Monday, 20 May 2013

UKIP: A Party For The People In A Neo-Medieval Age

Our continued advance in the opinion polls, crystalised by our recent successes in the local elections, has led to much virtual ink been spilled trying to analyse the UKIP phenomenon. Much of this has amounted to the same old dross about us being a bunch of golf club reactionaries that we have always had to contend with but nonetheless is really quite useful, showing as it does that our enemies consistently underestimate us. As Michael Heaver aptly put it, how can the people who failed to anticipate the rise of UKIP expect to understand it, let alone stop it?

By far the best analysis put forward was by Russell Taylor's "In Praise of UKIP" on, who really nailed the cultural mind-set of the Metropolitan Liberal classes, how ill-equipped it is to deal with the rise of UKIP and why UKIP appeals so much to many people outside that bubble.

That said, it is worth considering the wider context to Taylor's critique: why has this strange and culturally so alien elite emerged, and how do the rest of us deal with it?

The answer is that in important social and economic - and therefore political - terms we live in a neo-medieval age. The original medieval period was a time when the concept of the nation state, and by extension national identity, was considerable weaker than in the modern era up until the last few decades. Society was essentially oligarchical, with great wealth and power concentrated in the hand of a few landed noblemen. Very importantly, the mind-set of that elite was largely an internationalist one, with court life revolving around power-plays and wars where territories were regarded as chessboards upon which the game was played. A player at a medieval court would have far more in common with his French or Spanish counterpart than he would with the uneducated peasant working his land, about whose life he would know or care very little. Important social and political organisations, most notably the Roman-Catholic Church, were also internationalist in outlook.

And so it is today. In an interconnected world bound together by the knowledge economy, enormous wealth is accumulated into the hands of the very talented, the highly educated and the well-connected. These sovereign individuals, living highly kinetic lives immersed in a frenzy of career success, often have exceptionally little contact with people from outside their own narrow social sphere.  Their minds concentrated on their glittering presents and futures, such people also have little need for strong roots in place or time.  Instead, they travel and deal in a select few locations where business, wealth and power are concentrated such as London, New York, Paris, Singapore or Zurich. (Many of these cities - notably London - can be viewed as the modern equivalent of the medieval city-state, utterly dominating the countries that contain them.)

 It is really not surprising that the culture of this new elite tends to egotistical, narcissistic and shallow - "Metropolitan Liberal" in other words. Unsurprising also, that the international organisations they often work for are arrogant, over-mighty and often authoritarian. International corporations again and again show us mere mortals that they regard themselves above the rule of law, whereas the European Union - the Roman Catholic Church of it's day - shows a dogmatic contempt to those it brands heretics. (It must be said, however, that it has not started condemning UKIP activists to death by fire: I suppose we be must thankful for small mercies.)

What is so damaging about this new globalist elite is not that it exists in itself but that it has completely captured the national politics of the nation states to which it feels little responsibility. This is not only because international organisations such as the European Union or powerful corporations have successfully subverted national democracies, but also because the profession of national politics is seen as a route into this global elite for those not blessed with great business acumen: in recent years Tony Blair, David Miliband and Peter Mandelson have all used British politics as a stepping stone onto greater things. Once in power, this elite enacts policies that suites it's own needs but are severely damaging to the population of the nation as a whole. In a British context the best example of that has been the New Labour policy of unlimited mass immigration. Seeing things only on a global scale, rootless New Labourites simply could not see the problem as local communities were irreversibly changed out of all recognition. Similar distortions of priorities are evident in the current coalition government. Indeed, seen from the outside, the other three main parties increasingly appear to people like factions at some medieval court, all jostling for power but in the end all part of the same elite. Hence the growing popularity of the phrase "The LibLabCon" to describe them.

It is because UKIP instinctively understands this new dispensation from the "other side of the tracks" (or should that be "turnpike") that it is gaining so fast in popularity.

Firstly, of course, is it's rejection from that most malign of neo-medieval organisations - the European Union.

Secondly, UKIP understands that most of us do not lead stellar global lives: our ambitions are more limited by circumstances or talent, and instead we find meaning in seeing ourselves as part of a wider whole rather than as an atomised individual. Hence the need to safeguard communities against the unnecessary dislocation wrought by mass immigration. Also, that patriotism and pride in your country is neither dangerous nor a quaint relic of a bygone age but a benign force that can enhance the quality and meaning of people's lives.  At the same time, the party is realistic and mature enough to know that a country that exhibits a small-minded hostility to globalism will suffer as a consequence. That means competitive tax rates and sensible flexibility when it comes to allowing the immigration of talented people with needed skills.

Moving forward, perhaps UKIP can exploit another fact of our neo-medieval world to it's advantage - the desperate need for policies that devolve power from an over-mighty London city-state towards the rest of the country. The situation is becoming increasingly socially unstable: if renewed economic growth is concentrated on London, as seems likely (40% of all currently operational cranes, for instance,  are situated there) then the clamour for action to be taken will become deafening. The answer must be that taxation and spending should be set as locally as possible so that local people can develop their own models of capitalism more suited to their needs than to those of elite Metropolitans:   At the same time, policies such as the HS2 rail line which will tend to magnify London's power still further, sucking in people from the rest of the country, should be scrapped.

Whether we like it our not, we will all need to make our peace with our globalised neo-medieval world. Of all the parties, UKIP shows at present by far the best understanding of this new reality from the point of view of the average person. As long as we keep developing policies based on that, we will continue to advance.