UK Independence Party: now a force to be reckoned with

L’euroscepticisme s’est trouvé un nouveau défenseur de choix avec le Parti pour l’Indépendance du Royaume-Uni. Certains le voient déjà comme la troisième force politique du pays, capable d’influencer les choix du gouvernement. L’UKIP est l’exemple britannique de la montée de la droite extrême en Europe, et risque de bouleverser l’échiquier politique britannique dans les années à venir…

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While the present government coalition is going through a number of difficulties, UKIP has managed to become a significant party in Britain and has achieved  a meteoric rise in the last  2 or 3 years. According to the latest Yougov survey, UKIP is now at the same level as the Libdems, so that UKIP is  seen as a rather dangerous force by several European governments. Indeed, this party could be decisive in the next elections…

Broadly speaking, UKIP was founded in 1993 by a group of people who were opposed to the Maastricht Treaty. This was its original raison d’être (its symbol is the pound). But Nigel Farage, the leader since 2010, has managed to build a true political party. UKIP advocates a stricter policy on immigration and crime fighting. They defend an education system that will better take into account parents’ choices. They also support tax-cutting for small businesses and even abolishing tax on work. They deny global warming, and oppose any renewable forms of energy. Moreover, they would like to restrict social measures to British nationals, and oppose multiculturalism, which, they believe, has “split our society”. They strongly oppose the European Union, and claim to be a patriotic party, which wants to “put Britain first”.

The party struggled as a marginal force in its first ten years, but it can now expect to play a significant roll in UK politics. For instance, they have presented their candidates for the Police and Crime Commission elections, which will take place on November 15th and they aim to have better results for the 2014 European Parliament elections, than in 2009. They had already managed to get 12 MEPs elected in 2004, but one defected and one was suspected of fraud while in 2009, they won 13 seats in the European Parliament. They also aspire to play a roll in the 2015 elections and, why not, repeat their feat of winning a council: they won their first local election in a town named Ramsey (Cambridgeshire) in 2011.

UKIP is very popular with people over 60, who often used to support Conservative or Tory policies, with residents in the South of England (except London), or the Midlands and Wales. The party benefited from the Eurozone crisis. As a result, more and more people support the Brixit (British exit of the EU) and as a consequence, UKIP too.  Another important factor in their growing popularity is the waning of traditional parties. Many people have the feeling that they have not seen their everyday living standards improve, and that they are bound hand and foot in the face of the economic downturn and the upheaval in the financial markets. Besides, the coalition is weaker than ever, and discredited by political scandals such as the Murdoch phone-tapping affair. So UKIP’s success story will probably last for at least a few more years as neither of these causes is likely to go away quickly, especially the Eurozone crisis which the party is always quick to exploit.

UKIP is no National Front, although they both represent the far right wing. The French NF’s history is deeply related to one man: Jean-Marie Le Pen, whereas UKIP does not have one charismatic leader who has represented the party since its creation. Of course, Nigel Farage is charismatic and renowned for his killer touch in his speeches. But UKIP tends to be less racist than the NF, which appears a lot more extreme in its views. UKIP was founded to fight against the EU, while the NF was established in earlier days, so as to defend far right wing values.

However, it is common knowledge that they have common ground. Both agree on zero tolerance for crime, they have several similarities in their programmes such as their position on immigration, and social issues. Their main similarity is hard euroscepticism.  They both use populism in their speeches, which they exploit as an opportunity to blame the EU, which is seen as responsible for curbing democracy in the UK.

Moreover, they are both trying to modernize their party. For example by bringing in new blood  so as to attract younger people, and appear less strict and narrow-minded. They both managed to take advantage of the crisis, by using people’s concerns about protecting the borders, high unemployment and rising prices.

Furthermore, there has been a rapprochement of the two parties. At the time when Jean-Marie Le Pen led the French party, this was unthinkable, but today, although the NF is still generally given the cold shoulder by other right-wing parties in Europe, Ludovic de Danne, who is in charge of European and International Affairs for the NF declared that they were getting closer to UKIP. On top of that, a pan-European political party named the European Alliance for Freedom was founded in 2010, led by a Member of the European Parliament for UKIP, Godfrey Bloom, and Marine Le Pen is one of its members.

Like the NF, UKIP tries to appear as patriotic as possible and to achieve this end, they often use the image of a great British leader Winston Churchill. Indeed, the “British bulldog” symbolizes Britain’s greatness and independence. He reminds people of the time when the UK (and England in particular) was a strong nation, in comparison with the rest of Europe, before the EU was created. He evokes the spirit of resistance against the enemy. And even though he supported the idea of a European union, his position always remained a little ambiguous. The rise of the UKIP is proof that a return to Englishness is a core value in today’s society’, and by choosing Winston Churchill, UKIP plays skillfully with this feeling.

Nigel Farage before a portrait of Winston Churchill

For instance, David Campbell Bannerman, a MEP for UKIP commented on this choice:  “Sir Winston is an ideal icon for our campaign because it is high time that Britain found that old Dunkirk spirit again and learned to fight its corner in adversity.  We’ve accepted far too much nonsense from Brussels over the years and it is time to say NO MORE!  The only way to do that at this election is to vote UKIP, as none of the old parties have anything to offer other than more Europe.” It is true that UKIP has a political wing in Scotland and Wales, but Englishness is back on the agenda, and  UKIP remains an essentially English party.

Nigel Farage feels he is in a strong position. He recently proposed to engage in a pact with the Conservatives  provided  the government holds a referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU.  Like PM David Cameron, he tries to pick up votes by borrowing nationalist expressions, as he did at the Birmingham party conference. Many Tories are also hardening their position on Europe, edging toward a more eurosceptic point of view. Michael Gove, the education secretary, recently pledged his support  for the brixit: “We’re ready to walk out on Europe”, and David Cameron did not comment…What is more, an increasing number of Tories are taking the plunge and are defecting to UKIP. They are especially attracted by the policy of withdrawal from the EU, and the position on education.

Although David Cameron keeps repeating he does not intend to withdraw from the EU, he seems to be in a very difficult position, surrounded by eurosceptics on all sides, both  in the British public and in his own party. But it is generally agreed that the brixit would be an economic disaster for the UK, and PM Cameron considers it is his duty to convince the British people of the importance of remaining in the EU.

Audrey HOLMES & Eloïse CHERIER

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