Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Kipper baiting still leaves the mainstream in a fishy state

Taking the proverbial is not difficult
Nobody should be surprised at the likelihood of a substantial vote for UKIP in the forthcoming local and European elections.

And although it’s come close to being a national sport for people and media from across the political spectrum, it seems facile to invest too much time in pointing out the more ludicrous comments and opinions that have come from ’Kippers, as supporters themselves have become known.

They have loons in their midst, but they aren’t going to poll more than a handful of votes because everyone who votes for them believes that Lenny Henry should ‘go to a black country’ or because they want to ‘hate those dastardly gays just like you can hate a cup of Earl Grey’.

The rise of UKIP – just like the rise of assorted unsavoury parties across the continent – is symptomatic of a general disillusion with mainstream politics, further revealed in the UK by increased use of ‘ConLibLab’ to describe those parties.

What that reveals is a belief that there’s so little distance between the three main parties that you could barely slip a cigarette paper between them.

In other words, there’s little meaningful choice.

And so we have a party that claims to speak straightforwardly, and promises to lift up Britain once more by stopping (most) immigration and hauling the country out of the European Union.

The main reasons for the UKIP leadership wanting us out of the EU don’t really matter to those for whom all this country’s real or perceived ills are down to Brussels.

However, the UKIP leadership wants to be able to reduce – or cut altogether – employment rights, from paid annual leave to sick pay to maternity leave.

It’s debatable whether they really do think that these are what is holding the country back or whether those of them who are employers simply want to be able to reduce their own labour costs.

Such an approach, together with a commitment to reducing the state still further, is entirely reminiscent of free-market fundamentalists in the US and indeed, a great deal of the language to be found on forums in the UK is borrowed from them.

But on UKIP’s part, it hardly seems ‘patriotic’ to want to butcher the rights of the same British workers that they like to pretend they’re on the side of, does it?

The EU as a political entity is fraught with problem – not least legislation that, in effect, enshrines neo-liberalism, irrespective of the democratic wishes of individual electorates.

But then it’s not neo-liberalism that offends UKIP – the party’s leadership wants to plunge ever further down the marketisation path, to scrap vastly more public services than current Chancellor George Osborne, and sack as many public service workers as possible.

But such pesky facts are not getting a very wide outing – and there’s a reason for that. They’re not necessarily obvious vote winners, while there’s a fair few other politicians in the mainstream parties, and more than one media proprietor, who would be in almost total agreement.

How have we reached this state?

The spin – and the perception of spin – from all the mainstream parties has been contributory, as has a perception that none of those same parties really cares about Joe and Joanne Public.

Election at Eatanswill (Pickwick), 1836, Phiz
A generation and a half has seen both Conservative and Labour parties change from what the majority of their followers – certainly the older ones – would consider those parties to be.

The Lib Dems earned themselves an increase in votes at the 2010 general election, primarily because people saw, in their commitment to electoral reform, a possible way to give a kick in the pants the system, but they had counted without the fact that Nick Clegg and many of his MPs proved to be interested only in an illusion of power.

The Conservative Party has become the out-and-out supporter of marketisation and big business: that is now its prime constituency, other than on election days.

Look back at it’s actions in office over the last four years and you will see this borne out time and again, from the privatisation of the NHS to the so-called lobbying bill, which has been used not to do what was intended, but instead to gag a whole range of groups from commenting on politics in the run-up to the 2015 general election.

Having, in opposition, rightly opposed assorted attacks on civil liberties and privacy, one talk from GCHQ has convinced it to champion mass invasions into private communications, while also using the porn panic to introduce censorship by the back door.

Labour, on the other hand, seems like the proverbial headless chicken.

Its leadership seems unaware that there is any alternative to neo-liberal marketisation, however much it might make a few noises about the problems of a low-wage economy.

Indeed, it seems to be as wedded to such approaches as the Conservatives, but with just an iota of embarrassment at such a betrayal of the party’s own history and its traditional followers and a belief that a tiny bit of tinkering around the edges will ease any problems.

The steady drip drip of stories about the venality and greed and absolute lack of ethics on the part of politicians has also had an unsurprising impact on public trust, who generally seem to harbour the illusion that it was not always thus.

Take a look at Hogarth and read Dickens’s Pickwick Papers if you believe that politicians behaving badly is new.

The South Sea Scheme (c1721), Hogarth's 'casino economy'
But it’s all well and good condemning any or all the above, if people themselves do not get involved and take responsibility.

The minimum that can be done is to use your vote – preferably after paying at least a few minutes examining what all the candidates you can vote for are promising and/or claiming to have done.

It takes perhaps a little more effort not simply to believe everything that you read in your newspaper of choice, but to look beyond a simplistic headline and story that confirms any personal opinions, and explore an issue in different media.

It takes yet greater effort to get involved in local politics – which doesn’t mean any of those mainstream political parties or even any smaller parties, but can involve community groups, for instance, or local campaigns.

It’s simple: an investment of time is required to educate ourselves and be involved politically – the things that offer us the possibility of having an influence and even of changing something.

But when the electorate becomes disenchanted to the extent that few even bother to vote outside general elections – although millions spend the money to vote for a contestant on Britain’s Got Strictly X Factor Talent – then perhaps the point that needs to be made is that we get the politicians that we deserve.

It’s easy to simply accuse those saying they’ll vote for UKIP of racism for worrying about immigration.

Far easier, indeed, than it is to try to get across the real reasons why, among other things, incomes for the majority have been declining for 30-plus years, the cost of housing has increased to such an extent, job security has disappeared and nothing comparable has replaced all the decently-paid, skilled manual jobs that formed a major strand of the national economy until de-industrialisation was commenced for ideological reasons in the 1980s – let alone to attempt to posit real alternatives.

And viewed from that perspective, taking the piss out of UKIP smacks of political onanism rather than a meaningful consideration of what has allowed that party to grow and how the situation can be changed.

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