Thursday, May 29, 2014

UKIP challenges cosy centre-left-right political establishment

This week saw the UK Independence Party (UKIP) defy predictions and the serried ranks of its opponents to win the largest share of the UK vote for the European Parliament. In doing so, UKIP had to overcome an unholy alliance of all other political parties and every mainstream media outlet that rallied against it. During the election campaign UKIP candidates and supporters were repeatedly slandered but it was to little effect as more than four million voters cast votes for the party portrayed as comprising so many looneys and racists. UKIP support has been built on disaffection with Britain's membership of the European Community and admiration for the no-holds-barred style of its leader, Nigel Farage. Its policies, far from being lunatic fringe, are now being firmly embraced by the other political parties.

The closest equivalent to UKIP in New Zealand is New Zealand First, which, like UKIP, is anti-immigration and built around an almost cultish devotion to its leader, Winston Peters. I think what makes UKIP and New Zealand First appealing to a small but significant segment of the population is that they both defy the traditional stereotyping of the left-right spectrum. Both parties derive their support as much from 'working class' and Labour Party supporters as from the well-heeled and Conservative/National Party supporters. What I enjoy about UKIP's success is that it sends a strong message to the political class that the traditional assumptions about what constitutes a Labour or Conservative voter are no longer valid.

Recently a friend of mine called me a 'libertarian conservative' and I pointed out to him that the term is an oxymoron. The current political system in most Western nations is heavily statist and crony-capitalist and no one would seriously describe it as libertarian. Conservatism, by definition, is about supporting the status quo. Really, I am a radical. I want to see radical change to our political and economic systems and I find that often I have more in common with radicals of the left than conservatives of the centre-right.  I believe there is a significant and growing segment of the population in most Western nations who believe as I do - people who want both social and economic freedom, who distrust state intrusion into their lives in both work and personal arenas.

I wouldn't describe UKIP as libertarian but it is certainly more radical than either Labour or the Conservatives and any party that seeks to overturn the cosy centre-left-right arrangement that passes for political pluralism in most Western nations has some appeal to me.

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