Nigel Farage and his party UKIP have a point about the EU - it is a flawed institution, and certainly undemocratic. The influential technocrats in the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, are not directly elected by citizens. The Eurozone relies on the decision-making of an unaccountable European Central Bank. Furthermore the EU’s proposed trans-atlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) has dangerous implications for citizens. However they recently disowned their 2010 general election manifesto, called it 'drivel' and replaced it with, well, nothing. At the local level they make vague populist statements like "council tax should be as low as possible" and preach about green space protection while planning to abolish the 'costly' EU Landfill Directive. They are not an acceptable protest vote and this has only scratched the surface of why.
Let’s put aside for a moment UKIP’s headline-grabbing racism, sexism and homophobia. This is disproportionately covered over the less overt but more destructive institutional and historical forms of discrimination. Disguised injustices embedded within society should take priority over backwards bullies in blazers outing themselves in public forums. Exposing these people is still important, of course, but it won't deal with foundations of racism. The police's issues with racially-motivated systemic corruption deserve greater scrutiny than the usual suspects mouthing off in their little England lairs.
Farage and his ‘movement’ portray themselves as plucky patriots fighting against the global elites of politicians, technocrats and the mainstream media. He makes sure the public see him drinking and smoking, but a common man he is not. Privately educated former investment bankers turned politicians don’t tend to queue in supermarkets - unless there’s a camera around. As the European elections approached, his anti-EU views have afforded him even more media coverage. This arouses concern, considering the relatively marginalised Greens actually have representation in Parliament. UKIP might well have their day come the European elections, but trading as a single-issue party is a short-term strategy. There is optimism UKIP will peak now but remain at the margins because the socially liberal, racially tolerant public can’t stomach their prehistoric views. The Tory mainstream media have ensured that their non-economic obsessions are kept high profile. If the same establishment argued the benefits of the EU and attacked their economic policies, then UKIP support could nosedive.
Voters will soon decide on a member of European Parliament to legislate on a number of issues, not only immigration and sovereignty. The EU can regulate banks and set a bonus cap. It can maintain online privacy and uphold human rights, but it could also mean permanently privatised railways, austerity and there's the spectre of the profit-over-people TTIP trade deal. And so the EU economic war on the vulnerable of whatever race, gender or sexuality continues, as the gap widens between rich and poor. UKIP believes in similar economic principles to the EU. And yet Farage has convinced many to support him by posing as an outsider to the system. Around the edges of the UKIP phenomena are some revealing hypocrisies and insights into the debate on global democracy.
Farage the former financier proclaims the Iron Lady as his heroine, and accordingly his UKIP business suits are evangelical Thatcherites. This is also known as the neoliberal orthodoxy, a consensus of ideas promoting small government, low taxes, privatisation, bank deregulation and trade liberalisation. From multinational brands to global finance, this orthodoxy is intertwined with our lives. This makes UKIP’s accusations that the EU threatens sovereignty strange, when their adopted neoliberalism has been undermining the autonomy of nation states for decades through globalisation. Open borders have domestic benefits, but a transient minority with resources can easily exploit this system. It is simply not an equal playing field when local small businesses have to compete with tax evading multinationals. However, since this UKIP-supported economic doctrine was implemented, its illusion of meritocracy has been exposed, as international inequality has risen and social mobility has fallen.
UKIP’s anti-EU argument would at least be consistent if it was carried over to the other neoliberal global institutions, which wield more combined power than Farage’s continental nemesis. The undemocratic governance of the EU is replicated internationally. Can anyone remember having a say in the G20? The G7? Or seeing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) choose its board? Meanwhile the World Trade Organisation (WTO) oversees secretive trade talks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal involving the collective economic might of East Asia, Australia and the US. This pact is very similar to aforementioned TTIP in that it favours big business over citizens. UKIP appear to want Commonwealth trade to replace EU trade, yet with UKIP having not challenged the anti-consumer TTIP terms, why should the public feel confident with them as an alternative?
UKIP’s silence on the TTIP talks is of interest, because it should be a potential weapon against the EU. This is a trade pact between their sworn enemy and the US, no slouches themselves when it comes to economic imperialism. The talks' aim is the harmonisation of rules and regulations governing trade between regions to reduce tariffs and streamline transactions. This could create more jobs, but there are caveats - namely that corporations would be able to sue governments if they impede their enterprise in private courts. This clause was formulated by the European Commission bureaucrats, yet UKIP haven’t even mentioned it. There are a host of open goals regarding TTIP that the party are missing, from having to take on other countries’ laws to the lack of transparency and accountability in its formulation. The roster of beneficiaries lobbying for TTIP includes multinationals Monsanto, American Tobacco, IBM, BP, Deutsche Bank and Nasdaq. So UKIP attack European bureaucrats when they undermine Britons, but are not as concerned about non-domiciled, predatory big business. This does not fit the bullish British underdog image Farage keeps peddling.
Concurrently the globalised mainstream media, with close relationships to neoliberal elites, fail to challenge UKIP’s free market economics because they subscribe to it. These outlets continue to focus on UKIP’s gaffes, scandals or their visceral anti-immigration argument. An informed debate should include their belief in undemocratic ‘soft’ market power seen in the EU and beyond. The media plays its neoliberal hand with barely any discussion of TTIP or the EU’s privatising agenda. The latter is something even UKIP voters don’t always support, putting them in agreement with the EU-sceptic left. These nuances are lost in the cacophony of outrage.
The beneficiaries of standard media attacks on UKIP are the relatively ‘right-on’ Tories who subscribe to the same broken economics. If the media were doing their job, a credible attack on UKIP’s economics would allow us to have a debate on the neoliberal orthodoxy of the major parties. As it stands, UKIP and the mainstream media perpetuate similar versions of the status quo that gave us the Great Recession, by concentrating on a small picture of bigots being bigots. Many UKIP supporters are not swayed by these coordinated establishment attacks because they distrust the establishment and, like many, they vote based on economics calculations.
Ultimately we have the choice between the socially liberal, austerity-imposing European juggernaut that prevents challenges to boom and bust capitalism, or those who mock threaten this broken system with more of the same, adding a sinister social conservatism along the way. A third way - of a democratic EU promoting bottom-up sustainable economics with a fairer competition laws - goes begging. The UKIP debate is a complicated mix of national, regional and global debates. But you can't study their underlying neoliberal orthodoxy on any national curriculum, or understand it by watching the news. That is perhaps the greatest democratic threat of all.
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