What does Ukip have to offer?

Aaron Bastani

Beneath its increasingly well-funded, electorally successful veneer, Ukip is an organisation with no substantial programme and little by way of a propositional politics. That may not be a problem for a party that collects 3.1 per cent of the popular vote in a general election, as Ukip did in 2010, but it is for a party that has just had its first MP elected and is riding at 25 per cent in opinion polls.

In a recent phone-in on LBC radio, a Ukip supporter from Welling in South-East London couldn’t state a single policy advocated by the party instead choosing to repeatedly mention immigration, ‘a fairer Britain’ and more ‘common sense’. Admittedly, many Labour, Tory and Lib Dem supporters would have had similar difficulties. Still, that awkward conversation, shaped by a reasonable set of questions and asked by the presenter, James O’Brien, in a manner most television journalists seem incapable of, was revealing of the way Ukip has focused on genuine grievances such as falling wages and a lack of affordable housing, and resituated them in their usual language of mass migration and EU membership.

It seems probable that a referendum on membership of the European Union, whether it comes in 2017 or later, will be framed by Farage and his ‘people’s army’ as a plebiscite on austerity. Britain is about to enter its sixth year of declining real wages, a situation without precedent. Labour’s institutional aversion to discussions of class and capitalism – it isn’t a ‘squeeze’ in living standards, it’s a nosedive – means that the root causes of those grievances remain beyond the conversation of electoral politics. Ukip has found a way to exploit this. ‘Under the three main parties there has been a downward shift in living standards over the last decade or more,’ Nigel Farage said at Ukip’s annual conference in September. ‘Only by leaving the EU could Britain stop the “race to the bottom” of wages caused by high immigration.’

The next day, Patrick O’Flynn, a former political editor of the Daily Express and now a Ukip MEP, criticised the ‘Starbucks economic model’. O’Flynn, a far more talented propagandist than anyone within Labour’s ranks, is drawing up Ukip’s tax policies ahead of the next general election. He says they will favour low-income earners. A week after Ed Miliband said Labour would increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020, Ukip said they wanted to take anyone working full-time on the minimum wage – earning £13,500 a year – out of tax altogether. That was a more generous offer than anything proposed by the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg has said that letting the working poor ‘keep more of their own money’ is a liberal measure. If so, he would have to concede that Ukip’s policy is more liberal than the Lib Dems’.

Ukip say they’ll pay for their proposed hike in the tax threshold – and the abolition of inheritance tax, the other policy cornerstone of the conference – by leaving the EU and cutting foreign aid. The sums don’t add up, but it’s still a more concrete proposal than anything the Conservatives have come up with to explain how they would pay for their own offer of increasing the ‘personal allowance’ to £12,500 by 2020.

Some pollsters reckon that Ukip are looking to win around ten seats at the general election, with bolder calculations predicting far more than that. As that election approaches, they will offer more concrete ‘policies’ from their Bond Street headquarters: on grammar schools, on denying access to the UK to people with health conditions, and even on tax avoidance. Their ‘big ideas’ on the EU and immigration, meanwhile, will remain undimmed, as they now deploy them to explain public spending cuts and falling wages as well as declining social capital.

Policies matter but only when they are a response to the grievances and frustrations of the public. Ukip don’t have any that would help, but they are beginning, unlike the major parties, to recognise the problems that have defined Britain over the last decade: declining pay, un- and underemployment, and rampant inflation in the rent and housing market.


  • 16 October 2014 at 1:30pm
    streetsj says:
    I'm not a real wage decline denier; nor do I think the widening pay gap between the top and bottom is at all healthy BUT I do wonder what these real wage statistics really mean.
    If you take the data from the ONS
    it shows what has happened to real median hourly earnings for three different cohorts (those born in 1975, 1985 and 1995) as at the end of 2003: the 59 year old is back to what he was earning in 1997, the 49 year old 2001 and the 39 year old 2004.
    Now that is clearly not progress (or "going forward") but, on the other hand, was life so terrible in 1997, 2001, 2004? And if you have a mortgage you will be substantially better off than you were then.
    No; I'm not saying it is a satisfactory state of affairs but I do sometimes think we are in danger of overstating the real impact of the recession.
    Nor am I seeking to dismiss the problems some groups will have with unemployment/lower hours/reduced benefits - I'm just pointing out that the average wage earner is not SO badly off.

  • 16 October 2014 at 2:19pm
    David Timoney says:
    The issue isn't whether life a few years ago was bearable or not, but what declining real wages tell us about productivity and thus the trajectory of the economy.

    Ultimately, it is productivity growth that maintains or increases real wages. When this stagnates or declines, it can be exteremely difficult to reverse the process (see Japan), which suggests that some of us may find ourselves living in the 80s before too long.

    • 19 October 2014 at 5:50pm
      Mat Snow says: @ David Timoney
      I'm there already. Over the last few years I have grossed the same as I did in my early twenties during Thatcher's first term. Nor am I compensated today by a really groovy hairstyle and trim waistline.

  • 16 October 2014 at 9:55pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    Without citing sources chapter and verse, I think that the data in the US contradict the claim that productivity increases result in real wage increases. In the US workforce for about 10 or 15 years productivity increases are said to result from computerization of office jobs (administrative and "information work") and robotization of some manufacturing processes. These result in layoffs and "leaner" companies, but the remaining, very nervous work force still has stagnating wages (though their bosses don't). If you averaged the formerly employed folks into the productivity measures of specific sectors of the economy, then the "per capita" output (the basic measure of productivity) would look very different -- these are no longer counted heads, but they accurately reflect sectoral and overall economic trends.

  • 17 October 2014 at 9:50am
    David Timoney says:
    Productivity gains do increase wages but the extent to which this happens depends on the relative power of capital and labour. In other words, there is a competition between profit (capital) and wages (labour) for the fruits of growth.

    Since 1980, this competition has been heavily biased in favour of capital, which is why the private sector has enjoyed healthy profits and (in part) now has large cash balances. Up till 2008, labour made up some of this relative shortfall through increasing household debt.

    In other words, productivity as a mechanism produces the potential for increasing wages, but whether this transpires in reality is a political choice.

  • 19 October 2014 at 11:04am
    Sharoni says:
    "Ukip don’t have any that would help, but they are beginning, unlike the major parties, to recognise the problems that have defined Britain over the last decade: declining pay, un- and underemployment, and rampant inflation in the rent and housing market."
    Isn't this why UKIP is such a disaster? With their "solutions" of leaving the EU and stopping immigration they're actually just a funnel for diverting grievances into a safe channel which will not touch the status quo or any vested interests and which will de-politisice society. In effect they are just a lightening rod and for the Conservative Party in particular. Not wonder as Farage claims donations from the rich are pouring in. Shades of Weimar? So depressing that so many people at the beginning of the 21st century are still buying into these kind of solutions.

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