female deputies, and so on). UKIP does no such thing. Cohen's great error (amongst many) is to underestimate the nature of the BNP's local support and so gravely underestimate the threat they present.

3) it fails to address UKIP's wider support: those voting UKIP will do so because they are swayed by bigotry, within which discourse the issue of the EU has become inextricably linked. The great majority will be Tories, enjoying a probably fleeting protest vote. UKIP's principle challenge would be to turn this vote into firmer support, but they will be prevented from doing so by precisely the ill-defined nature of the organisation and the leadership's presumed lack of unanimity in the way to proceed, some of whom would rather piss their politics up the wall in Brussels than build a mass organisation (fine by me). They have already lost Alan Sked, a founding member, who appeared to think UKIP was simply a vehicle for applying pressure to the Tory Party. The model of working class=vote BNP, middle class=vote UKIP does not quite hold; the BNP have achieved their best results in wards with previously comparatively high Tory votes; UKIP make a direct appeal to the same crowd, but do so with greater media panache. What matters after the election is where that support goes next; I would hazard that BNP voters will be more likely to become BNP members than equivalent UKIP voters. There is little room for complacency.