A couple of pieces of news about UKIP are doing the rounds this week. Firstly, they have overtaken the Lib Dems in the polls (probably due to a combination of Lib Dem voter party dissatisfaction and Tory migration). Meanwhile, political scrapbook have revealed that the former chair of Conservative Future, Tom Bursnall (now defected to UKIP) has been calling for the vote to be taken from unemployed people.
While many in the Labour party have been jubilant in the fractioning off of the right wing vote through UKIP defections, I personally think it is quite problematic in that it represents voters who are dissatisfied with mainstream right politics (and who wouldn’t be after the shambolic performance of the last couple of months, with Granny-tax, pasties, Cam dine with me etc) looking to the respectable face of nationalism to try and find a solution to their problems. This is not exactly good news for society as a whole, and in particular for ethnic minorities.
Going on local knowledge, I think the Tory to UKIP migration is centred around three factors:
1) Neo-liberalism and the decline of one nation Tories. Blue collar right wing voters don’t have much trust in what they perceive to be smarmy yuppies or public school boys (as much embodied by New Labour Blairites as Cameron’s tories), and are frustrated at the poor treatment of the working (so in right wing eyes deserving) poor under the coalition. These voters perceive far right groups such as the BNP and EDL as thuggish but can be tempted by the “respectable” nationalist values of UKIP.
2) Foreign aid. Austerity has seen increased vocal anger at aid going oversees, bolstered by the common sense but unlikely in reality assumption that if it didn’t happen then more would actually be done for the needy in the UK, e.g. slower softer cuts. This has been a big sticking point for the Tory right.
3) General dissatisfaction relating to national sovereignty and immigration: in a functioning capitalist nation, immigration serves a useful purpose in both providing cheap labour and in giving a steady scapegoat for the misdirection of frustration over lack of control in the existing labour force. Therefore the Conservatives will regularly talk the talk over getting tough on immigration but the reality is they need a certain level of it and won’t ever go far enough for the working class Tory vote. Similarly, it would be political suicide on an international scale to attempt a complete disconnect from our relationship with the rest of Europe. These are steady grumbles in the right wing working class vote but at times of general party dissatisfaction due to other issues may be enough to nudge voters over to UKIP.
As far as the unemployed suffrage issue goes, there is obviously no way this is going to happen, but I do think we need to worry about the extent to which this kind of thinking is representative of an increasingly narrow world view in the electorate. There seems to be a real lack in empathic imagination skills in society in general; people are educated by the media on a very simplistic level about “how others live”, propped up by evidence from the world around them which is perceived through a filter of pre-expectation about society’s deviants (the unemployed, the mentally ill, asylum seekers, single mothers) and their motives. People don’t seem to have the higher level thinking to be able to imagine outside of their own worldview very much at the moment, and it is dangerous.