Tuesday, 19 February 2013

UKIP voters aren't extremists

Well I'm finally back from two days in Eastleigh where I had a great time in the by-election campaign - such a great time that I shudder to think of the state of my inbox now that I'm back. So, before I start on it, I'm going to procrastinate by airing some thoughts about the UKIP supporters I met on the doorstep in Eastleigh.

Because the thing is that I did a lot of knocking on doors and speaking to people in a particular type of area - tightly packed, somewhat run down, former council estates where most of the people were working class.

A lot of them were down on our records as being weak Lib Dems or red Lib Dems or soft Labour - all of which basically meant people who had voted for, or who would consider voting for, Labour but who could also be, or had been persuaded previously, to vote Lib Dem.

Now, given that in 2010 we ended up in coalition with the Conservatives it's hardly surprising that a large chunk of them had switched to being solidly Labour voters - they might have considered voting for us after 13 years of a disappointing Labour government but now they were firmly back in the fold. So far, so expected.

And then there were those who had become firmly disillusioned with politics and didn't intend to vote, weren't interested or were outright hostile to anything to do with politics. Again, this was something to be expected in areas where people have largely been passed by by the economic bubble of the New Labour years and haven't seen anything really improve for them or any politicians care about them for years and are now facing a squeeze on their living standards due to circumstances entirely beyond their control.

But, most striking of all, were the former Labour supporters who had switched straight over to UKIP. And these are the people who I want to talk about. Quite a few of them mentioned UKIP's policies on immigration as their reasons for voting. The fact that UKIP positions itself as a "common sense" alternative to politics as usual no doubt helps them pick up those who want to cast an anti-politics vote but these were far from the majority of UKIP's new found support.

So why do so many people vote for a party based on its opposition to immigration (polls show it's the number one priority for UKIP supporters)? Are they all bigots or extremists who hate foreigners?

Well no, they're not. Some of them are, certainly - after all, this is the party which claims to be libertarian while wanting to ban Muslims from being able to have places of worship or where head-scarves if they want to. But really, I think opposition to immigration is just a symptom of their real concerns.

Because these are people who often live in areas which are massively white British. They don't have any direct experience with large scale immigration where they live. And when you speak to them actually they don't hate all immigrants or actually want to stop all of them coming into the country - they're happy for people to come in if they contribute but what they're really worried about is lots of people coming in and taking houses and jobs.

This is actually what they're really concerned about - the dire lack of housing and jobs for ordinary people, especially working class people. They're the ones who are finding it hardest to find jobs, who have to put up with extortionately priced housing which is often in poor condition. They're the ones who face rents which they can barely afford, even with housing benefit, and they're the ones who have to wait for years to even have a chance of getting a council house.

Unfortunately, what a lot of people do is blame this on immigration. If only we didn't have so many people coming into this country then there'd be enough jobs and houses to go round, their thinking goes. And that's not surprising because this is what the media - especially the tabloids - constantly tells us: immigrants are flooding this country and taking houses and jobs and benefits away from hard-working, honest British people.

But immigrants are just a scapegoat. Because even if we had no immigration into this country then there still simply wouldn't be enough houses or jobs to go round. This is the great failure and betrayal of this country by decades of a neo-liberal economic model slavishly followed by Thatcher, Major and New Labour which focussed on a property and banking bubble based on cheap and easy credit which provided the illusion of economic growth while jobs, good wages and housing for normal people became harder and harder to find.

And now that economic model has come crumbling down and normal people - who had no share in the illusory growth of the "boom" years are now suffering in the bust. And throughout this time, as politicians have ignored criticisms of their blind faith in the bubble and ignored the steadily worsening, or at best stagnating, living conditions of the working class.

If any of these people complained to politicians about immigration, believing it to be the cause of their problems, politicians would either call them extremists and bigots or, even worse, pander to anti-immigration sentiments with empty promises - simultaneously legitimising concerns about immigration while doing sod all to address the real problems causing it.

And this is where the anti-immigration, anti-"political correctness" sentiment has come from. Many people see the lack of jobs and housing and blame immigration - but they're afraid that if they say that then they'll be called racists by mainstream politicians.

Then along comes parties like UKIP which say, no you're not racists, it's just political correctness gone mad by the political class - here, vote for us and our promises to stop all immigration and end multiculturalism which is behind all the problems you're facing. And people believe them and give them their votes. It's not surprising. But it doesn't make them bigots.

The tragic truth is that the root causes of concern about immigration are perfectly legitimate - lack of housing and jobs is a real issue. If these issues were tackled then it would only be the genuine bigots, xenophobes and racists who cared about immigration. But they're not being tackled so people vote UKIP - and then mainstream politicians write these people off as bigots and dismiss their concerns. And so the cycle of disillusionment and support for parties like UKIP continues - despite the fact that UKIP's actual policies would do nothing to resolve housing or unemployment issues and would actually plunge the UK into an economic collapse which would hurt the working class worst of all.

So if anyone says that UKIP's voters are extremists then you should ignore them. Some of UKIP's support definitely is from extremists but most of it comes from people with genuine concerns - the target of this concern is incorrect but the root causes of their concern are perfectly legitimate and need tackling.

Because until we do tackle issues with housing and jobs then parties like UKIP, which have always existed with their lies and scapegoating and empty promises, will continue to draw support and feed disillusionment with our democracy. And that can only be bad for everyone.

16 comments:

  1. As a working class self employed car valeter, since 2002 when I started my business, an increasing pressure from illegal workers in my sector working for £2-3 an hour, a rate I cannot compete against, creates unfair competition.

    I vote UKIP and I dont blame immigrants for coming to this country, Im from a family of immigrants, but I do object to such slack enforcement of employment laws which causes people like me to be illegally undercut. I do resent this very much as it has meant I have not had an income rise in a decade, which has been further compounded by the recession.

    You have to wonder how a car wash on an old garage forecourt can have three men wash a car taking 30 minutes and charge £2.50. It simply is not possible to do that legally, nor is it possible to live a normal life in the UK on whatever their employers give them out of that.

    So there is another dimension for you to consider as many sole traders I speak to speak of similar issues in many sectors.

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  2. For the record, UKIP has long retracted its stance over the Burka. Ever since Nigel Farage took over from Lord Pearson. Farage has also publicly stated that he wasn't happy with the party's stance at the time.

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    1. Having said that, I get the impression that he agrees with a niqab/burqa ban in some instances - i.e. in the airport, in public buildings and in shops, banks and supermarkets if the owners want to deny access to people wearing them.

      Really, his stance is little different from the stance on balaclavas. I consider them to be worthy of the same treatment.

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  3. Yes, though you do also insist on banning religions like Quakers from being able to perform same sex marriages despite them wanting to. So much for libertarianism.

    As for UKIP's policies, number one on their list is to leave the EU - our main trading partner - and yet they insist it won't harm British jobs or trade which is an absolute lie.

    On top of which, it's worth looking at the USA-EU free trade negotiations which have just been launched - when they're completed they'll bring an extra 0.5% of GDP to the entire EU and more than that to the UK as we export more to the USA anyway. I'd love to know how UKIP thinks we could negotiate free trade deals like that once we've withdrawn from the EU and are just one nation with 60 million people rather than part of a greater whole with 500 million people and the world's largest economy.

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    1. Nobody really knows what the effect of leaving the EU would be - they said we wouldnt survive if we didnt join the Euro once upon a time, so it goes to show, experts dont have any more answers than the ordinary person in the street.

      One thing I hear time and time again from UKIP supporters is a lack of trust in politicians, so even if your party can produce figures saying it is all going to hell if we leave, would your average UKIPper believe you? Quite possibly not, the Lib Dems especially have gained a reputation for not being trustworthy in national politics which is a depper problem than any policy.
      The Farage worship tends to stem from the fact he has said much the same thing all his political career whereas all the main parties tend to base their policy on focus groups rather than principles.

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    2. Don't know about the Quakers issue.

      All I know is that it sounds very totalitarian for the State to order religious institutions to perform ceremonies that go against their faith.

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    3. Yes, that would be totalitarian. But it's a moot point because the state is not ordering that - what is happening is that the state is allowing religious institutions which want to be able to perform same sex marriage to do so whilst ensuring that those which don't want to perform them won't be obliged to. Which you would know if you actually took the trouble to find out anything about the proposals beyond UKIP propaganda.

      As for the EU, nearly half of our trade is with the EU which supports a corresponding number of jobs. If you leave the EU then you are immediately outside the free market and face tariff barriers which would be certain to have some impact on that trade.

      So for UKIP to insist that no jobs or trade would be affected is nothing less than a complete and utter lie which no sane person could ever guarantee.

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    4. A "moot point" it certainly is not. Everything always starts with moot points, it seems, but did you see this? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9870468/Gay-marriage-no-opt-out-for-Christian-registrars.html

      It's been Nigel Farage's point all along: the State cannot order churches on how to conduct their affairs.

      (This is in addition to my earlier comments - "For the record..." and "Don't know about the Quakers issue..." - sorry about the anon thing, well, I'm still anon :))

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    5. Does the fact that half our trade is with the EU mean that half of all people employed will loose their jobs? No, it doesnt and it is lazy to make a direct link.
      Does anyone actually know how many people are employed in the sectors of trade that make up this 50%? Just because it is half of our trade, it depends on whether this trade is in industries that are labour intensive.

      It is a lie by anyone to suggest jobs will or wont be lost - nobody knows is the truthful answer.

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    6. Registrars are employed to perform civil marriages - if they can't perform their job due to their own prejudices then they shouldn't expect any special treatment.

      Priests, on the other hand, perform an entirely religious role so it would be wrong to punish them for their beliefs.

      What the government has done is legislate so that those religions which want to perform same sex marriages (which many do) can do so. If a religion doesn't want to perform it then they won't be obliged to and have been given a triple lock legal protection to prevent them from being forced to.

      Which begs the question: why do you want to tell people who love each other that they should be banned by law from being able to get married?

      As for the EU, 3.4 million British jobs are dependent on exports to it. If we leave the EU then those exports will be hit by tariffs. Therefore it is extremely likely that some of those jobs will be lost (I personally know one company employing one hundred people which would go out of business if we left the EU - they make jerry cans for export).

      So when UKIP promises, as they have in their leaflets in Eastleigh, when they make a cast iron guarantee that not a single job or any trade will be affected by leaving the EU then they are lying. Full stop.

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    7. Two words on lying - tuition fees.

      If 3.4 million jobs are at risk then why are there people claiming that because 50% of trade is with the EU, half of all jobs are at risk when the total number in employment is 29.73 million?

      You said that half all our trade is with the EU and a corresponding number of jobs - if the number of jobs corresponded with the level of trade, it would be over 14 million jobs at risk would it not?

      That im afraid is as big a lie as the UKIP one. It would be more honest to suggest perhaps 10% of jobs are at risk, but of course 50% sounds more dramatic, if untrue.

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    8. No, 50% of our trade is at risk and 3.4 million jobs are directly at risk.

      While losing 50% of our trade, or even some of it, is likely to have a much larger knock on effect on the economy and cause even more job losses, I have never claimed that it will destroy 50% of jobs.

      However, 3.4 million jobs is much greater than the 0 jobs UKIP insists will be put at risk. But I'm not going to try to convince you - economically literate people don't vote UKIP anyway.

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    9. By saying that the 50% CORRESPONDS with number of job losses, you are implying that number of jobs are at risk.

      I understand your point and I am not convinced either way, I dont think anyone can say for sure what would happen since the EU relies on trade with us as much as we do with them, so the idea that they would not reach a trade deal that is mutually beneficial suggests a rather low opinion of members of the EU. Businesses in the EU would put immense pressure on the EU to get good terms for them to trade with the UK just as ours would here.

      I dont agree with the no jobs at risk, Im with you on that claim chap, its a silly claim, but then again, tuition fees :-) Bit of pot calling kettle there.

      No response on my comment about illegal workers affecting teh self-employed - I can only think that a Lib Dem just doesnt care, they never struck me as the party of the self-employed, which is a shame as I always imagined they would stand up for the little guy.

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    10. I really don't get this point that we will automatically face tariffs if we left the EU. It's so unrealistic. Britain is the largest importer and exporter of French wine in the world. We are one of Germany's largest car purchasing nations, Spanish seafood importing, Danish meat consuming nations and the sixth largest economy in the world (or there abouts). Britain leaving the EU will not mean a iron curtain of import tariffs will descend on the coast across the channel. They want our custom just as much as we need theirs. The question is, why are we not extending our markets to Brazil, India, Africa, Australia and the US (even if the EU is forming agreements with the US at the moment) on our own terms with tailor fitting agreements as opposed to a one-size-fits-all single market which narrows our economic concentration to the slowest growing part of the world - Western Europe.

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  4. While UKIP voters might not be extremists,I think when UKIP shows its Manifesto,it will be extremist.

    The reason why UKIP is were it is now,is partially due to the Orange Bookers in the LibDems dismantling the Post war Welfare State.And don't get me started on the NHS.

    You are a decent bloke George,But Clegg,Alexander,Laws et al are nothing but Tories wearing Yellow Rosettes.I hope after the LibDems lose seats post 2015,that people like yourself can change the direction of the LibDems.

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  5. What in UKIP's manifesto will be extremist?

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