The ending of the Communist Manifesto was “working men of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!”
This in many ways can summarize UKIP at the moment. After an extraordinary by-election week, UKIP have gained their first seat in the seaside town of Clacton and nearly won in the seat of Middleton and Heywood as well. Everything looks up for the UKIP party. The map shows they are likely to make big gains across the country. As for the Labour and Tories, a hope of an outright majority fades to grey. Why is UKIP doing so well? Is there concern for the rise of this party? What are the prospects for the party in the future?
There are various causes for UKIP success. People are unhappy with immigration and this is turning millions to UKIP. UKIP have successfully linked the EU free movement of labour with immigration. But wider causes are really at stake here. The book Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support For The Radical Right In Britain by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin argues that a lot of the people who voted for UKIP are older working class males who have been left behind by the growth of globalisation. They have become sceptical of the establishment and feel alienated by the rise of liberalism.
In many ways, economic liberalism and social liberalism have made many people go over to the UKIP party – and this is why a lot of younger voters will fear UKIP. UKIP and their voters are far less liberal than the current younger generations. According to one poll done by the Guardian in May 2014, shows 27% of UKIP voters strongly disagreeing with same sex marriage should have the same rights as heterosexuals. Liberal minded students beware UKIP! However UKIP voters aren’t ex-Tory free market Thatcherites as many would believe; UKIP voters according to a 2013 YouGov poll 73% want to renationalise railways and 78% want to renationalise energy companies.
UKIP voters are probably what you could call Communitarian. Communitarians are people who believe that people have an attachment to their communities in which they are from and whose identity is heavily shaped by the society in which they are in. In a political context, Communitarians are conservative on social issues but prefer government interference in the economy. Before 1997, Labour had significant affiliations with voters of the UKIP party in the sense that Labour party MPs had significant ties to their local communities . That is obviously no longer the case, as Labourites are as middle class as the Tories. Furthermore, Labour and the left in Europe post-Thatcher have ditched communitarianism for individualist liberalism. That has meant the Left has paid the price dearly. This is in Europe as well as in Britain.
Various questions are raised from all this. Firstly, isn’t communitarianism a lost cause in the 21st century? Yes and no. Whilst the white working class will fade out to the growth of the middle class, which is a bastion of economic and social liberalism. Yet by 2050, ethnic minorities are expected to be around 30% of the population and according to the Policy’s Exchange’s A Portrait of Modern Britain, ethnic minorites are more likely to married compared with cohabiting with a partner and are far more likely to be religious.
Could UKIP become a Communitarian cause? In many ways it already has; indeed interestingly it stands out as trying to not be liberal despite Farage calling UKIP a “Liberal party”. Opposition to immigration could be considered as conservative on social issues.
Should Labour and Conservatives endorse the Communitarian cause? Yes and no. The Tories stand at the contradiction of endorsing economic liberalism and yet to some respect resent social liberalism. For Labour, its a far more interesting and important issue. Labour needs the UKIP voters. Clacton was a seat which Labour won in 1997. The issue with Labour is that it continues to be a liberal party. A communitarian position by the Labour party could involve policies such as only allowing registered voters to be entitled for benefits payments. Such an idea would be highly controversial but may be needed to regain these voters.