THE PROBLEM OF POPULISM IN UK POLITICS: A POINT OF VIEW
"But if Ukip is not unique in peddling snake oil to the vulnerable, it is the most shameless. This is a party supported by people having a hard time, led by privileged and rather too gleeful ideologues. It is hard to detect in the Farage grin any belief that his ideas would put an extra pound in the pocket of the people he cheers as the spine of Britain. A politician who cared about these communities would honour them with candour. He would tell them that governments can ameliorate economic decline with practical interventions: redistribution, low-tax zones to lure business. But they cannot reverse it, and certainly not by fighting culture wars. If a town relies on an industry, and that industry loses out to technology or foreign competition, the local resentment will always exceed the government’s ability to stir a revival. We have been here before. The industrial north was victimised by economic trends that touched Detroit and Calais too, not by Margaret Thatcher. It was just easier to blame a face and a name. Anyone in the same plight would nurse the same rage. But the politicians who egged it on, as though deindustrialisation was one woman’s whim, were contemptible."Janan Ganesh, "Populist politics is no use to globalisation’s losers". The Financial Times. 13 October 2014, in www.ft.com.
"Another circumstance attending the rise of Populism and Progressivism in America was unique in the modern world. Here the industrialization and urbanization of the country were coupled with a breakdown in the relative homogeneity of the population. American democracy, down to about 1880, had been only rural but Yankee [id. est., 'Anglo-Saxon'] and Protestant in its basic notions, and such enclaves of immigrants as had thus far developed were too small and scattered to have a major nationwide impact upon the scheme of civic life. The rise of industry, however, brought with it what contemporaries thought of as an 'immigrant invasion,' a massive forty-year migration of Europeans, chiefly peasants, whose religions, traditions, languages, and sheer numbers made easy assimilation impossible. Populism and Progressivism were in considerable part colored by the reaction to this immigration stream among native elements of the population....In the attempts of the Populists and Progressives to hold on to some of the values of agrarian life, to save personal entrepreneurship and individual opportunity and the character type they engendered, and to maintain a homogenous Yankee civilization, I have found much that was retrograde and delusive, a little that was vicious and a good deal that was comic."Richard Hofstadter. The Age of Reform: From Bryan to FDR. (1955), pp. 9-11.
"I am not racist in the slightest....But it seems like they're getting more rights than we have, the immigrants....[in the original] I'm 51 years of age. In my opinion, in fifty years time, I think this country will be run by the Muslims".A railwayman by the name of Steve Hughes, quoted by James Meek in: "In Farageland". The London Review of Books. 9 October 2014, pp. 9-10. The issues outlined by the Financial Times' ultra bien pensant Political Correspondent are of course one that have come to the fore since the eruption of Europe's financial crisis in 2008-2009. And as the famous American historian Richard Hofstadter's well known analysis of the rise of Populists in American politics circa the last quarter of the 19th century shows, Ganesh type of analysis owes a great deal to Hofstadter's work (whether acknowledged or not). The issue in terms of contemporary British politics is that while of course the nominal 'solution' offered up by the populist UK Independence Party (hereafter UKIP) to Great Britain's contemporary woes, is completely nonsensical, that per se cannot gainsay the sudden appeal of this party. Which in fact, per contra to Mr. Ganesh thesis can in fact be obtained from a very careful reading from his own piece. Viz: the type of people who support the UKIP are au fond completely uninterested in the fact that the current coalition government has been one of 'austerity' and (in some instances) in favor of 'free markets'. It is highly unlikely that they ever supported the Tories for reasons which would make sense based upon 'rational choice theory' or some type of adherence to Thatcherite Capitalism. The people who support (rightly or wrongly - to my mind wrongly) the UKIP are those who feel that the Great Britain they were brought up in, lived and wish to grow old in, has changed, quickly, fundamentally, without their consent nor at their behest. Changes brought about by both globalization and seemingly uncontrolled immigration. It may of course be 'irrational' for people to support the UKIP from the Olympian point of view of Mr. Ganesh. One may state that per contra it is equally 'irrational' for people to support the Scottish Independence Party or for its upper-income supporters to support the Labour Party. And yet many continue to do both. In the case of the Labour Party, it has always had a sizeable Upper-class (in the British sense of the term) element supporting it going back to the 1920's 1. The fact of the matter is that no major party in modern political history in any Western country has ever had a support base made up exclusively or even mostly from those who stood to 'gain' in some material sense from supporting said party. The Tory Party for example has always had a very large support base in the lower, working and lower-middle classes. These people did not support the party based upon some 'rationale choice theory' of politics. They supported it, as any history of the party will clearly show for what no doubt Ganesh would view as 'irrational' reasons: ideology, patriotism, religion, biases, even at times pure racism 2. This fact which is very well attested in history may be unfortunate, it may even be something to be regretted, it cannot however be gainsaid as being empirically unfounded. The supporters of UKIP are people who in prior periods of history would have supported either the Labour Party and or the Tory Party. They currently fail to support either party since it appears that neither party offers policies or personnel who they can identify with. In some political systems (such as the American) such individuals would fall out of the political system entirely and consistantly fail to vote. Fortunately or unfortunately, British politics has yet to come to that 'happy pass'. No doubt Mr. Ganesh and people of his ilk will be very happy indeed when that day will come. 1. Clement Attlee, a graduate of a minor Public School and Cambridge, was quite happy at the fact that his cabinet, in 1945-1951, had five Old Etonians. See: R. W. Johnson, "Already a Member". The London Review of Books. 11 September 2014, pp. 31-32. 2. This is brought out in Robert Waller's: "Conservative Electoral Support and Social Class", in The Conservative Century: the Conservative Party since 1900. Edited by Anthony Selden & Stuart Ball. (1995), pp. 579-610. See also: Also: Peter Catterall,"The Party and Religion", in Ibid. pp. 637-670.