Despite levels of media scrutiny and hostility unseen in recent political history, this Thursday up to 30 per cent of British voters will opt for Ukip.
The odd thing is that the more outrageous the slurs made against them, and the wackier the members unveiled in the press, the more their popularity surges, perhaps out of bloody-mindedness; if a Ukip candidate was caught committing autoerotic asphyxiation dressed in a Gestapo uniform tomorrow the party would probably be on 50 per cent by the end of the week.
One of the reasons is that Ukip is a product of lowered trust; the party’s supporters have noticeably less trust in politicians than voters in general, and I would hazard a guess that they have far less trust in the media. And because of the internet, the traditional press is less powerful and so the days when ‘it was the Sun wot won it’ are long gone.
Part of this breakdown in trust is due to Ukip supporters feeling that the powers-that-be have different values to them. Elite liberal values are assumed in the broadsheet media, in politics and in polite society generally, yet many people feel uncomfortable with them. And it is not that these values are wrong necessarily but that they have gone through a political form of Fisherian runaway, and become absolutist and highly intolerant of others; I don’t necessarily want conservative social values to triumph, but I do want them to be a counterweight to liberal ones, and the Tory policy of pre-emptive surrender isn’t entirely effective.
Combined with these social issues are the economic pressures being placed on the middle and lower middle class. Thanks to globalisation and technology, across the first world middle-level jobs are being stripped away; inequality is growing in the west, and when that happens mainstream politics makes way for more radical alternatives.
Mass immigration is one facet of globalisation, in essence similar to outsourcing (although trades unions are less critical of it). It makes things more competitive, and therefore more of a struggle for the less wealthy, talented or connected.
Critics of Ukip have described it as a Poujadist party, and that is a reasonable comparison although one they might not welcome. Pierre Poujad represented a middle class struggling in the face of competition from big business and ignored by Paris-centred politicians, and he stood for the same socially conservative values as Nigel Farage’s party does. Most importantly though Ukip does not have Poujadism’s anti-Semitism, but then that is not so much in the English tradition, or at least the classical liberal tradition from which Ukip emerged.
But Ukip is not a racist party, as most people would understand racism, although that comes down to definition. One of my criticisms of the Labour years is that the mainstream came to adopt a utopian idea of race relations, one in which all racial prejudice could be eliminated through education; they ignored the fact that what the utopian Left calls racism, that is the desire to live around people like ourselves, is part of human nature.
You can certainly reduce ethnic conflict and make overt racism socially unacceptable; but basing a system on the idea that human nature can be perfected does not have a great track record in history, to put it mildly. And so it has proved here. Britain’s political and media establishments have, in their pursuit of the ideal, ostracised those who are worried about immigration and multiculturalism, who are merely sneered at, at best. But such people, though angry, are more tolerant and open-minded than is imagined, and Ukip is successful because its view of the subject is close to the median – you might describe it as one of mixed feelings, neither racial hostility nor unbridled enthusiasm for diversity.
It’s perfectly natural that when people see an overwhelming change in their society, one dictated from above and over which they had no control, they are going to lose faith in and connection with mainstream politics.
Some find Ukip alarming, or even to blame for provoking violence (without any of that boring ‘evidence’ that pedants insist on). The paradox is that people who believe in the wonders of a multicultural society are also more likely to see it as fragile, diversity being such a strength that it can all be brought down by a man called Nigel. For once I don’t share their pessimism, and would simply argue that the party is a response and corrective to a political system that is experiencing runaway liberalism. Voting Ukip is an entirely rational and sensible thing to do.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.