Monday, May 26, 2014

UKIP: Figuring Out Britain

The earthquake in British Politics is here and UKIP has indeed become the lion that roared, at least once. 

Though the party spokeswoman, Suzanne Evans, tried hard to distance UKIP from the 'extremist' parties, such as National Front of Marine Le Pen in France, their anti-immigration rhetoric did it for them. This may be either be about plain nastiness or calculated cynicism, but UKIP's earthquake is all about shifting the political tectonic plate to an extreme position, or soon will be.

This is a point worth pondering about. UKIP isn't the same as the English Defence League, and it has no record of violence. Led by its showman leader, who employs the typical city bluster to make mountains out of everything, it is perhaps even slightly comical, but an usual political party. But its opportunistic rhetoric, shaped by suave thoughts about political positioning, tries to play on people's fears, their aversion of globalisation, their discomfort of breaking of communities. Their political ideologies, against Europe but not against globalisation (they seem to have a more open view about immigration from outside the EU than the three major political parties), seem to have worked - though the inconsistencies of the position, based on an assumption of Britain's advantageous position over the other nations of the world (an imperial hangover), would have to show itself given time. At that point, the showmanship has to give way to stunts, stunts have to lead to street action, street action has to lead to violence and extremism, as history has shown. There is no middle of the road position in extremism.

The retort of the UKIP is likely to be that they want to be the party of little Britain, one that wants to be left alone. However, being left alone is perhaps the extreme luxury to be afforded in this day and age. That choice does not exist for most of the humanity: It is one position that can only be maintained with unbridled supremacy. Mr Farage and others in his party either foolhardily believe that Britain has that power and can afford that luxury, or they are cynically playing on people's fears and promising them the earth knowing that they don't have to deliver it. If so, they have as much to fear from these earthquakes and pole positions than anyone else, lest they be asked to do something about what they say.

But, then, Britain may actually have an advantage that one has lost sight of. Britain may have a national characteristic of pragmatism, doing what's needed, rather than being foolhardily ideological, throughout its history. Its global supremacy came on the back of unleashing some of its pirate-entrepreneurs and building a light-touch empire (I am fully conscious of the horrors of the empire, having come from India myself - but still this was a franchise-based empire rather than a top-down centralised rule), and its best moments came not from supremacy but from admirable abilities to remain an underdog. I would argue that Britain has started losing its way from the point it started taking itself seriously - taking its position in the world as granted and falling in love with its own rhetoric. UKIP may be just being pragmatic and exploiting a gap in the politics, but they are now in serious danger of believing their own words and falling in love with itself. And, in that position, remains the possibility of an ultimately self-defeating nasty turn!

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