We have met the enemy and he is us…

pogoI suppose I shouldn’t have been upset by the results of the two by-elections last night – but I was. I suppose I still had a slight hope in my mind that things weren’t really as bad as the opinion polls, and my gut feelings, suggested they were. I was wrong. I often am. As it was, UKIP triumphed in Clacton, and came very close to triumphing even more dramatically in Heywood and Middleton.

The post-mortems are already happening in so many places. All kinds of people are looking for all kinds of reasons, and all kinds of people to blame – and it’s easy to find possible scapegoats. I do it myself, regularly railing against the BBC – I even run my own parody account based on the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson, portraying him as the founder of the Nigel Farage Fan Club. We can – and often do – try to blame the Daily Mail and its tabloid companions, for their seemingly incessant campaigns against immigrants, trying to blame them for everything from unemployment and housing problems to the challenges facing the NHS. We can try to blame the Labour Party for failing to stand up for what is right – failing to appeal to its core voters, failing to understand ordinary people. We can blame them for accepting the anti-immigrant agenda of the Mail etc without question – or we can blame them for not accepting it, and hence not understanding the genuine concerns of the ordinary people.

We can try to blame Nigel Farage and his band of chancers for pulling the wool over the voters’ eyes – and they do, portraying themselves as different from the ‘ordinary’ politicians when in almost every way they are indistinguishable. We can blame them for using dog-whistle politics, appealing to the lowest common denominator, using racism – sometimes direct, sometimes just with a nod and a wink- and they do, no question about it. We can blame the Tories for pandering to their extreme right – or we can blame them for not pandering to their extreme right, so leaving a space for the likes of Farage.

We can blame the banks and so forth for trying to distract us from the real reasons for the financial crash – and hence convincing us to accept the neo-liberal agenda of austerity. Oh, there are a whole lot of ways in which we can find people to blame. The blame game is an easy one to play – which is part of the reason for the success of UKIP. They play it better than almost anyone, convincing us sometimes that the EU is to blame for everything, sometimes that immigrants are to blame for everything, sometimes both. Sometimes they blame ‘LibLabCon’. It’s easy to do. And yet it misses the point.

In the end, the problem isn’t with ‘someone else’. It’s us. The Pogo comic above has been used for a number of purposes – initially highlighting the dangers of McCarthyism, where people who were ‘un-American’ were effectively hounded, scapegoated and persecuted, and later for ‘Earth-day’, highlighting how self-destructive we are in the way we treat our environment.

That’s the scariest thing about yesterday’s election. Not that it’s somehow unrepresentative of how we are, but that it might be. The things that UKIP uses as dog whistles, the racism, the homophobia, the xenophobia, the desire to blame people weaker than ourselves, only function as dog whistles because there’s a lot of racism, homophobia and xenophobia about. It taps into something about us. Of course it’s only part of UKIP’s appeal, because the other call to arms, the one against the self-serving Westminster Elite, hits another critical nerve. The Westminster elite are self-serving, disconnected and deserving primarily of contempt. Farage is quite right about that – though he conveniently fails to mention that he’s one of them in almost every way. The trouble is, it is us that have let them get that way. And we continue to do so – even by voting UKIP.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t think there really are any answers. When we’re fighting against ourselves, it’s hard to find them. We really are our own worst enemies.

10 thoughts on “We have met the enemy and he is us…

  1. UKIP appeals to people’s baser instincts. I suspect many of us have harboured resentments towards those we perceive to have prevented us from getting what we want in some way. Oddly the usual Tory line is that success is entirely in our own hands. If only we work hard enough and behave in the correct way (whatever that happens to be at the time) we will succeed. We know that isn’t true, even those who insist it is. Having a party who point the finger elsewhere, legitimises our resentment at not succeeding so we feel more able to sign up to it.

    • A certain gentleman in the 1930s made pointing the finger into an art form.

      “These core values influence my choice between two fine motivational speakers of the 20th Century. The first is Dr Martin Luther King and the second, Adolf Hitler. Herr Hitler was a very persuasive, technically proficient speaker. Dr King, likewise. There though the comparisons end. Hitler was a pagan, if not an atheist. Dr King, a committed Christian. Hitler set out to tell his audience they were special, better than anyone else was and that the other was denying them their place in the sun. He sought to divide the world into them and us. Who does not like to feel at least some times that they are special and that their destiny is to be on top?”

      An Agnostic, an Atheist and a Theist Go Into a Café … http://wp.me/p4nKAS-8w via @Jodatu

  2. Despite Labour gaining a smidgeon of extra support in Heywood and Middleton (http://wp.me/p4nKAS-na) to hold the seat and Ed Miliband standing up to ukip in his conference speech (http://wp.me/p4nKAS-my), there are still people saying Labour should chance its stance to fend off ukip. What would that really mean?

    “that Labour should tell women, you will have to wait a bit longer, luv, for equal pay; LGBT communities, you left the closet a bit too early for the likes of ukip’s dwindling band of social Luddites; Black and Ethnic Minorities, be content with what you have already got, Rome was not built in a day, you know; those with infirmities and illnesses, some from birth, be thankful for what you get, given you contribute so little to our society and so on.” And how could a party of the working class roll back Health and Safety legislation and weaken the Social Chapter and Working Time Directive?

    Some in the Tory Party, those I style Conservatives, have said that they will leave if their party tacks any more towards ukip. I think the same applies to many of us in Labour. Hard though it may be for some to accept, many of us in political parties do have a set of principles, a code of ethics and a sense of morality.

    There is, therefore, actually quite a bit of camaraderie between parties, particularly when the polls have closed and the ballots are being counted. The process is amateurish, but very British and it works. It is self policed. However, there is no sense of camaraderie with parties of the right, whose members are either bemused, usually ex military types in blazers with regimental badges on their handkerchief pockets, or visibly hostile towards everyone else involved in the process. Some of the latter have organised mini demonstrations outside of the places where the counts are going on. Moreover, their bafflement in government is increased by the sight of cross party co-operation and consensus building. Not all politics has to be or is confontational. It is not all PMQs!

    No party of the centre right, centre and centre left can seriously flirt with ukip and not engage in a Faustian pact with Mephistopheles. How though do we engage with people like the 10% or so of those who voted ukip yesterday in Heywood and Middleton? These voters lied to pollsters at least twice about their intention to vote Labour not ukip. Tories, perhaps understandably, switched to ukip, but what was the motivation of the Liberal Democrats voters?

    A small crumb of comfort from Heywood and Middleton is that, despite doing their damnedest to label Labour as in some way condoning, if not promoting sexual abuse, ukip still did not manage to win the seat. In Clacton, the Tory Party vote can only have been, at least in part, made up of tactical voters. There was tactical voting in Newark too. How do I know? There were bemused ukipers on Twitter asking why voters had voted Tory in Newark against their natural inclinations.

    Polly Toynbee’s famous nose pegs are going to see a lot of use in the months to come. And seemingly no one had to ask the voters to wear them on these occasions. Sometimes clouds do have silver linings? May be we will remember what unites us, makes us what we feel defines us as British and what made us help draft and then sign the European Convention on Human Rights.

    Finally, “These are the times that try men’s” (and women’s) “souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he” (or she) “that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” (Thomas Paine).

  3. Isn’t it bizarre that disillusioned labour voters find it easier to vote ukip than Tory, when ukip seem to be the worst bit of the Conservatives distilled into a toxic Farrage-fragrance. I speak coming from a Labour community. I wonder if Conservative voters see a similar scenario – people seeing ukip as the lesser of two evils. How wrong they all are. Rather than a protest vote agains either labour or Conservative, we need to come together to have a protest vote against UKIP – whether or not they have a chance of winning is not the point. Them having the chance to have their moment in the Sun is worrying enough.

  4. I wonder how many people actually look at the absolute rubbish the conlablibdum party which has governed us really are and as a result are looking to a party that actually says what it really intends to do rather than just telling you what you are going to get after it has been elected on lies and misdirections that appeal to the peoples base instincts.

    • Like repealing the Hunting Act 2004? I mean that would not be appealing to any potential voters’ base instincts would it???

      Like saying to one audience that out of Europe farmers will not get subsidies and then saying the opposite to another, on a different day, is not a lie and a misdirection?

      That saying taking some, but not all people, on the National Minimum Wage out of Income Tax will benefit all those on the National Minimum Wage is not a lie when ukip has no plans to tackle the poverty trap? It is not a misdirection to go on and on about that ‘cut’ whilst planning to cut direct tax for those on high incomes even more than Osborne proposes to do?

      The following ukip policy may be honest:

      “Merge Child Benefit, the Child Trust Fund, Child Tax Credits and the Education Maintenance Allowance into an enhanced Child Benefit, payable for each of the first three children in a family (as of October 2014 now only the first two children in a family)

      Merge Early Years’ Funding, Sure Start, the childcare element of Working Tax Credit and the tax relief on Employer Nursery Vouchers into a flat-rate, non-means tested ‘Nursery Voucher’ to cover approximately half the cost of a full-time nursery place.”

      But how will giving more to those that have at the expense of those who have not help people on low incomes? Cameron would be able to claim a Nursery Voucher!

      ukip is setting out to appeal to the base instincts of a good proportion of the Tory Party’s support. And it nearly worked for them in Heywood and Middleton.

      And blaming everything on other people (ie migrants) and telling potential voters that they are in no way responsible for what is happening to them, that is in no way appealing to someone’s basest instincts?

      Seriously, when did ukip become a party that Martin Luther King could join without a qualm?

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