Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives 2015


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Protest votes

39. As the existing parties are weakened, other 'populist' forces are stepping into the vacuum. This process will accelerate under the next government, particularly before the formation of a new workers' party which will also be firmly on the agenda. The argument of Labour loyalists that it is impossible to build a new party beyond the big three is being rapidly undermined by events. In the general election, many will protest by staying at home. However, there will also be unprecedented numbers of voters choosing parties that they see as a means of expressing protest. UKIP's support has dropped slightly in recent weeks but no-one any longer believes it is just a by-election phenomenon, which returns to a tiny vote in the general election. While its vote could well be squeezed in the general election, it could still win several more seats than its current two. Even if they don't achieve this, it is clear that UKIP will win significant votes in a whole number of seats which will have a bearing on the result of the general election. What is more, UKIP will be a factor in politics from the start of the next parliament even if they have only a handful of MPs. However, if UKIP props up a Tory government this would begin to undermine its status as a party of protest.

40. While UKIP threatens more Tory seats than Labour ones, they are taking votes from across the political spectrum and are a serious threat to Labour as well. This was made crystal clear in the Heywood and Middleton by-election, when UKIP was only 617 votes from defeating Labour in a seat it won with a majority of 6,000 in 2010. As we have explained, UKIP is a right-wing populist party, whose leadership emanates from the right wing 'head bangers' of the Tory Party. A large part of UKIP's funding comes from that minority of financiers and hedge-fund managers who believe the City of London would be better off freed from the 'constraints' of the EU. Nonetheless, it has been able to partially step into the vacuum left by the absence of a mass workers' party. The capitalist establishment at times partially encouraged this, seeing UKIP as a relatively safe outlet for people's anger compared to far-right organisations like the BNP and, above all, the development of a workers' party. This does not mean, however, that UKIP is not a destabilising factor for the capitalist establishment and, in particular, for the mainstream parties.

41. Of course UKIP has gained an echo partially by falsely blaming immigrants for the problems workers face. However, the biggest factor in its success is a desire to use it as a weapon to punish the main political parties. Most UKIP voters stand to the left not only of UKIP but of all the establishment parties. One YouGov poll showed 78% of them support the renationalisation of the energy companies, 73% the renationalisation of the railways, and 57% want zero-hour contracts banned. In response to this, UKIP has had to - like all the right-wing populist parties in Europe - give its populist propaganda a more left-wing tinge. UKIP's previous support for a flat-rate tax has been hastily dropped. When Margaret Thatcher died, Farage said he was the only politician "keeping Thatcherism alive". Now, he is attempting to distance himself from Thatcher's legacy, which he has described as "divisive". Farage has dismissed UKIP's 2010 general election manifesto as "drivel" and their 2015 manifesto has not yet been published. While it is not likely to make it into their manifesto, their financial affairs spokesperson has even spoken in favour of nationalising the railways. The contrast between UKIP's core support and the layer of disillusioned workers who are now voting for it, or in some cases even joining it, is increasing the instability of the party. Such is the heterogeneous character of UKIP's members it is not even excluded that a few UKIP councillors could refuse to vote for cuts. However, while UKIP - like all populist parties - is inherently unstable, this does not mean it is about to fall apart; on the contrary - given the scale of the vacuum - it can be a semi-stable force in politics for a period.

42. On a smaller scale, the Greens are also acting as a repository for protest votes, particularly for a section of young and more middle class or professional voters. Recent opinion polls put the Greens between 5% and 7%. Their support is markedly higher among more middle-class voters, which reflects how many workers see the Greens as 'not for them'. However, this does not exclude some working class people who want to cast a 'left protest' vote, seeing the Greens as the most effective means to do so. In addition, among 18-24 year olds the Greens are on 14%, much higher than UKIP's support among that age group. Another sign of a 'left layer' voting Green is that around 12% those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 - who were then seen as being to the left of Labour - now say they will back the Greens.

The Greens are also recruiting new members. Their membership has now reached 27,000 - doubling in the last year. Many of these are university students, attracted not least by the Greens' call for the abolition of tuition fees. For a period of time they can potentially attract a young layer of socialist and left sympathisers towards them despite this also being a demand of socialist organisations and left sympathisers on campuses. When Caroline Lucas spoke at the national student demonstration in November she was greeted with rapturous applause. However, this does not reflect a big increase in the number of students active in the Green Party. In fact, they had only a handful of members present on the demonstration, in contrast to Socialist Students which was the biggest organised group present.

43. The growth in support for the Greens represents a search for a distinctly left alternative by a layer, and the Greens' partial success in posing as 'the UKIP of the left'. However, as in other European countries, the Greens growth in support can melt away once they are tested - and found wanting - in government. They have shown in Brighton that when they gain power they behave in fundamentally the same way as Labour councils - implementing cuts while saying they have no choice but to do so. Caroline Lucas has now disassociated herself from Brighton's council's cuts, but only belatedly when it has become obvious that they could threaten her parliamentary seat. On a national basis, the Greens initially said that they would be prepared to consider joining any coalition government; they have now clarified that they don't mean a Tory-led coalition. As far as Labour is concerned, the Greens have made it clear that they would prefer to prop up a Labour government outside rather than formally join a coalition. Natalie Bennett, leader of the Greens, has explicitly said, however, that the Greens would be prepared to vote for Labour's cuts budgets in order to keep a minority Labour government in office. And at local level they have been prepared to join coalitions with all of the major parties, including the Tories.


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