Heading into the European elections and also -- not too far off now - the next general election there will be a lot of head scratching about the political nature of UKIP. Although we have now got used to the idea, and it is commented upon as though it were perfectly natural, it is quite likely that UKIP will be the largest party after the European elections even though they will not get a single seat at the general election. Increasingly they are being seen as a threat not just to traditional Tory voters but as a force that can take support from across the political spectrum. This will become more complicated as the party seeks to appeal more to white working-class, predominantly male voters in the North rather than its traditional 19th hole electorate in the golf clubs of the Home Counties. Of course in doing this they are fishing in a pond which has been dug out and populated by both the EDL and BNP in previous years but as both of those movements are now very much on the wane a gap has opened up in the right wing market which UKIP can fill.
But this is the problem: how do we define UKIP in terms of its relationship to traditional hard right-wing and fascist values? Of course it is not a fascist party in the traditional sense and yet the problem also is how to define fascism. It spans a political spectrum which is not only about men in menacing uniforms marching up and down. Fascism itself did not emerge in the 1930s fully formed from the head of a Hitler or Mussolini but was a complex movement spanning a wide political spectrum. There were within it both elements who took the socialist part of the name seriously (and for that reason had to be dispensed with in various purges) as well as those who were expressly in the pocket of big business and the corporations. Although it is true that its main job was to smash the traditional social democratic and communist workers' movement, it is also the case that having smashed them it was necessary to integrate their voters into a social settlement. We should not forget that Goebbels once proposed the expulsion of Hitler from the movement because of his right-wing, petty bourgeois views and it was the same Goebbels who also said that when Hitler spoke to the workers he had to wear the beard of Marx.
There is no need for a fascist party of that type these days. Communism is, to all intents and purposes, dead, social democracy has been fully integrated into the capitalist order and the wider workers' movement, despite all of the various uprisings of the last decade, is not in a position to be able to challenge capital in any meaningful way as yet. As a result, UKIP has recently distanced itself from many unsavoury characters within its ranks who are more explicitly linked to more fascist values and every now and again, when another unpleasant little junior jackboot pops up to make an embarrassing comment, they are stamped on pretty smartly.
On the other hand the party also carries with it a sort of hyper-Boris in the figure of Nigel Farage. To many of us this man appears to be nothing more than a clown, if a rather dangerous one. The point however is that as modern day politics has become nothing more than a circus of distraction in which politicians have little power against the corporations, banks, ratings agencies and various other faceless ringmasters, then people are increasingly thinking that if we have a circus, then we might as well elect some clowns. Recently a Liberal Democrat candidate was beaten into fourth place by someone from the Bus Pass Elvis party. This could be seen as a pleasant and harmless distraction, and of course it is - for now.
But Boris Johnson, Beppe Grillo, Silvio Berlusconi, Sarah Palin (and the whole of the Tea Party wing of the Republicans), Nigel Farage et al are precisely the appropriate politicians for an age in which the extreme centre has no answers to the questions which they themselves do not understand. Better the colourful clown than the manicured master.
It is always dangerous to draw direct political parallels of course and Karl Marx himself recognised this when he said that history does indeed repeat itself; the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. This time maybe we have to say that history is again repeating itself; this time as Farage.