Farage is pro-Europe… It’s the working class he dislikes
The Guardian last week published a video ‘revealing’ Mr Farage’s stances on several key policy areas: welfare, the NHS, workers’ rights, etc., but these views are no secret to even the most casual of researchers. Instead, his rhetoric and support rely almost entirely on the subject of the European Union and the UK’s place within it. It is important however, to consider what the EU is and does, how our relationship with it became so embittered, and for what reasons each party (often tentatively in the wake of Ukip) hold their positions on it.
Crudely, the EU has two key functions: to allow the free movement of goods and capital, and to allow the free movement and protection of people. In an increasingly fast-paced and globalized age these two are intertwined, and yet debate in this country focusses almost entirely on the latter; its impact on welfare and public services in particular. Recently, UCL published research showing a net contribution of £20bn to the UK economy from EU migrants between 2000 and 2011, and whilst it is still too early to judge its impact on Ukip support, it’s fairly safe to assume it won’t be earth-shattering. After all, they achieved their greatest election success in history this May without a manifesto.
As Owen Jones said, “statistics alone won’t win the immigration debate”. He’s right, of course, but even so these figures should come as no surprise to Eurosceptics. Indeed, the arrangement as we know it was entered into by Blair’s New Labour administration – Blair to this date an outspoken supporter of European integration, and his government unashamedly neoliberal. Although Blair unfortunately saw little need to sell it on its own terms, the movement of people in the EU was at worst a means to an end for that of capital. Put simply, open immigration in the EU would not exist if it were not profitable.
It’s worth pointing out at this point too that Euroscepticism is by no means a preserve of the Right. In 2009, Bob Crow led the No2EU- Yes to Democracy (“Yes to Workers’ Rights” in 2014) campaign that has stood in the last two European elections as a coalition backed by the RMT, the Communist Party of Britain, and the Socialist Party among others. Left-wing Euroscepticism champions the cultural capital of a free Europe that New Labour largely undersold and that Ukip and the Tories see fit to attack. For them, the EU is a self-serving institution that puts capital ahead of workers’ rights, or as the late Bob Crow put it: “you cannot be both pro-EU and anti-austerity when the whole structure of the European project is dominated by the interests of bankers and big business…” Each group involved in No2EU is committed to CWI and the rights of citizens globally.
As ever, he is difficult to argue with, and a challenging concoction of this sentiment on the Left, New Labour’s legacy, and the hijacking of the EU debate by the Right have left an unfeasibly difficult issue for Ed Miliband to try to face. But the Tories are struggling too, having tried to have their EU cake (I’m resisting the urge to say strudel here) and eat it for some time now. While more ardent Leftists deride the EU for favouring big business, the Right and especially David Cameron knows which side his bread is buttered (or brioche? No more half-baked analogies…) The Conservative Party, its donors, and the Right wing press have been able to reap the rewards of the single market, whilst using immigration as a scapegoat for the strain on services caused by public funding cuts and private profiteering.
Though backed by rebels in the party, an EU exit would be exactly as devastating for the Tories as it would for their corporate sponsors, yet it is on the cards almost entirely because Ukip has managed to fan the flames of distain towards the cultural capital of the EU to dominate, in popular opinion, the economic benefit celebrated by the Tories and New Labour respectively.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps the most significant theme running through each party’s agenda – and a prevalent feature in anti-immigration rhetoric – is jobs, and the recent Daily Mail cover-story of a Northampton factory being forced to look to Hungary for prospective employees is an important example of this. “British Jobs for British Workers” is something that the likes of Ukip like to parade around as if it has a simple nuance, but Greencore is symptomatic of an undermining of worker’s rights that Farage & co. support publicly.
Even if we ignore the farce of Ukip’s 2010 manifesto that pledged to scrap equality and discrimination legislation, maternity pay, impose a flat tax rate for rich and poor, and bring back corporal punishment, – a manifesto that was dismissed as ‘drivel’ by Farage – party leadership regularly lets slip their intentions. In April for instance, Amjad Bashir, the party’s small and medium business spokesperson, labelled the minimum wage, holiday pay, and the working time directive as making it ‘impossible to employ’ on his website (comments he has since deleted, but are still available through the link).
As the Mail so delicately pointed out in their Greencore story, workers that receive minimum wage “have their wages topped up with tax credits – seen as a major attraction for EU migrants – and housing benefit.” Fundamentally this misses the point of why some UK citizens may have passed up the opportunity to work there. Employment such as this, firstly, will fail to allow those out of work to escape the benefits stigma propagated by those that disparage them for ‘refusing’ work, but perhaps most importantly the Trade Union movement in this country fought long and hard for reasonable pay and statutory rights in the workplace; the decline of which is the lasting impact of Thatcher’s legacy, and alongside Cameron – who hinted at reclassifying the London Underground as an essential service this year in order to curb strike action - is lauded openly by Farage.
Ukip’s attitudes to the working class are at best ambivalent, if not contemptuous, but can we really call Farage pro-Europe? Admittedly it’s a statement that requires some scrutiny, but on the whole his views don’t differ much from the Tories’ other than the relatively arbitrary in/out debacle. It was only recently when the Tories themselves were threatening to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, and a passing glance at today’s Metro (something I don’t recommend) showed David Cameron facing calls from his own party – in the form of his former cabinet minister Owen Paterson – to leave the EU after the 2015 election whilst negotiating to remain in the single-market (albeit a footnote amidst something about One Direction and some adverts). Evidently, even what is considered the moderate Right next to Ukip believes the only drawback of the EU is transnational workers’ rights.
And this, unfortunately, is the crux of the Ukip perspective. If you think back to the LBC debate in March (in which Clegg decided to debate Farage on Farage’s terms for some reason), the Ukip leader stated fervently that the UK ought to maintain trade with the current 77 countries, including all EU member states, and citing an agreement between Iceland and China as an example to follow. Farage wants to remove the red tape of central government, which happens also to be bound to protect citizens, but keep capital flowing freely. The in/out question is arbitrary from a market perspective, and the sovereignty sought by our populist heroes belongs entirely to the ruling class towards which frustration and resentment spawned their party’s success.
It would be interesting to see what would happen to Ukip should Britain leave the EU – robbing them of their single-issue mandate, their largest source of funding, and forcing them to contest local council seats on economic and social policies almost entirely absent from their 2014 manifesto, and it’s possible to suggest they’re happy arguing the case whilst collecting MEP salaries even if change does not occur. Farage may be flying closer to the sun than the Tories in this respect, but then he has less to lose, with much of Ukip’s funding coming from a single, wealthy backer. This considered, although I often try, it’s difficult to imagine them disappearing completely…
A concern for the Eurosceptic Left is that the EU allows companies to undermine centuries of Trade Union struggle by employing cheap labour, but many on the Right that support the EU do so with contempt for the rights of its people. Farage wants to keep unsecured and low-paying jobs; he just wants British people to do them.