THE BLOG

UKIP is Neoliberalism's Frankenstein Moment

23/05/2014 15:02 BST | Updated 23/07/2014 10:59 BST

Last night on the BBC, the talking heads from the major parties agreed UKIP's electoral rise is foremost a protest vote. Protest against what? They collectively demurred.

They had to skate around this awkward question, because the answer lies in the political foundations of contemporary Britain and everything which Labour-Conservatives-Lib Dems stand for, and will continue to stand for in the foreseeable future.

Indeed, UKIP's electoral ascendancy today, finds its origins in the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher famously pronounced 'there is no alternative'. There is no alternative to privatisation, the atomisation of social life, globalisation under the domination of finance capital, and the deregulation of markets and industrial relations. There is no alternative to the emergence of the consumer, even in the most sacred areas of life, as opposed to citizens. There is no alternative to competition, and the winding back of collective forms of consumption (pejoratively now referred to as the welfare state).

And as a result of this neoliberal turn in the national political fabric, what we have seen is the stagnation of the real wage of working class households - sustained through growing indebtedness - coupled to rising inequality, as the rich get richer.

The global financial crisis was supposed to be the great moment of reckoning for neoliberal capitalism. It was anything but - instead, successive Labour and Tory governments have intensified and expanded Thatcher's legacy. Nothing is sacrosanct as wealth is redistributed upwards, through profane measures, including the auctioning off of some of Britain's greatest achievements such as the NHS.

For many the seismic shifts in the national political economy over the past three decades, have been experienced most palpably as a loss of security, isolation and quite often humiliation, as people find their lifelong trade is gone, and their capacity to make ends meet is a day to day affair.

With popular morale suffering under a concoction of atomisation, fragmentation, competition, and privatisation, what ointments can either of the big parties offer. More of the same, softened with an unconvincing woolly edifice - big society in the case of the Conservatives, and we still await which ideological sweetener Miliband will offer the Labour heartland to swallow the bitter pill of continued neoliberal rule.

In a period of excessive greed, insecurity and destabilisation, people search for an answer that can re-inject a sense of place, community, security and self-determination back into everyday life - where working class families matter, and are heard.

Answers from the left have been derided and delegitimised through three decades of mud-slinging from the media, politicians (including Labour) and intellectuals. Unions are a blight upon the economy, collective forms of production and consumption reduce Britain's international competitiveness, and working class militancy is an anachronism, irrelevant to a post-modern age of individual entrepreneurship.

So where do those experiencing the iron fist of dislocation, insecurity, indebtedness, and stagnant standards of living turn? UKIP has provided a port from the storm.

At the forefront of their political campaign is immigration and British sovereignty. Though these are not inventions of UKIP. The winding back of the historical victories won by the working class in Britain, has been legitimised by both mainstream parties by appeals to nationalism, and by the scapegoating minority groups whether it be immigrants, Muslims, or those 90,000+ locked up in prisons.

UKIP has simply amplified these themes, adding a refreshing dash of under-dog status. The media has enjoyed the circus, and played right into UKIP's hands. Keeping the lens on immigration, Europe and the party's maverick style, has only served to heighten its popularity.

Rare has been the moment when UKIP has been asked to discuss bread and butter issues. Anyone who has even surveyed its slim policy pronouncements on this front would be treated to an inedible mix of 'free market' ideology, harsh law and order measures, and sometimes bizarre neoliberal policy measures.

UKIP is not a protest party or indeed an anti-establishment beachhead, it is simply a zany sibling of the two political wings of neoliberal rule. As a result, UKIP will not offer working class voters substantive answers to contemporary dilemmas. Restoring dignity and pride in communities will demand a much more elaborate rejuvenation of the proud traditions of social justice, resistance and collective organisation that have been the great levers of empowerment for working class people in Britain over the past century.