Britain Lurches


Mary Beard in NY Review of Books (Facundo Arrizabalaga/epa/Corbis):

The UK Independence Party, it seems, has drawn its support from across the political spectrum. It attracts—in addition to the xenophobic—the socially conservative (against same-sex marriage and in favor of “traditional British values”), and those who are deeply suspicious of the European Union (“Why be run by Brussels?”). Certainly it includes among its supporters and party candidates some people of extreme right-wing inclinations. But most of all, UKIP appeals to those who feel distanced from modern politics and politicians. They hate the sense of a political class, which consists of those who have never worked in anything other than professional politics, who speak only in carefully controlled, on-message sound bites, and never really engage with “us voters.”

This explains the extraordinary popularity of the party leader, Nigel Farage—a privately-educated, ex-city financial trader who left the Tory party in 1992 to set up UKIP, and who since 1999 has been a Member of the European Parliament, an institution which he is committed to undermining. Farage appears to speak his mind without concern for political correctness (and it is, of course, largely appearance). He relishes nothing more than being photographed outside a pub, with a pint of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. There’s hardly another British politician who would be seen dead in public within ten yards of a packet of Marlboro Lights, whatever their secret smoking habits. This looks like a breath of fresh air.

And Farage is not averse to offering his German wife as a defense against the suggestion that there is any personal hatred of “foreigners” in the UKIP campaign – whether on his own part or that of his followers. The party’s official message (and it is, I have no doubt, sincerely believed by some members) is that they are personally a pretty tolerant bunch; they simply want to end the dominance of the EU over British politics, and they want to stop the inflow of EU migrants, particularly from Eastern Europe, who are taking British jobs.

This is troubling enough. But the real danger of UKIP’s success is not its own policies, but the reaction it draws from politicians and supporters of the other parties.

More here.