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When the banks wrecked the economy, people were angry: angry with politicians, bankers, and super-rich tax dodgers. Movements like Occupy questioned the very foundations of our global capitalist economy. Voters needed a party or a leader who would understand their anger, who would reject business as usual politics and teach the establishment a lesson. So what did that establishment need?
It needed a party which would look and sound anti-establishment, but would not in any way threaten the economic and financial interests of the guilty elite. With such a party they could channel people’s anger, make them feel they had been given a choice. This I believe explains the extraordinary and sometimes puzzling rise of UKIP.
In one week in January 2013, I monitored the BBC’s flagship political programmes to see if they were balanced, counting the appearances of guests from each party. At that time, UKIP had a mere 15,000 members and not one MP. Yet out of 28 guests on these politically important programmes, four were from the Liberal Democrats and four were from UKIP. UKIP was grossly over-represented, given ‘parity of esteem’ with a party who were actually in government.
Now of course, nobody wants to see only the three main parties giving their views over and over again, we want to hear alternative and challenging voices. But in that week, which I don’t think was particularly unusual, there were no guests from any other minority party, no Greens, and no trade union representatives, despite the fact that large redundancies were taking place.
For the people who hold the real power, i.e. the people who own all the money and property, UKIP is an absolute gift. It holds the electorate’s attention by obsessing about immigration and Europe, whilst never proposing anything that would cause a billionaire to lose a night’s sleep. Indeed, if we look past immigration and Europe we find that UKIP’s policies, like a flat rate tax, privatisation, fracking, massive deregulation and a reduced welfare state are just what a billionaire would order.
The British, or more particularly English, establishment has a long history of smothering and subsuming opposition, often using fear tactics to deter support for anything that looks like radical change. Now, the modern establishment can use the media to promote their preferred alternative, and freeze out the undesirables. There are parties and movements around that present a genuine alternative and proposal for radical change. Greens and Plaid Cymru, for example, have four MPs between them and propose banking reform, public ownership of energy and railways, a Citizen’s Income, etc. In comparison to UKIP, with one MP (and not even a new one), they get very little media coverage, and that suits those who support the status quo.
Yet again the establishment has shown its skill at defusing public anger or diverting it into a relatively harmless channel. They have in an act of genius given us a party of protest funded by millionaires and led by a Thatcherite former City broker who’s been an MEP for fifteen years. Panic over, the revolution has been cancelled. Again.
* More analysis of UKIP from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ukip
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeadenTweet