Ukip, the British Tea Party that’s Reshaping British Politics
For Americans to understand British politics as it is practiced today, they need to understand Ukip.
Why? Because the Eurosceptic, catch-all protest party is driving the agenda and forcing British politics rightwards.
But Ukip is doing more than just tipping the political spectrum to the right: what we’re seeing in Britain today is the emergence of four-party politics.
Before digging deeper on this we need to ask: who is Ukip?
Ukip is a right-wing populist party, known by its full name as the United Kingdom Independence Party. It is in effect, Britain’s bastardised child; a child of Europe’s failing single currency.
For every action there is a reaction and Ukip is Britain’s reaction to Europe’s federalist project of creating an ever closer political and economic union.
The party was created in 1992 after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty; an international agreement which centralised ever more power in Brussels and bolted Member States onto the rails of the single currency.
What the Maastricht Treaty represented to Britain was a massive incursion into its national sovereignty.
The British on the centre and on the right didn’t like this. And from this maelstrom Ukip was born.
Ever since, the United Kingdom Independence Party has been on a crusade to snatch Britain back from the clutches of the federalist technocrats in Brussels.
But why should this matter to America?
While Ukip has long been regarded as a lunatic fringe party, in recent years their political capital has rocketed as they tap into popular anti-Europe sentiment.
I don’t need to waste any words explaining this. Just look at the failing single currency, growing financial regulation, rampant unemployment, social breakdown and the German habit for bitch slapping a host of client states under the cloak of austerity.
Against this backdrop of economic misery, Ukip meets an electoral want in the market of politics. Under the direction of their charismatic leader Nigel Farage (his speeches in the European parliament regularly go viral on YouTube), Ukip are now a driving force in British electoral politics.
And as James Forsyth of the Spectator has said, Ukip under Farage terrifies the conservative political class.
In response to Ukip’s rise the Conservative party has shifted rightwards (deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg on the move right here), they’ve gotten heavy on immigration and have even proposed to bring forward a Bill which would guarantee a Referendum on EU membership should the Conservatives win an outright majority in 2015.
The rise of euroskepticism in Britain driven by Ukip clearly matters to America. Britain still matters to Washington, as does Europe.
But Britain being part of a healthy and functioning Europe is what really matters to Washington. Europe is the world’s largest single market and a key trading partner and strategic ally. Britain is as an effective bridge between America and Europe geographically, culturally and politically.
And the Obama administration has taken a dim view on the talk of a British EU exit.
In response to the idea of a referendum Philip Gordon, the US assistant secretary for European affairs in the State Department, in January 2013 told British journalists that the UK would always be a key ally of the US.
But he added: “We have a growing relationship with the EU as an institution, which has an increasing voice in the world, and we want to see a strong British voice in that EU. That is in America’s interests. We welcome an outward-looking EU with Britain in it.”
Jay Carney reinforced America’s position on the matter when he said that the White House believed that the UK was “stronger” as a member of the EU.
“We welcome the prime minister’s call for Britain to remain in the EU and to retain a leading role in Europe’s institutions.
And as the President told the prime minister when they spoke last week, the United States values a strong United Kingdom and a strong European Union.
We value our essential relationship with the UK, as well as our relationship with the European Union, which makes critical contributions to peace, prosperity, and security in Europe and around the world.”
We can also ask: is Ukip Britain’s Tea Party?
The ugly by-product of the recession in Europe has been the rise of populist radical parties that have given political expression to a growth in intolerance, bigotry and discrimination. As social insecurity persists, siren voices on the left and right suddenly gain currency.
Think Golden Dawn and Syriza in Greece. Jean Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France. Geert Vilders far right Party for Freedom in the Netherlands.
You could draw parallels between the above and Ukip. Though there are notable divergences on a number of areas.
As for the parallels between Ukip and the Tea Party in America they exist too. Ukip is all about small government, low tax and is against government intervention into areas such as alcohol and smoking controls.
It would be simplistic to suggest that they are a perfect mirror of one another. For starters: the Tea Party being an extension of the Republican Party. Ukip is an entirely separate political entity.
Prime Minister David Cameron and others in the conservative party have called Ukip and its members all sorts of names. Including Cameron himself who called its members “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”; and he stands by this comment to this day.
But it is fair to say that Ukip plays a similar role to that of the Tea Party by pressurising the decision makers and changing the terms of the debate. The support bases of the two entities do share striking similarities: sharing the nostalgia for the past, as well as a predisposition to be middle aged white men!
And plus, Farage himself call Ukip the “British Tea Party.”
Take your view and get back on the comments.