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Home Opinion UKIP if you want, but there’s a price to pay
EU Election • UK • UKIP

UKIP if you want, but there’s a price to pay

Anthony Painter - 27 May 2014

UKIP’s success highlights that the evasion, confrontation and accommodation strategies for taking them on are insufficient. A new strategy is badly needed to achieve a more healthy way of democratically engaging with disillusioned voters

There have been three main strategies for taking on UKIP:
1. Evasion. This hasn’t worked as the media and voters haven’t ignored UKIP. In fact, quite the opposite. This is Labour’s predominant approach.
2. Confrontation. This was most eloquently argued by The Times columnist, Matthew Parris, who argued that UKIP voters should simply be told they are wrong.  This strategy is very popular on Twitter. And it has been adopted by Nick Clegg – with respect to UKIP (though not its voters).
3. Accommodation. This is David Cameron’s approach. He has offered an EU referendum and adopted a series of measures on immigration such as a cap which make little policy sense but have political attraction. Labour has also adopted a soft accommodation alongside evasion. What this means is that the political agenda goes towards UKIP without any proportional increase in support for mainstream parties.
All of these strategies are insufficient.  It is certain that UKIP will fall back on the level of support they received in the European elections come the general election. However, how far they will fall back is not yet known. Moreover, the policy impact as other parties accommodate them, whether UKIP wins votes or not, could be considerable. It is absolutely right to confront UKIP when they make racist comments, spread marginalisation and fear, and offer no solutions. They should be taken on. However, when that creeps into telling those attracted by UKIP they are wrong, it is completely counter-productive.
Here is an outline of a very different strategy. It is targeted at voters who are attracted to UKIP specifically. It presents those tempted by UKIP with a simple set of choices. This strategy is characterised by honest dialogue. It involves pointing out the costs of the decisions that are made by voting UKIP so there is a more even-handed consideration of the consequences of the party’s approach. Tim Bale categorises strategies towards far-right parties as ‘snog, marry, avoid’. This strategy is ‘talk things through’…robustly.

It would go something like this:

1. You are sceptical of the EU
However, if we were to leave, it would be the equivalent of a voluntary recession and the economic loss to the country would be continuous and persistent. It’s a fact that UKIP is desperate to hide from you by pretending there is a magical alternative such as the UK forming a free trade area with the US and/or China. Whether that would happen or not, the UK would be turning its back on the biggest single market in the world and it happens to be on our doorstep!
This is not just about abstract economics. It affects you directly. We have an ageing society and an NHS, nursing care, and pensions to pay for. We have an enormous national debt. If we harm ourselves economically then all these things will be far more difficult to pay for.
We understand that you are anxious about the way the country is changing. However, would a country that had to cut back on health care, pensions, and support for the elderly be a better sort of change? That is the choice you are making.

2. You are sceptical about immigration
We could close our borders. But again, that means our best businesses would not be able to grow and expand and create new jobs and pay taxes to fund our public services.
And yes, immigration can have some impact on some people’s wages. That is why we have to ensure we invest in people’s skills wherever we can and support their wages. But if we are going to pull up the drawbridge because there are some who are left behind then all of us become losers.
Yes, new houses have to be built. This creates concern too. The alternative is that you, your kids and/or grand-kids will have to pay higher rents and may never be able to afford their own house. Is this what you really want? That is the choice.
We can limit the migration of lower skilled workers from outside the EU and we can better manage our borders. We can ensure our welfare system rewards contribution. We can better help communities adapt to change by moving resources to communities that face change quicker. In the main though, these communities will be in cities where there is a greater willingness to cope with change.
But if we start heavily restricting immigration then our economic future, as an ageing society with a heavy debt burden, is a bleaker one. If we allow ourselves to judge people by their nationality instead of who they are as individuals then we end up living in a state of fear. If that is what you want then that is your democratic choice. But don’t pretend that there aren’t consequences - there most definitely are.

3. You are sceptical about politicians
And who could blame you? But again, there’s a price to pay for scepticism. Loathe them as we may, as a society we have to do things together like build roads, maintain an army, and provide healthcare for all. See politicians as a necessary evil but, messy and infuriating as democracy may be, it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternatives. It’s easy to say ‘a plague on all their houses’. Unfortunately, there are times when we have to take action together. And if we just dismiss all politicians, those things become harder to do not easier. And do you really think that Nigel Farage is that different to all the rest?
So we can choose to pull the UK out of the EU. We can build a wall around these islands. We can dismiss our politicians. Those are all choices you could make. But with these choices come consequences: a country that is poorer, less able to support itself, and less able to take action together. By all means back UKIP, but do it knowing that there are costs. And the costs are extremely high.”

Of course, this ‘honest dialogue’ will need to be backed up by political leaders of vision, confidence, and strong organisation. But surely, open and honest dialogue is precisely what voters who are tempted by UKIP are thirsting for. They may well turn their back on the mainstream parties ultimately but let’s have a real discussion. It’s easy to ignore, accommodate or descend into name-calling. Surely it’s better to confront people with consequences? In other words, treat people as grown-ups and they might just treat you with respect back. That’s a more healthy way of democratically engaging.

Anthony Painter is author of 'Left without a future?'.

Policy Network will also debate The EU after the European Elections at a major conference on 5 June held in partnership with the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom and hosted by Nomura.

This is a contribution to Policy Network's work on Understanding Populism .

Tags: Anthony Painter , Opinion , Labour Party , UK , Britain , United Kingdom , Redistribution , Austerity , Election , One Nation Labour , One Nation , David Cameron , Ed Miliband , Tory , Tories , Conservatives , Conservative , Conservative Party , Cons , Tory Party , Coalition , Income , Tax , Healthcare , Social Welfare , Welfare , Welfare State , Liberal Democrats , Lib Dems , Lib-Dems , Living Standards , Labour , Politics , UKIP , United Kingdom Independence Party , Nigel Farage ,


Anthony Zacharzewski
28 May 2014 00:43

I wonder perhaps whether this isn't "polite confrontation" - saying you're wrong but in a nicer way. Now I think they are wrong, for the most part, and the harder-line elements do need to be fought hard, but is there a missing option that says "you're partly right" - one that looks to find the areas where the UKIP and non-UKIP voters can agree: greater democratisation and openness in the EU institutions, a commitment to tackle illegal low pay and not to "go early" on working rights on future enlargement, and a domestic reform-of-politics agenda that matches the European one. You'll never get the "what about the Muslims destroying our country" brigade into that camp, but you can at least split the concerned and confused off from the hardline.

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