Saturday, May 04, 2013

The present is a foreign country

I haven't been reading too much in detail about UKIP -- because, well, really, who wants to spend time thinking about these people? -- but the relative success of the anti-EU, anti-immigration party in Britain's local elections last week has brought forth a new round of attention to them.

Via Max Dunbar, I discovered Andrew Rawnsley's analysis of the UKIP phenomenon, which concludes with these striking passages:

All the main parties have cause to be anxious about Ukip and so all have been trying to understand the rise of the Farageists. One way they do this is to put together focus groups of voters who have switched to Ukip to try to fathom why these people are attracted to Nigel Farage's gang. One senior party strategist says he listened in some wonderment as his focus group of Ukip voters spent an entire 90-minute session wailing and gnashing their teeth about the state of Britain. Not a good word did they have to say about the country today. At the end of the session, he thanked them for their time, and said he had one more question. Was there anything about Britain that made them feel proud? There was a silence. Then one man leant forward and said: "The past." The rest of the group nodded in agreement.

The Ukip manifesto is a nonsense of contradictions. David Cameron, Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband would be torn to shreds by the media if they ever tried to offer anything similar. Mr Farage promises tax cuts for everyone and spending increases on just about everything from building more prisons to restoring the student grant to more generous pensions. But strategists from the main parties tell me that they get nowhere when they try to discuss policy with sample groups of Ukip voters. Even when they agree that the Ukip prospectus doesn't make sense, reports one party pollster: "They just don't care about that."

A Ukip vote is not mainly, if at all, about making a choice based on an assessment of policy. More than anything, it is about expressing an emotion – usually a feeling of intense rage about how Britain has changed and how they are served by the established political parties. It is a howl against the modern world, a scream against the establishment. There's no arguing with that. Or, if there is a way of dealing with it, none of the main parties has yet discovered what it is.

The politics of Kulturpessimismus have a long and not very encouraging history.

Dunbar, by way of addressing a claim made by Dan Hodges at the Telegraph that the results disprove the existence of a 'progressive majority' in the UK, himself points to grounds for a different kind of pessimism: that about finding an effective response to Farageism:

In fact, there are plenty of progressives in this country. They’re just not in politics. As I’ve argued recently, British politics is not a place for reasonable people anymore. Smart progressives who want to make a difference don’t go into politics, they go into public policy or advocacy or journalism or law or the police or the Royal Marines. Because smart people are leaving politics, the field is left clear for maniacs, illiterates, thieves, neo-Nazis and toytown power merchants. This is particularly true at local level.

And it’s not true, by the way, that UKIP represent an ‘anti-politics party’. UKIP are more pro politics than anyone. They encourage huge unrealistic expectations of what politics can deliver. Vote for me and I’ll give you everything you want or need, your darkest fear, your fondest dream.

I don't know enough about the contemporary British political scene to make any deeply reasoned judgements about the above claims.

But I must say, I'm not feeling very optimistic.

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