Brexit: What we need to know about Nigel Farage's UKIP

Sahil Joshi
Sahil JoshiJun 25, 2016 | 10:47

Brexit: What we need to know about Nigel Farage's UKIP

The referendum for Brexit was fought hard and ended in a close finish. But the credit for holding this historic referendum in the first place goes to rise of the far-right and the party which had this agenda of exiting the European Union right from its inception: the UKIP, or the United Kingdom Independence Party.

Its leader, Nigel Farage, is now talking even tougher. This article explores the background of the sudden rise of the far-right UKIP and its agenda of Europhobia.


The "left behind" voters

Changes in Britain's economic and social structure started marginalising a class of voters dubbed the "left behind".

These were older, working class and white voters who lacked the educational qualification, income and skills needed to adapt and thrive in a modern, post-industrial economy. Many British towns which had seen glorious days of industrial revolution lost their importance in the new economic scenario and so did those who thrived in that era.

At the same time, Britain started going through generational changes in the values - social and cultural issues, particularly race and immigration, national identity, gender, rights of minorities such as same-sex relationships, Europe and its ethnic diversity, became difficult for many to absorb.

Rise of UKIP

In this backdrop, one old political outfit that had been around on a single agenda for decades, suddenly found a voice to vocalise these "left behind" voters' concerns.

UKIP started speaking on these issues while also asking for independence from Europe. It found it easier to put the onus on the UK being part of European Union (EU), and convinced the voters that the EU membership and the influx of immigrants were the root cause of their woes.


UKIP offered its strong belief that Britain must leave EU as it is a political project designed to take control of all main functions of the national government.

EU, it argued, stands in the way of greater economic dynamism and prosperity, proper democracy. More importantly, UKIP made an issue of EU as a challenge to Britain's national identity. Their performance in EU elections in 2009 did bring UKIP to the front benches of UK politics. Since the time UKIP has been formed, it has had a slow and negligible start with a one-point agenda of exiting the EU. But then the party realised that it can only build its base on Euro-skepticism but if it wants the "left behind" voters, it would need to offer more.

It understood the need to look and sound different from the mainstream parties and their politicians.

UKIP's Nigel Farage.

Changing tracks, the party based all its arguments on emotional appeals. Case in point is when addressing the crowd at Gateshead, a former industrial town, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: "I am here for Labour voters. They (Labour) have turned back on you, but UKIP will stand for you now."


This kind of emotional petition to voters and giving them the assurance that he and his party would be there for those forgotten by mainstream political parties to survive in the era of economic crisis and social exclusion, was obviously misleading because it didn't take into account whether EU or immigration actually posed any threat to the residents of Gateshead.

Such campaigns have helped UKIP to send their MEPs to European parliament with proportional voting system. In 2014 EU election, UKIP managed to rise to the number one position by securing around 28 per cent votes with 24 MEPs ahead of Labour and Conservative parties.

Though UK parliament elections have not had concrete success for UKIP yet, as far as number of seats is concerned, but they have surely managed to increase their vote share and base over the years by shifting focus on a much wider agenda and by keeping a firm, adversarial opinion on Europe, immigrants while harping on a "sense of Britishness".

The Britishness question

A mention of the UKIP's manifesto is a must here.

UKIP strongly believes in "being British". While the 2015 parliamentary elections were debating issues of NHS, the economy, tax structure, austerity and employment, UKIP's website carried a manifesto which wanted a "sense of Britishness in every possible issue".

"UKIP recognises and values an overarching, unifying British culture," it said. But it also said who were integrated into that culture and who were not as well as exactly what the supposed British values were.

It continues: "British culture is open and inclusive to anyone who wishes to identify with Britain and British values, regardless of their ethnic or religious background."

So essentially, it puts responsibility on those communities to integrate into British culture. The manifesto also promotes and clearly states their unambiguous stand on "Britain for British People" by saying "official documents will be published in English and, where appropriate Welsh and Scots Gaelic".

What UKIP has been talking about is what we call in India "vote bank politics". Parties who speak in favour of minorities are always accused by the right-wing nationalists as being involved in appeasing the minorities to get their votes. UKIP's prioritisation of this sense of Britishness is cited by the mainstream parties as an instance of its indulging in "vote bank politics" to incite the white working class but also garner the ethnic community vote.

Though in the past, during the 2010 parliamentary elections, the UKIP opened the year by demanding a ban on the burka and the niqab saying such religious dresses were incompatible with Britain's values and freedom, it also hardened its stand on issues related to Islam.

But the party understood that openly speaking about it would give them a racist tag which could hamper their future. Nigel Farage, the party leader, was first to clarify: "We don't want that to be an extremist party." During the 2015 UK parliament elections, the party had put up candidates from ethnic communities as well those who are second generation migrants.

Is immigration the big evil?

Discontent and anti-politician sentiments against Conservative and Labour party members among the "left behind" voters has given the UKIP its base count but immigration has been another source of working class discontent.

This has been a major point-scoring issue for the UKIP. This discontent started building up during Labour's second term.

In 2004, for broader Europe, the then PM Tony Blair was eager to welcome eastern European countries in the EU. When these countries got their entry into EU, Blair also allowed people from these countries to come to the UK and work from the very day the country has joined EU; unlike France and Germany who had put caps on the possible migration.

Labour government's home office had thought that there would be migration of around 10,000 people in a year but the reality was different. In fact, within a year 130,000 people came in from central and eastern European countries and stayed there during Labour's second term. Labour's traditional working class voter who was already dissatisfied with the party because of its economic policies, now started getting extremely concerned about immigration.

But Labour party and the government ignored their concerns. Labour party's policies of economic moderation and liberal approach to migration made electoral sense but it didn't take into consideration the values or priorities of their original support base of ageing, shrinking, white left behinds.

In the next ten years since 2004, migrant population from eastern and central European countries coming to England soared in numbers and these old Labour voters felt increasingly alienated. They started feeling that the Labour party was not concerned about their problems. Euro-scepticism among these voters, which has been UKIP's single-point agenda since 1993, started getting support.

Moreover, British social attitudes, which according to the surveys done between 1993 and 2012, show that support for leaving the EU jumped among the working classes and people with no qualifications, increasing steadily since 2007.

Though the Conservative party made an effort to appeal to this uneasiness of the electorate - they tried to say "it is not racist to talk about immigration" - but after a third consecutive defeat in 2005, they changed their approach.

Their new leader David Cameron, with a new cadre of young and highly educated Conservatives, decided to change the party image to being a centre-right one. They transformed the party as being economically moderate and a socially liberal political organisation, by boosting the number of ethnic minorities MPs.

Whereas UKIP's line was clear - "British jobs for British people", UKIP's campaign highlighted a much-hyped figure: "EU membership was costing Britain 40 million pounds every day, each British family 2000 pounds every day and Britain had lost control of its border and was losing its national identity."

As mentioned earlier, this campaign got them second place behind Tories but above the incumbent Labour party with 16.1 per cent vote share with 13 seats in EU parliament. These elections showed that UKIP support has increased not only in south England but even other parts like West Midland, Yorkshire, Northeast and Northwest England. The 2009 EU parliament elections clearly showed that the anti-immigration agenda was going to stay on UKIP's manifesto and the trend continued during the 2014 EU elections as well when UKIP became the close number one with 28 per cent vote share.

Despite impressive performance in EU elections in 2014, UKIP couldn't make any impact in UK parliamentary elections in May 2015, but it managed to put forward its agenda of "take control of the borders" and "leave EU".

UKIP's success and rise of the far-right forced David Cameron to promise referendum on UK's stay in EU and just one year after impressive win for Conservative party in the parliamentary elections , he had to face defeat in the Brexit referendum vote and finally had to quit.

It will be interesting to see what happens to UKIP now as the sole reason for their existence, the leave EU campaign, has been accomplished.

So now what will be on their agenda next?  

Britain for British people?

Last updated: June 27, 2016 | 11:44
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