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UKIP: a threat for Tories – and workers

By Rebecca Anderson

AFTER MONTHS of media hype about UKIP and a national debate focusing on Europe and immigration, the right-wing party came top of the polls in May’s European Elections.

It can hardly come as a surprise to anyone that UKIP did so well, but there are diverging opinions about what this means for the future and what it says about racism in Britain today.

Election results
In the European elections, UKIP won 27 per cent of the vote and now have an MEP in every region.

It was the first time that the main opposition party has not come top of the polls in a European election since 1984, but Labour did increase its seats from 13 to 20. The history of election results in EU elections show that voters treat them as a way to register their dissatisfaction with the ruling party.

This is especially true since the European Parliament has no measurable impact on voters’ lives and because European election results are not always reflected in local and general elections.

UKIP’s vote actually fell in May’s local elections. A year ago they won an average of 24 per cent of the vote but this time round they only won an average of 17 per cent nationally and seven per cent in London.

This is not a result of them spreading themselves more thinly – in these local elections they actually concentrated their efforts on certain areas, thereby winning a greater number of council seats despite receiving fewer overall votes. Despite this tactic, UKIP do not have control of any council and have only 161 councillors.

Labour, on the other hand, won 300 additional seats and won control of six additional councils. Lord Ashcroft, a Tory Peer conducted a poll that found that if a General Election were held today then the Tories would lose 83 seats and Labour would win by a comfortable majority.
Ashcroft also found that around half of UKIP voters were ex-Tory voters, 20 per cent had voted Lib Dem in the 2010 general election and 15 per cent had voted Labour. So, UKIP took votes from all the major parties, and got votes from people who don’t usually vote, but the main party losing out to UKIP is the Conservatives.

The media hype
Despite the media hype about UKIP, their failures in the local elections demonstrate that their popularity could well be shallow – many of those who went to the polls in May must have voted UKIP in the European elections but for another party in the local elections.

This is despite the huge media coverage of UKIP in the run up to the elections, both positive and negative. The BBC received almost 1,200 complaints about their disproportionate coverage of UKIP, which is thought to be the highest ever number of complaints of that nature. Nigel Farage has appeared on the BBC’s Question Time 16 times since 2009, much more than any other party leader.

Many newspapers ran stories exposing the racism of UKIP candidates, forcing a number to resign. However, leaders of the mainstream parties weren’t willing to fully condemn the racism of UKIP.

When Miliband said that Farage’s comment that he would feel “uncomfortable” living next door to a Romanian family was a “racist slur” but refused to say that Farage himself was a racist, he was slammed by Tottenham MP David Lammy who told the BBC’s Daily Politics: “I remember a context in which some people said, ‘you don’t want these people living next door to you’ – that was racist. What Nigel Farage said over the weekend was racist… So I’m clear, he’s a racist.”

The mainstream parties, including Labour, were aware that allowing the national debate to focus so much on Europe and immigration would benefit UKIP in the European elections. However, while debate about the economy, jobs, housing and the NHS focussed on migrants and EU regulation, it wasn’t focusing on austerity, privatisation and the cost of living crisis. Naturally, the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems were happy with this arrangement.

A socialist alternative?
Although racist attacks have fallen from 55,134 recorded incidents in 2009/10 to 47,678 in 2011/12, there is a clear rise in the racist rhetoric used by the media and government to cover for the social problems caused by their economic policies.

There is no party of the left saying that migrants aren’t to blame, challenging racism and pointing to the real causes of our problems.
It was a real achievement for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition to stand over 500 candidates in the local elections. They polled over 65,000 votes nationally and their best result was in Salford where they won 9.9 per cent of the vote.

There are 11 months until the general election, where socialist candidates will be in a position to challenge Labour on their near silence over the Coalition’s imposition of brutal austerity and to raise demands for jobs, homes and saving the NHS.

TUSC could build on their successes in the local elections, but they themselves claim that their coalition is a step towards building a party and it is clear that a nothing less than a mass party capable of presenting a fighting socialist alternative on the national scale will do.

Left Unity will undoubtedly stand candidates in the General Election, and whilst it is a newer organisation than TUSC it will have the advantage of having campaigned against austerity in towns and cities across the country for the two years leading up to the elections. It also has a more clear and coherent attitude to immigration – they are in favour of it.

On this basis it should set out to win roots not only in communities fighting to defend their jobs, houses and services but all those fighting racism whether its comes from UKIP, The Tories – or Labour.  TUSC and Left Unity should discuss adopting a common action programme for 2015 that could be a starting point for a new party of class struggle.

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