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Black Sky Thinking

A Dirty Protest: Why An X For UKIP Is A Vote For Profit Over People
Rahul Desai , May 22nd, 2014 12:40

As polls predict victory for UKIP in today's European Elections, we explore how, behind the nasty rhetoric that occupies the media, they're a party of rampant neoliberals who, curiously, have failed to oppose EU legislation that gives big business even more power over our daily lives. Dirty Protest headline with thanks and apologies to Stewart Lee.

On one level, Nigel Farage and his 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. TTIP 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.

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. 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 organisations lobbying in favour of TTIP includes multinationals Monsanto, American Tobacco, IBM, BP, Deutsche Bank and Nasdaq. 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.

UKIP are in no way an an acceptable protest vote, and current media coverage of Farage's campaign has only started to scratch the surface of why this is. More robust evidence suggests people are just looking for easy answers to the EU's problems. Farage and co. rail against the political class but don't appear any better at keeping promises. Recently they 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. Farage has convinced many to support him by posing as an outsider to the system while 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 super rich minority with vast resources and well-paid lawyers and accounants 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.

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 the spectre of the profit-over-people TTIP trade deal. And so the EU economic war on the vulnerable continues as the gap widens between rich and poor. 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?

Concurrently the globalised mainstream media, with close relationships to neoliberal elites, fail to challenge UKIP’s free market economics because they subscribe to it. UKIP's high profile arouses concern, considering the relatively marginalised anti-neoliberal Greens actually have representation in Parliament. The media continues 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. In fact the public in general support these anti-neoliberal policies including even more state ownership and rent controls. 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 all the major parties. As it stands, UKIP and the mainstream media perpetuate similar versions of the status quo that gave us the recent economic crisis, 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. 

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 rise 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.