Ukip is a reaction to Britain’s new class system

Much as I long for the day when the purple flag of freedom flies over Downing Street, I wish voters wouldn’t use local elections as referendums on national politics. Because of tribal voting in local elections, we end up with incompetent, one-party statelets where governing parties can stay in power – purely because of what goes on in Westminster.

As it is, today has become a vote on the Conservative Party’s performance. The Ukip phenomenon should not be underestimated. Peter Oborne today calls on voters to stay loyal to the Tory Party to keep out the alternative, but Ukip support seems to be coming as much from Labour these days. As Max Wind-Cowie points out in Prospect:

This sense—that UKIP actually cares about the fate of the white working class and their kids—provides UKIP with its magnetic pull on voters that Labour has long considered its property. In so many ways, New Labour embraced the worst of Thatcherism alongside its merits—not least in its contempt for the socially immobile. Immigration is not only important because of people coming here, it’s important because politicians’ embrace of it tells us so much about what they think about humans. And it tells us that they are generally rather weird. [Western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic.]

Too many Blairites seem genuinely baffled by people who can’t be barristers and don’t want to be either. At a Labour pressure group event this month, one ex-Blair adviser said that he believes everyone should have the opportunity to get out of small northern towns like his and make the big time in London. Fine. But plenty of us would much rather be afforded the chance to stay close to our families, our friends and our roots—to be able to forge a good life in the place we call home. It is politicians’ belief that people are rootless, ruthless individuals ready to up sticks that drives their comfort with mass immigration and their contempt for the static.

That’s all true. I’m sceptical of the idea that politics can ever transcend Left and Right; there are such things as liberal and conservative personalities, and opinions about certain things will always cluster. But what has happened is that a certain elite worldview has emerged, a consensus that is “weird” . And where an elite becomes too entrenched, it’s only natural that populism follows.

This was all foreseen by the political philosopher Christopher Lasch, who before dying in 1994 wrote The Revolt of the Elites. In it, he pointed out how an elite, separated from the American population both by wealth and by culture, had emerged:

Thanks to the decline of old money and the old-money ethic of civic responsibility, local and regional loyalties are sadly attenuated today. The mobility of capital and the emergence of a global market contribute to the same effect. The new elites, which include not only corporate managers but all those professions that produce and manipulate information, the lifeblood of the global market, are far more cosmopolitan, or at least more restless and migratory, than their predecessors.

Patriotism, certainly, does not rank very high in their hierarchy of virtues. ‘Multiculturalism,’ on the other hand, suits them to perfection, conjuring up the agreeable image of a global bazaar in which exotic cuisines, exotic styles of dress, exotic music, exotic tribal customs can be savoured indiscriminately, with no questions asked and no commitments required.

He also observed many other aspects of this phenomenon, among them how identity politics would take the role of religion, asking: “How much longer can the spirit of free inquiry and open debate survive under these conditions?”

The same benefits misleadingly associated with religion – security, spiritual comfort, dogmatic relief from doubt – are thought to flow from a therapeutic politics of identity. In effect, identity politics has come to serve as a substitute for religion. Or at least for the feeling of self-righteousness that is so commonly confused with religion.

These developments shed further light on the decline of democratic debate. ‘Diversity’, a slogan that looks attractive on the face of it, has come to mean the opposite of what it appears to mean. In practice, diversity turns out to legitimise a new dogmatism, in which rival minorities take shelter behind a set of beliefs impervious to rational discussion.

He noted:

It is not just that the masses have lost interest in revolution; their political instincts are demonstrably more conservative than those of their self-appointed spokesmen and would-be liberators. It is the working and lower middle classes, after all, that favour limits on abortion, cling to the two-parent family as a source of stability in a turbulent world, resist experiments with ‘alternative lifestyles,’ and harbour deep reservations about affirmative action and other adventures in large-scale social engineering.

Among this trend is a development chronicled in Oborne’s great work, The Triumph of the Political Class, exemplified by the party leaders, all of them caricatures of this milieu. In contrast Nigel Farage, although having worked in the City – not a very popular profession – did actually work in a job outside of Westminster. That, along with the absence of political wonk-speak, his old-style anti-statist instincts and merrie old England character, makes him a very attractive figure in our Laschian world.
Still, will they fix the cracks in the road? That’s what I want to know.

This article was published at Telegraph Blogs

Comments so far

  1. Richard Evans says

    Excellent article Ed, a perfect summing up of the political disconnect that means UKIP is going to win seats in 2015

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