Thursday, 26 June 2014

Angry, White and British.


My article on the UKIP phenomenon has been adapted and reproduced at Souciant:

Two weeks ago, Roger Helmer of UKIP was trounced by the Conservative candidate at Newark. It seemed to go against everything the media has told us about the UKIP threat. Many had claimed the gains UKIP made in May would be transformed into a fourth party presence within Parliament.
This was not a claim of the right-wing press, or at least not just the right-wing press. Even the BBC and the liberal broadsheets succumbed to this message. In late May, The Guardian reported a poll finding that 86% of those who voted for UKIP in the European elections said they would do so again in the 2015 General Election.

The leap from 13 UKIP MEPs to 24 UKIP MEPs since 2009 set off the British media to announce their well-cooked conclusion: its a political earthquake. The results are interesting. Labour came in second at 25.4% to UKIP came out with 27.5% of the vote, translating to about 9.3% of the electorate. The Conservatives fell by 4%, Liberal Democrats by over 6% and the BNP by 7%. UKIP increased its vote by more than 10%. The Green Party lost a little under 1% and gained three seats beating the Lib Dems with nearly 8% of the vote. Voter turnout was around 33.8% for the European elections. It goes without saying that the fringe right-wing parties do better out of low turnout. It was predictable that the ruling parties would face a drop in support.

At the local elections, UKIP’s vote fell from 22% to 17% and picked up 160 seats (but no councils) which was less than the Lib Dems who have been relegated politically toxic. UKIP may have eaten into the votes of Conservative candidates enough for them to lose overall control of several councils, but not enough to gain control of any councils itself. The media has claimed the results are disastrous for Labour even though the Party gained 330 council seats and a net gain of five councils. The threat of UKIP is to establishment parties in its potential to divide the vote on sore issues like immigration. This matters as were about to go into an election. The Conservative Party have never fully recovered from the defeat inflicted on John Major, the worst since 1832, while Labour has still not filled the void leftover by Blairism.

Newark was not to be the first victory of the Farage Party. It should have been obvious from the beginning that the first seat in Parliament would not be offered to Roger Helmer with all of his obvious weak-spots. Helmer himself said that the absence of Farage hurt his chances in the by-election. It may have been a shrewd move by Farage to let Helmer take the fall on this occasion. He made it clear he had no interest in putting himself forward. Perhaps he had already gauged UKIP had little chance. Better to focus on the European and local elections, so let someone else test the waters for the UK Parliament. But thats not where it ends.


Genderfucked: Brendan O'Neill.


Back in May the outcome of the Eurovision song contest provoked predictably unreconstructed reactions from the usual quarters. It was to be expected, so sadly predictable are bigots. Still, for a long time it looked as though the Europeans had traded their tradition of slaughtering one another for a song contest. One such dismally unreconstructed and dim-witted response came from Brendan O'Neill in his blog at The Telegraph. In case you're not acquainted with the O'Neill schtick, Brendan edits sp!ked and claims to hold a Marxist libertarian perspective. About Ms Wurst's claim to womanhood, this soi-disant contrarian had this to say:

News reports tell us that Wurst prefers that people apply the female pronoun to him when he slips his dress on. Okay. But does that mean we all have to comply with this rather strange demand, no questions asked? Does objective reality – the fact that there are biological differences between men and women, and that the vast majority of humankind decides whether someone is a man or woman by those biological attributes – count for nothing in the face of one person's wish to be known as something he is not? By the same token, can I now request that people refer to me as black even though I'm white? Who are you to say I am not black? I might feel black.

Brendan O'Neill fell far short of his libertarian commitment to individual liberty this time. There was no thought for Mill's experiments of living or for the harm principle. The shibboleths of classical liberal thinking were completely absent in O'Neill's tiresome screed. Given that O'Neill claims to filter his libertarianism through Marx it would be easy to expect him to reach for the radical feminist critiques of transgenderism in this case. The paucity of O'Neill's imagination is on full show. He even commits the rookie mistake in conflating a biological distinction (sex) with that which is cultural and performative (gender). He wants to disregard the claims of the transgender movement at the cultural-performative level and assert his own claim to a 'objective reality' which they deny.

Note the use of 'objective' here should be reassessed. In bringing up racial identity O'Neill opens up another can of worms, but not an entirely irrelevant can. Race is objective, but not in the nineteenth century meaning of 'scientific' racial distinctions. Race exists as a social formation, and not just a historical construct, which we've yet to do away with, and insofar as it does it is objective. The same may well be said for gender roles which are not to be confused with differences of sex. O'Neill seems to want to insist on difference at a fundamental level, stand up for individual freedom, all the while reinforcing categories, and challenging those who do not conform. He falls short of his claim to be a coherent libertarian on these grounds.

The irony is that females and males are far more similar, biologically, than in terms of gender roles, which have long been defined by minorities. If O'Neill wants to defend the binary distinction between woman and man he undermines his own reactionary project. He should have little qualm with gender reassignment if he wants to defend a strict dichotomy. The rejection of the automatic sorting of males and females into clear-cut categories of men and women does not necessitate a rejection of gender roles in itself. This is at the level of liberal emancipation, the kind Karl Marx wrote about in his essay on Jewish emancipation. O'Neill would know this if he was as well-versed in early Marx as he pretends to be. He is explicit in focusing in on Conchita's beard and that it is the bending of gender conventions which really irks him.

It's ambiguity which threatens him. He is much too concerned by a possible break in social reproduction posed by men and women jumping from one gender role to another. Yet as an individualist O'Neill should be rejoicing. What could be more appealing to those guardians of untrammeled liberty than a social order determined by free individuals? It's not like a libertarian to see individuals as situated and shaped by existing social conditions. A more radical demand would be why we should accept such conditions in the first place. Of course, abolition is not on the agenda, but rather conservation. In this regard we can see Brendan O'Neill, not as a libertarian provocateur, but as a cultural conservative, in spite of his contrarian appeals.

After the spurious appeal to 'objectivity' we have the casual deployment of right-wing swearwords, 'relativism' being a long-standing favourite. He writes "The bending of gender speaks to today's speedily spreading cult of relativism. We live in such relativistic times, in an era so hostile to the idea that there are measurable truths or concrete realities, that it seems we can no longer even speak of 'men' and 'women'." This is the best he could come up with - half-witted blather at best! He doesn't take the time to justify his own censorious standpoint in the first place. He has no such sense of courtesy, but he does have a salaried platform.

First of all, one could not articulate a coherent position on identity without normative presuppositions (at the very least) as relativism can only function in descriptive terms. One relativism rises above the level of description it ceases to be relativism. If you condemn racism in favour of a society in which migrants can settle and maintain a cultural identity in conjunction with our own you are not a relativist. The same applies to Conchita and her request to be recognised as a woman and not "a beardy bloke in a dress" as O'Neill puts it. It presupposes a set of normative standards. It couldn't be the case that this abandons all sense of 'objective reality'. These are the terms set by O'Neill and should be thoroughly undone if we are to see his opponents as more than straw targets.

As for 'narcissism', you wouldn't expect a self-proclaimed libertarian to criticise someone for their sense of identity as if free-market individualists have ever sought to disregard selfhood. If a right-wing libertarian is to be consistent on the questions of self-ownership and sovereignty there is no reason an individual cannot choose another gender role. The best of the liberal tradition comes in the praise for experiments in living and takes heed not to trample the lives of others. Leaving people alone has its advantages. It is this basic impulse which is absent in O'Neill's writing. Except, of course, when it comes to the freedom of poor people to starve to death then O'Neill is a lover of liberty. The radical free-marketeers of this world don't stand for freedom, but misery and repression.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Nietzsche was no friend of fascists.


Earlier this month, the UCL student union passed a decision to ban the Nietzsche Club, who pitched themselves as a study group for hard-to-far-right students (as many of them as there may be) interested in Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Julius Evola. As someone who is interested in Nietzsche and Heidegger I couldn't help but take some interest in the story. There are two things that came to mind initially:

1. Regardless of how repugnant the society was it did not pose a threat of physical violence to the student body. The ban will not be effective as the Club could just be set up again under another name and there would have to be another ban and so on. This is the impotence of censorship. Censors always fail as they can only act in retrospect and by then there is no use in censorship. If it has already been said then it has little effect in imposing a restriction. The obvious exception is when speech is used to call for violence and that is a criminal matter. If we want to live in a society in which it is unlikely for such instances to arise then we want greater change than banning lists.
2. It is a travesty that Nietzsche is still, in this century, associated with the Third Reich, as if he were some kind of proto-Nazi philosopher. You only have to judge the man by his deeds, not least his written in its proper context and understanding. Nietzsche distanced himself from his own sister due to her anti-Semitism and marriage to a German proto-fascist. Likewise, Nietzsche broke off his friendship with Wagner because of his growing inclination towards Christianity, nationalism and anti-Jewish racism. He had nothing but contempt, scorn and mockery for anti-Semites and regarded himself as a man without a nation. If only Nietzsche had lived into old age and remained sane to the end we would no doubt have record of his disgust at the early rise of Fascism.

There is a third point to be made alongside these. Both the philosopher Heidegger and the composer Wagner were involved in German nationalism. In Heidegger's case, we're talking about the moves he made to try and become the philosopher of the Third Reich in a bid to oppose the technological logic of modern society. His affinity for National Socialism was cultural and intellectual. With Wagner, we have the case of a man who lived long before the rise of Hitler, but he was a nationalist and anti-Semite in his later years. He did not hide these facts. In both instances, we can praise the work of these men without condoning or excusing their prejudices. This is a point worth making, as we would be mistaken if we assumed we would have to discard Nietzsche even if the opposite were the case.

Friday, 20 June 2014

"Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-white".

What's in a slogan?

Tapping into deep-running resentment has long been a tried and tested method of revanchistes everywhere. Then there are those reactionaries who go a bit further to reach for more than just resentment. This is where we'd do better to borrow a concept from Nietzsche - some would say, an indispensable concept - that of ressentiment. As Anindya Bhattacharyya blogged, the best way to understand ressentiment is in Deleuze's terms as the master's maxim is “I am good, therefore you are bad”, while the slave expresses the logic of ressentiment: “You are evil, therefore I am good.” In striking down the affirmative and active propositions of the master, the slave asserts their own power and their own position.

In white nationalist, supremacist and separatist circles - the crowd who wish they could emulate Adolf Hitler - this strategy can be found in the following slogan: "Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-white." Note the implication that to be pro-white is to be racist and, of course, we can see the truth in that side of the message. Yet it seems to most that the concept of 'anti-racism' is not anti-white when in actuality this requires more of us than straightforward common-sense. We first have to deconstruct what the social category of 'white' really stands for in order to determine what the slogan really means.

The social category of 'white' has in the past removed from the outset certain groups. We know that the white nationalist claim to be 'pro-white' does not extend to European Jewry, for instance, in fact it may even exclude the Slavs and the Irish if taken far enough. Hitler's Aryan master race certainly excluded the Slavs and Roma. In a sense there is truth in this claim insofar as the identification with one's pale epidermis often leads in a certain grotesque direction. In another sense the interests of the majority of white people living in Western countries are not served at all by racism. At the most racism serves to maintain relative advantage - what we may call white privilege - at the expense of class loyalties and the development of a class consciousness.

The slogan is designed to undermine anti-racist activism and even demonise those activists and the language with which we rightly criticise bigotry and discrimination. The constant noise of white whining about the 'misuse' and 'overuse' of the term should be evidence enough that it is not anti-racism which is out-of-control. In fact, we've been living through the reactive offensive to slime the advocates of multiculturalism and demonise cultural sensitivity (under the new swearword of 'political-correctness') and tolerance. The aim is the same as the pro-white message: to further legitimise racism.

Tags#; race conciousness, race consciousness


I've written numerous articles on racism and race as a historical construct and social formation in the last few months. In my haste I have labelled them 'race conciousness' when I actually meant to put 'race consciousness' in reference to the awareness of racial interests as opposed to class interests. So this post should clarify this mistake and link the articles together.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Dead Hypocrisy.


Jeanette Winterson recently set off a whirlwind of fuss on Twitter. The author had trapped a rabbit and what followed set off the standard Twitter hate mob. After trapping the fluffy creature Winterson prepared it for cooking, skinning it, then feeding its entrails to her cat; the shots of which she then tweeted to the horror of bewildered twits. Apparently, farmed meat and industrially produced meat is superior somehow to freely hunted and slaughtered animal flesh. It would seem hypocrites don't just come in herds anymore, they now operate with greater convenience by iPhone.

The flowering displays of abstract moralism here should draw the suspicion of anyone concerned with animal rights. It's a lot like the so-called debate on halal meat in the UK, which is routinely instigated by the right-wing press. Only vegetarians and vegans can pass judgment, not the befuddled consumer base of Subway's quaking at the possibilities of "creeping Shariah". It's as if millions of people believe cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens, are all stupendously pampered - well fed on a healthy diet and well treated in open fields - before being painlessly dispatched. Maybe a portion of them believe cans of tuna grow on trees cultivated by the well meaning people of Cornwall. If only it weren't for troublesome minorities and writers spoiling our paradise.

Actually, it is probably the case that the outpouring of anger towards Winterson comes down to the fact that the photographs she uploaded remind people of what we take part in on a much larger scale. I'm sure that at some level the same can be said of the hysteria around halal. The industrial system of meat production can hardly be deemed humane and ought not to be taken as a significant advance upon the dietary practices of desert monotheisms. Yet it is the presupposition of most of the criticism led by a cynical media campaign that it is Islam which is backward (and not just in this instance). The lack of any moral highground for the meat industry cannot be stressed more. Except perhaps in cases where the suffering of animals makes us feel we should do anything.

Reformism is the default position for those in search of convenient redemption through moralism. We may eat meat, but at least the animal is properly stunned first before it is killed and dismembered. Instead of falling into this, we should keep in mind our own choices as omnivores and ask questions about the motivations behind the media campaign against halal. As for the political contours of animal rights we ought to look critically at the mechanised production system that keeps us well fed. There was a thought provoking piece by Jon Hochschartner in CounterPunch last week in which he articulates a Marxist theory of animalism. He puts forward an adaptation of the Marxist labour theory of value and extends it to non-human animals.

Domesticated animals, like slaves, are distinct from proletarians in that they do not sell their labor power under the pretense of free choice. Rather, they themselves are commodities. Their labor power is sold all at once, unlike proletarians’ whose labor power is sold in increments. “The slave did not sell his labour-power to the slave-owner, any more than the ox sells his labour to the farmer,” Karl Marx said. “The slave, together with his labour-power, was sold to his owner once for all. He is a commodity that can pass from the hand of one owner to that of another. He himself is a commodity, but his labour-power is not his commodity.”

In Hochschartner's argument emphasises the difference, as well as the common ground, between the human worker and the non-human animals found in the food production system. The proletarian produces their own livelihood in necessary labour, after which comes the surplus labour spent toiling without remuneration creates the profits of the capitalist enterprise. By contrast, Hochschartner notes "When an animal exploiter purchases a non-human, he is not only purchasing the animal herself, but a lifetime of her labor power, which is used to create commodities that include - among others - her offspring, her secretions, and her own flesh." The degree to which the non-human animal is owned goes far further than the way in which human beings rent themselves out for wages.

The need to increase profits to higher and higher levels forces the capitalists to take one of two options. As Hochschartner argues, absolute surplus value is obtained by increasing the amount of labour time devoted by each worker while relative suprlus value is maintained by lowering the amount of work involved in necessary labour proportional to the work dedicated to surplus labour. He claims that the surplus labour of non-human animals can be divided in the same way and he has examples to support this assertion. The amount of time a horse spends pulling a carriage can be extended to raise absolute surplus value. Likewise, the factory farming of chickens lowers the costs of production substantially thereby increasing relative surplus value per chicken.

In the same way that the question of animal rights has to be understood in qualified terms, to be specific, as rights not identical to those enjoyed by human animals. As Noam Chomsky pointed out, rights partly come down to responsibilities and non-human animals cannot be endowed with the same rights as humans for they do not have the capacity for responsibility in the same way we do. Dogs and pigs can't commit crimes for this reason. Yet we would extend rights to infants who similarly lack responsibilities and, in that regard, we might have to own up to a modestly necessary anthropocentrism. So when it comes to animal liberation Hochschartner is wise to clarify the distinction from human emancipation.

Of course, what constitutes liberation for slaves or proletarians is different than what constitutes liberation for domesticated animals. Whereas the ultimate economic goal for human laborers is social control of the means of production, domesticated animals, were they able, would presumably not want to seize, say, a factory farm and run it for themselves. They would want to be removed from the production process entirely.

It is certain that there is a moral case for vegetarianism, but it is also clear from all of this that the limits of consumer ethics are hard to overcome. It's not just an issue of demand, it's supply as well. Most people will find it hard to give up meat as long as it is readily available to them in shops cheaply. Many of us (including myself) make choices every day which have negative consequences in ecological and economic terms. The consumption of meat makes such a contribution, just as the use of products tested on non-human animals does. Unless we become vegetarians and vegans overnight we can hardly pass moral judgment on people like Jeanette Winterson. Likewise, we should pause for thought and reflect on our own behaviour before accepting the claims of a smear campaign against Muslims and Jews.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Caligula's Horse.


When the doomed and befeebled John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate in the race of '08 there was plenty of criticism in the press. Alexander Cockburn, witty as ever, saw the point of this selection and summed it up immediately.

Pundits murmur that McCain has blown the “inexperience” argument against Obama by picking a young Alaskan governor, not so long ago the mayor of Wasila. I don’t think Americans have much patience with that kind of talk. Who needs experience in foreign affairs in the White House, since the major decisions are taken in Jerusalem and relayed through AIPAC? And anyway, Palin does have experience dealing with oil companies, the other major lobby dictating America’s foreign policies. No chord in populism reverberates more strongly than the notion that the robust common sense of an unstained outsider is the best medicine for an ailing polity. Caligula doubtless got big cheers from the plebs when he installed his horse as proconsul.

It's more than a comment on Palin alone. Cockburn strikes at one of the major tropes of reactionary populism wherever it takes hold. The populism of the Right is the universalism of the 'little man', of the petit-bourgeois social climber, the claim of the middle-class to represent a universal class, free and devoid of sectional or even private interest.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Myra Breckenridge on Circumcision.



In Myra Breckenridge (1968) Gore Vidal writes in the first person as ‘Woman Triumphant’. I've already written about the possibility of crossover between the author and the protagonist in this example. Some parts of the book naturally stood out to me. As I've written about the issue of genital cutting in the past, the twenty-second chapter certainly stood out to me. The brief chapter is entirely a comment on circumcision after the narrator attends an orgy.

Just as I expected, seventy-two per cent of the male students are circumcised. At Clem's party I had been reminded of the promiscuous way in which American doctors circumcise males in childhood, a practice I highly disapprove of, agreeing with that publisher who is forever advertising in the New York Times Book Review a work which proves that circumcision is necessary for only a very few men. For the rest, it constitutes, in the advertiser's phrase, “a rape of the penis.” Until the Forties, only the upper or educated classes were circumcised in America. The real people were spared this humiliation. But during the affluent postwar years the operation became standard procedure, making money for doctors as well as allowing the American mother to mutilate her son in order that he might never forget her early power over him. Today only the poor Boston Irish, the Midwestern Poles and the Appalachian Southerners can be counted upon to be complete.

Myron never forgave Gertrude for her circumcision of him. In fact, he once denounced her in my presence for it. She defended herself by saying that the doctor had recommended it on hygienic grounds - which of course does not hold water since most foreskins are easily manipulated and kept clean. What is truly sinister is the fact that with the foreskin's removal, up to fifty per cent of sensation in the glans penis is reduced... a condition no doubt as pleasing to the puritan American mother as it is to her co-conspirator, the puritan Jewish doctor who delights in being able to mutilate the goyim in the same vivid way that his religion (and mother!) mutilated him.

I once had the subject out with Dr. Montag, who granted me every single point and yet, finally, turned dentist and confessed, “Whenever I hear the word ‘smegma’, I become physically ill.” I am sure Moses is roasting in hell, along with Jesus, Saint Paul, and Gertrude Percy Breckenridge.[1]

We might read Myra as a partial satire of Vidal himself – the consummate gentleman-bitch. If we do so we’re faced with certain questions and in particular: what should we take away from this about the author? Some would describe Vidal as ‘anti-Semitic’ here. The section holds within it vulgar imagery, but that can be said of the entire novel. It’s a ‘masterpiece in bad taste’ after all. Breckenridge damns Moses to the same ranks as Jesus and St. Paul, as well as the “puritan American mother”. The grounds of the attacks are pro-hedonist. Vidal was an exponent of promiscuity, not of commitment and monogamy. He disapproved of marriage equality on this same basis.

We find this is the case, as he goes on to write “I prefer the penis intact... in order that it be raped not by impersonal survey but by me!”[2] This is tongue-in-cheek comedy. It’s a self-caricature. Going by the extent Vidal parodies his own fears of overpopulation in the book this is not an implausible reading. He was promiscuous, experimented with drugs in the Sixties, enjoyed cinema, and claimed the advertisement was the only American art form. These things (and more) are all present in the book and taken to their own extremities.
This isn’t the only extract in the book worthy of notation. At one point, Myra remarks on Dr Montag, one of the Jewish characters of the novel, in the context of their disagreement over sexuality and womanhood.

Being Jewish as well as neo-Freudian, he is not able to divest himself entirely of the Law of Moses. For the Jew, the family is everything; if it had not been, that religion which they so cherish (but happily do not practice) would have long since ended and with it their baleful sense of identity. As a result, the Jew finds literally demoralizing the normal human sexual drive toward promiscuity. Also, the Old Testament injunction not to look upon the father's nakedness is the core to a puritanism which finds unbearble the thought that the make in himself might possess an intrinsic attractiveness, either aesthetically or sensually. In fact, they hate the male body and ritually tear the penis in order to remind the man so damaged that his sex is unlovely. It is, all in all, a religion even more dreadful than Christianity.[3]

So what should we make of the crude stereotyping and vulgar language around Jews? If we exclude the possibility that Gore Vidal was anti-Semitic (and I do, as I have already written) then we can only understand these passages in a handful of ways. If Myra is a partial parody of Vidal then it seems that this writing is at the extreme end of exaggeration of what Vidal actually thinks. Alternatively, Myra isn’t based on Vidal and in which case it can’t be said that these views represent those of the novelist. To paraphrase Houellebecq, when asked if his protagonists are really him, “Perhaps the mistake is to think of me at all.” 

As tempting as the latter option would be, I think I’ve already clarified why I think it is too convenient an option. That isn’t to say that I accept the accusations of anti-Semitism levelled against Vidal in the Eighties. In a way we shouldn’t be too surprised by Gore Vidal’s views on religion. He was a man of the Enlightenment and he didn’t feel the need to hold his tongue. It’s not as if Vidal was known for resorting to gentle euphemisms. In his response to charges of prejudice, Gore Vidal was blunt “I regard monotheism as the greatest disaster to befall the human race.”[4] He had plenty of time to romanticise polytheism and pre-Christian religions and Eastern philosophies.

So Vidal took the side of Athens over Jerusalem. Does this convict him of any offence? Only of leaving religionists offended. His politics were a snob cocktail of libertarian strains, where populism and leftism crossover. He admired the tradition of William Jennings Bryan, while he took charge against its descendants in the Creationist Right. The aggressive secularism in Vidal’s politics has to be understood in its American context. He lived through the revival of political Christianity in the Fifties and the rise of the ‘Moral Majority’ in the Eighties. Ever the provocateur, Vidal would take a swipe at anyone to prove his points.


[1] Vidal, G; Myra Breckenridge & Myron (Abacus | 1968, 1972) pg.103-104
[2] Ibid.
[3] Vidal, G; Myra Breckenridge (Abacus | 1968, 1972) pg.78-79

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

How to understand UKIP.


Current standing

Last week, Roger Helmer of UKIP was trounced by the Conservative candidate at Newark. It seemed to go against everything the media has told us about the UKIP threat. Many had claimed the gains UKIP made in May would be transformed into a fourth party presence within Parliament. This was not a claim of the right-wing press, or at least not just the right-wing press, even the BBC and the liberal broadsheets succumbed to this message. In late May The Guardian reported a poll finding that 86% of those who voted for UKIP in the European elections said they would do so again in the 2015 General Election.[1]

The leap from 13 UKIP MEPs to 24 UKIP MEPs since 2009 set off the British media to announce their well-cooked conclusion: it’s a political earthquake. The results are interesting. Labour came in second at 25.4% to UKIP came out with 27.5% of the vote, translating to about 9.3% of the electorate. The Conservatives fell by 4%, Liberal Democrats by over 6% and the BNP by 7%. UKIP increased its vote by more than 10%. The Green Party lost a little under 1% and gained three seats beating the Lib Dems with nearly 8% of the vote. Voter turnout was around 33.8% for the European elections. It goes without saying that the fringe right-wing parties do better out of low turnout. It was predictable that the ruling parties would face a drop in support.

At the local elections, UKIP's vote fell from 22% to 17% and picked up 160 seats (but no councils) which was less than the Lib Dems who have been relegated politically toxic.[2] UKIP may have eaten into the votes of Conservative candidates enough for them to lose overall control of several councils, but not enough to gain control of any councils itself. The media has claimed the results are ‘disastrous’ for Labour even though the Party gained 330 council seats and a net gain of five councils.[3] The threat of UKIP is to establishment parties in its potential to divide the vote on sore issues like immigration. This matters as we’re about to go into an election. The Conservative Party have never fully recovered from the defeat inflicted on John Major, the worst since 1832, while Labour has still not filled the void leftover by Blairism.

Newark was not to be the first victory of the Farage Party. It should have been obvious from the beginning that the first seat in Parliament would not be offered to Roger Helmer with all of his obvious weak-spots. Helmer himself said that the absence of Farage hurt his chances in the by-election.[4] It may have been a shrewd move by Farage to let Helmer take the fall on this occasion. He made it clear he had no interest in putting himself forward. Perhaps he had already gauged UKIP had little chance. Better to focus on the European and local elections, so let someone else test the waters for the UK Parliament. But that’s not where it ends.

The contours of white appeal

At the end of May there was a revealing and small controversy over the tweets of UKIP Harrow chairman Jeremy Zeid. London was notably invulnerable to UKIP and Zeid was one of the candidates to be defeated. In his tweets Zeid bemoaned the ‘absence’ of white faces in Ilford and went on to claim that London is being “ethnically cleansed” of white people.[5] He put the blame on the Labour Party. Perhaps Zeid imagines that New Labour’s immigration policy as a social engineering programme to flood the country with a new electorate to back whatever Labour wants. These are longstanding tropes of right-wing fantasy. Race-mixing with the aim of building socialism in one country. Alas, the Blairites had no such radical imagination.

During the debate held between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage the veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby asked “Do you consider the social impact of unlimited EU immigration to be positive or has it caused a damaging element of cultural segregation?” Nigel Farage charged immigration with ‘increasing segregation’ and ‘fundamentally’ changing Britain's towns and cities. He went on to say “Worst of all, what it's done socially, it has left I'm afraid the white working-class, yes, I know educationally, many have not done as well as we would like, but it has left the white working-class effectively as an under-class. And that I think is a disaster for our society.” Here Farage targets those who identify as ‘white’ and ‘working-class’ in the audience.

‘White’ being the lowest common denominator there is. The appeal to white racial consciousness is to those who have nothing else to cling onto. In the vast swathes of the country reduced to wastelands by Thatcherism there are plenty of working-class people who feel marginalised. To advance a race-consciousness where class-consciousness is necessary holds obvious value for any reactionary party. The white race exists, if at all, definitely not in biological terms, it exists objectively as a formation of social control. Its shape is a multi-class formation. The problem is those external to its advantages, not the system in which we are all chained. In the words of Theodore W Allen, “The white race is the historically most general form of ‘class collaboration’.”[6]

In using such words Farage attempted to bind the ‘white working-class’ to his party as a party of ‘white’ men standing up for themselves. Anyone who defends immigration can then be conceived of as a traitor. Nick Clegg was the perfect candidate with the long list of broken promises behind him. It was clear who was going to win the debate from the outset. Clegg could not rely on the strength of liberal ideas to triumph over the nationalist reaction. He had already conceded too much ground to the opposition. He trapped in the liberal-nationalist dichotomy permitted by the media and reinforced by the BBC and apparatchiks like Dimbleby. The only kind of opposition which can be levelled against UKIP properly would have to be levelled against the Establishment as well. And that is why the liberals are so complacent.

Farage as an Ultra-Rightist

The lexicon of the Left has always had a plethora of useful phrases. Lenin coined ‘ultra-leftism’ to designate those leftists who reach beyond the Left and, ultimately, undermine left-wing aims. It follows that there is such a thing as ultra-rightism. In many ways the Westboro Baptist Church in the US embodied ultra-rightism. Many LGBT activists believed that the notorious placard ‘GOD HATES FAGS’ was more of a help to the cause than a hindrance. There was no pretence of civility with the Westboro bunch, which the rest of the Christian Right has tried hard to maintain. It's not hard to see how the zealotry of Fred Phelps and his flock has caused a lot of problems for American conservatives. Waving around placards, like ‘GOD LOVES DEAD SOLDIERS’, is hardly inspirational to the so-called ‘red states’.

Nigel Farage seems to occupy a similar space in UK politics. Certainly, the Conservative leadership understands the threat of UKIP in this framework. It threatens to undermine its electoral basis. As Paul Mason has highlighted, the Conservative Party is a social alliance between socially and economically liberal metropolitans and the socially conservative, anti-immigrant and anti-EU voters of the rural middle-classes.[7] Likewise, the Labour Party is rooted in an alliance between a liberal salariat in the cities and a working-class base.[8] In its nationalist appeal, UKIP challenges Labour where there remains, what Mason calls, “a residual white working-class culture”; all the while Farage threatens to convert socio-moral and hard Right conservatives from the Conservative Party.[9]

The UK Independence Party itself is a coalition of nationalists, libertarians, and paleoconservatives. It's not a straight fascist party like the BNP. UKIP has managed to gain greater respectability and coverage in mainstream affairs. Farage has been asked onto Question Time more often than any other politician in the last few years. The Party has drawn support from the reactionary press, explicitly in the case The Daily Express, from whence Farage plucked Patrick O'Flynn to stand as an MEP and UKIP’s Director of Communications. Ultra-right columnists such as Peter Hitchens and Simon Heffer have recommended UKIP to their readers as the necessary means to undermine the Conservative Party. In general the discourse surrounding certain issues has helped to maintain and spread a fervent base for a particular kind of anti-political populism.

The Flame of Thatcherism

As George Eaton has recorded in his blogging at the New Statesman, there have been signs since at least April 2014 that, UKIP are moving further leftwards on economic matters to seize the ground long abandoned by the Labour Party.[10] Even in the run-up to the European elections Farage had been critical of zero-hour contracts. George Eaton refers us to an article Farage penned in the Express and corporations who “refuse to accept any social obligation towards loyal employees”.[11][12]

On The Andrew Marr Show, Farage was asked about his convictions as an avowed Thatcherite and he distanced himself “Thatcherism was of its time, 40 years ago, to deal with a specific set of problems. For half the country it benefited them, for the other half it didn't.”[13] Farage confirmed that the flat tax of 31%, claiming that the policy had been ‘badly explained’, as people “thought we were going to put tax up for the low-paid”. The UKIP leader went as far as to assert a commitment to low-taxes, as an incentive, for minimum wage-earners: “What I can tell you for certain is that our biggest tax objective in the next manifesto will be no tax on the minimum wage. You've got to incentivise people to get off benefits and get back to work. That will obviously cost money.”[14]

The framework of these positions remains largely within the confines of conservative thought: ‘loyal’ employees, work not welfare, low taxes etc. The commitment to the 40% tax rate on high-incomes should not be mistaken as ‘progressive’, for it is a status quo commitment, it would still be a cut of 5%, and it is still a rate lower than it was in the Thatcher years.  In the past Farage has affirmed that the NHS should not be ring-fenced and, by implication, open to market forces and private companies.[15] He told Norman Smith not long ago that he wants to see Britain “getting better value for money” from the NHS. Farage has withdrawn from this position in his interview with Marr.

It is likely that the UKIP machine-men have taken notice of the criticisms against their laissez-faire tastes – for health-care privatisation, abolishing maternity leave and sick pay – in the traditional Labour press. The Daily Mirror ran pieces on UKIP’s stances in the run up to the European and local elections. It is a vulnerable point for the Party in its bid to expand into serious influence. The small amount of coverage that these positions gained in the press (compared with their stances on immigration and plentiful scandals) may have helped to harden Labour support in the local elections.

Despite the media claims of a UKIP ‘earthquake’ the Party leadership will be quietly aware of the need to chip away at the Labour base. There is widespread support for the nationalisation of energy companies, the renationalisation of the railways, and a ban on zero-hours contract. It wouldn’t be surprising if the bulk of this support was concentrated in the North and the Midlands. In the same quarters, there is strong nationalist opposition to immigration and European integration, as well as a popular disdain for political-correctness, benefits scrounging, and multiculturalism. The UKIP leadership may be looking to siphon off support for Labour where the Conservatives have had little chance of gaining any ground whatsoever.

The real question is whether UKIP will be able to capitalise on the modest gains it has made and hold itself together with these electoral manoeuvres. This is at the same time that the Party will be up against the Conservatives and Labour. The threat is there and it has yet to be really seen what this means for future British politics. It is evident that the need for a radical opposition in the UK and the absence of such an opposition is at a dire point. The only force which could take the wind out of UKIP would have to challenge the Conservatives on the cuts and oppose the European austerity regime.


[3] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.