space IWCA banner IWCA banner IWCA logo space

The Slow Fix

The decline of the BNP has given UKIP the chance to fill the yawning gap that exists in working class political representation. By way of contrast, the current incarnations of the left are failing, yet again, to make any impression. This is repeating the pattern of recent decades, where the right have consistently out-thought the left in terms of strategy. The ongoing capitalist crisis offers real opportunities for our side, but it also presents great dangers. If the left continues to shirk its responsibility by failing to fully engage with the working class, it leaves the path clear for the continued growth of right-wing nationalism.

The recent Eastleigh by-election, where UKIP came in second less than two thousand votes behind the incumbent Lib Dems, has confirmed UKIP’s rise to political prominence in the UK. UKIP have long been a force at European level, but this has largely been due to their being a single-issue, anti-Europe protest vehicle. However, they are now making an impact at the ground level of British politics. Where not so long ago UKIP had fewer councillors than the BNP (and indeed, the IWCA), in the local elections of May 2012 UKIP were able to field nearly 700 candidates nationwide (compared to the BNP’s 130) and secured 13% of all votes cast, up from 8% in 2011. In the upcoming local elections in May, they will be standing 1,700 candidates in three-quarters of the available seats, as many as the Lib-Dems and only 500 behind the Tories. The website states that ‘For UKIP to have the nationwide organisation capable of putting up candidates in three quarters of the seats is a massive achievement’.

More significantly, it is not just in middle England where UKIP are breaking through, for their success in Eastleigh follows on from the second places they attained in the Middlesbrough and Rotherham by-elections in November last year, and Barnsley in March 2011, all Labour strongholds where UKIP comprehensively beat out the BNP. What explains this?

It is no coincidence that the rise of UKIP has followed on the heels of the decline of the BNP. In 2008 the BNP held 55 local and district councillors (link) and scored almost 70,000 votes in the London mayoral election, and in 2009 they won two MEPs in European elections where they netted a million votes nationwide. This earned Nick Griffin a spot on Question Time in November 2009, and the BNP then went on to poll over 500,000 votes in the 2010 general election. From this pinnacle, the BNP are now down to three elected councillors and their vote in the 2012 London mayoral election fell to below 30,000. In contrast to UKIP, the BNP are only standing 100 candidates in the coming local elections.

At the time of the Question Time appearance the BNP appeared all set to mount a profound challenge to the political establishment, but all their forward momentum has been lost and they have gone markedly backwards, and their drop-off in electoral success has been matched by public in-fighting, splits and financial troubles. Why has this happened? For one, the political establishment – all three major parties, plus satellites such as Hope Not Hate – mobilised as one in response to the threat they perceived from the BNP. Resources were poured into key battleground areas (such as Barking and Dagenham), and almost certainly there was an element of state infiltration of the organisation, which helped to sow instability. This is how the political centre responds to any threat to its established order: on a lower level, the IWCA has been subject to similar treatment (link). The concern of Hope Not Hate isn’t to defend the working class from fascism, it is to defend the political centre from any ‘radical’ threat. For a time, the BNP benefitted from the ‘outlaw’ status conveyed upon them as the political establishment united against them, but eventually the weight of resources lined up against them began to tell.

Another aspect is the lack of political experience and capital within the BNP. Up until 1994 their priority had been fighting a costly and ultimately losing street war. It was only at the turn of the century that they fully committed to the electoral route, and they didn’t win their first councillor until 2002. They then reaped great rewards extremely quickly, perhaps too quickly: having reached the heights by the end of the decade, they did not have the know-how or the experience to train on. They had not developed the wealth of experience and personnel that, for example, the FN in France has over a period of more than thirty years. Bluntly put, the BNP do not have the resources, capability or know-how to fully capitalise on the opportunities available to them (again, the IWCA faces something not dissimilar, particularly where resources are concerned).  Finally, a large factor in the BNP’s vertiginous growth was falling for the temptation of spending money they didn’t have, resulting in the straitened financial position they now find themselves in.

UKIP hoovering up the BNP vote

However, just because the BNP have imploded doesn’t mean that the reasons behind their success have disappeared or that their vote has gone away. As the IWCA put it after last year’s French presidential elections: ‘despite these setbacks, the underlying conditions which facilitated the BNP’s rise are still there: disillusionment with the neo-liberal centre and a Labour party that has turned its back on the working class, producing a political vacuum. There is no reason to assume that the BNP is permanently impaired or cannot learn their lessons; but even if that were so, the opportunity remains for some other right-wing formation to fill the vacuum (it is notable that UKIP did well at the recent local elections, a new phenomenon for them)’ (link).

And so it is coming to pass. According to research conducted by Rob Ford of the University of Manchester, many UKIP loyalists ‘come from working class, Labour leaning backgrounds, and are deeply hostile to all the establishment parties… UKIP supporters’ views of all three parties’ leaders are strongly and persistently negative, and they are more likely to express alienation from politics and dissatisfaction with democracy… UKIP’s strongest support often comes from older working class voters, who often have traditional left wing loyalties’ (link).

It is something of a surprise that it is UKIP who are hoovering up the vote that previously went to the BNP: they have never previously expressed any interest in orientating toward the working class, and it would be instructive to know who or what pushed them in that direction (it is well known that it was Tony Lecomber and Eddie Butler, with Nick Griffin more in the role of beneficiary, who engineered that strategic shift initially within the BNP). Furthermore, UKIP have the distinct strategic advantage in that they have had a chance to observe the BNP ‘dry run’. They have had a chance to see what works and what doesn’t, and where to tweak the message as appropriate.

At the UKIP spring conference, their leader Nigel Farage began his keynote speech by attacking increased EU immigration on the grounds that it would lead to ‘massive over-supply in the unskilled labour market in this country at a time when we have a million young people out of work’, a clear populist move. Already they have made the ever-opportunist Lib Dems perform an about-turn on immigration, as well as forcing the Tories into pledging a referendum on EU membership. They appear to be better funded than the BNP, and their less toxic brand makes it easier to draw experienced operators away from the Tory party (link).

Another clear, and extremely instructive, example of UKIP’s new orientation, and the success it is bringing them in working class areas, can be seen in the ward of Gooshays in Havering, on the north-east edge of London. In 2002, the IWCA took just shy of 2,500 votes across the three seats in the ward, totalling 23% of the vote. When the local IWCA pilot scheme fell away, the BNP moved in and won the ward in 2006. The BNP have subsequently fallen away, and at the end of March the ward went not back to Labour, but to UKIP.

However, if UKIP’s success has derived from ‘borrowing’ the vote nurtured by the BNP, it means that if they are to maintain their position as the ‘radical’ alternative to the mainstream, they can never go back to their previous position as a middle-class, single issue protest party. If their current trajectory continues, then at some point their will on this matter will be tested: if they pose a genuine threat to the ‘old gang’ of establishment parties as the BNP did, UKIP too will find themselves under the same pressures the BNP faced. There was no doubt that the BNP were and are fascist ‘true believers’: it remains to be seen if UKIP are anything more than opportunists. If they are insufficiently firm and radical in orientation, they remain vulnerable to their ‘legitimised’ vote returning ‘home’ at some point. Having leap-frogged the BNP, UKIP are currently seen as Britain’s main anti-immigrant party: if polls are to believed they are standing at 17 per cent nationally, which puts them on par with other major far-right parties in Europe. Suddenly, it really is game on.

The slow fix

So if UKIP are partially ‘filling the vacuum’ (link) in working class political representation that up until a couple of years ago was being gradually filled by the BNP it begs the question: after 13 years of New Labour in power where they left no-one in any doubt as to their true colours (as former Labour minister Frank Field has recently remarked: ‘In my lifetime, we’ve moved from a Labour Party which was working class-dominated. Some trendy London middle class went along with it but [were] subjected, at least publicly, to the moral economy of the working class. We’ve moved to a stage where what was that minority is in a governing position, which imposes upon the working class its moral economy… there is a real crisis of representation.’); and five years into a renewed crisis of Western capitalism, why is the political vacuum among the working class being filled by parties of the radical right, not the left?

It was illuminating that in the Eastleigh by-election, alongside the strong showing of UKIP, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition received 62 votes. TUSC has the backing of the RMT and PCS unions, and left-wing organisations such as the SWP and the Socialist Party. With this kind of backing it is sufficiently resourced to make an impact. In addition to the 62 votes picked up in Eastleigh, in the Middlesbrough and Rotherham by-elections (where UKIP came in second) TUSC polled less than 2% of the vote. These are working class, Labour strongholds yet it is UKIP, not TUSC, who are challenging Labour. If TUSC can’t break through here, where can they break through? Why is it that UKIP are able to break through in these areas but TUSC cannot?

As its make-up suggests, TUSC’s orientation is toward the trade union movement and the Trotskyist left. However, trade unionism in the UK is now much emasculated, with the bulk of its membership and influence confined to public sector and/or white collar workers, and its concerns largely sectional. TUSC, then, represents a continuation of usual left-wing practice: long on megaphone sloganeering, short on addressing working class concerns or even any practical engagement with the extant working class itself. The 62 votes in Eastleigh (and the results they have gained elsewhere) stands in rather stark contrast to the results the IWCA has consistently been able to garner with far fewer resources, not to mention the results that the BNP and now UKIP have demonstrated they are able to gain in working class areas.

The IWCA is of the left, the BNP and UKIP are of the right, but what all three share is an awareness of orientating toward the working class, and of the necessity of addressing day-to-day working class concerns. There is a clear pattern: a direct strategic orientation first and foremost to the working class where they live – and not just where they work, and not just those in unionised occupations – bears fruit. It is a simple, straightforward strategic insight, yet it has eluded what is left of the left outside the Labour party. The failure of the left to grasp this simple lesson is allowing UKIP a free run to swallow up the vote the BNP previously broke away from Labour. UKIP are filling the vacuum because they are now the only ones who are trying, in any realistic sense, to fill it.

In particular, they are being allowed to lead the debate on immigration and frame the matter purely in nationalist, reactionary terms, with no countervailing perspective framing the matter in terms of class. TUSC’s manifesto does not mention immigration, it merely states ‘Defend the right to asylum’ (link). Prior to the onset of the economic crisis, the attitude of the liberal left was that any failure to support unlimited immigration was xenophobic and racist: it seems that even TUSC has realised this position is no longer tenable, but rather than address the issue in class terms they don’t address it at all.

By contrast, the IWCA has attempted to grasp the nettle, stating ‘UK plc wants a certain level of “quality and controlled immigration”, not because it is benevolent or kind hearted, but because this dampens wages down and keeps the working class insecure through the creation of what can only be described as a reserve army of labour: immigration is being used as a weapon of class warfare. The importation of skilled labour from overseas also represents a free gift to capital: why spend time and money investing in British workers when you can simply steal much needed skilled labour from poorer countries instead?’ (link, see also link, link and link). Such an approach could negate and undercut the supposedly pro-working class credentials of UKIP, forcing them to choose between their populist position on the one hand and their pro-business support on the other. When put to the test, it is fairly transparent which way UKIP would jump.

Both the neo-liberal right and the nationalist right over recent decades have dramatically out-thought the left in terms of political strategy. They have identified tactics, narratives and constituencies, while the left has succeeded in alienating its core constituency of the working class. Even a glib mainstream pundit such as the Independent’s Owen Jones has been compelled to concede that ‘the right have been winning the intellectual argument for over 30 years…  the left has been forced into an entirely defensive posture. “Stop privatisation”, “defend our NHS”, “stop the cuts”, “save comprehensive education”; stop the world, I want to get off. Contrast this with the booming right-wing intelligentsia, injecting the seemingly impossible into the mainstream, pushing the political goalposts ever right-wards’ (link).

Unless there is a change of strategy and orientation on the left, the process of ‘pushing the political goalposts ever right-wards’ will only continue. As has been shown, there is a means whereby the left can begin to compete, namely to ‘fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class’ because ‘in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement’ (link). As a strategy it  can be arduous, unglamorous and requires a long term investment - a slow fix - but it is the only way forward if our side is serious about rising to the twin challenges of capitalist crisis and growing right-wing nationalism, not just here but in Europe. The austerity clawbacks offer a once in a century opportunity and if the left as a whole continues to shirk its responsibility, the judgement of history will be merciless and the consequences will be profound.


16 Responses to “The Slow Fix”

  1. David Fogden Says:

    The left missed a trick when it came to identity politics. Instead of sneering at the English and championing every other cause. They should have supported the English in their fight for an English parliament or even Independence. English nationalism is not only hostile to the EU it is also hostile to the British state and its imperialistic designs. Not all nationalism is right wing

  2. Will Says:

    Great article. I have a question that I’ll try my best to frame.

    The stance on labour migration (workers taken from abroad to fill positions at home) is clear. It’s a method of class-warfare, attacking wages and conditions, keeping or raising unemployment levels – whilst stealing labour from nations where it is much needed.

    However, is it possible to frame asylum immigration in the same clear class context? Is there any way around, when trying to outmanoeuvre the far right at social issues (the second most important one in Sweden in recent polls) – without being crass and argue that we’re facing a situation where areas with no say what so ever are being forced to continuously give more than they’ve got. In fact putting the working class in our areas, as it is today, first.

    The Left position of saying that we indeed have resources, and if things were different we wouldn’t have any troubles, is not really doing it. It doesn’t mean anything outside of their meetings, outside of their theories. The same with the lefty no-borders position. As immigration is becoming the source of a increasing, growing social issue; what exactly would constitute a stance on asylum immigration, communicated in working class areas. Is it forced to be strictly non-humanitarian?

  3. Jacob Says:

    Hi. Two questions:

    1) No mention here of Left Unity. I can think of a number of reasons for the omission, but I was wondering what IWCA folk think of this new venture (I can probably guess).

    2) Are the IWCA still active ‘on the ground’? If so, have they abandoned the electoral arena for now?



  4. Martin Says:


    I think your question ‘is it possible to frame asylum immigration in the same clear class context?’ draws a pertinent point that should have been included in this article. The IWCA experience has always been that when a working class orientation and democratic, bottom-up methods are applied, issues of race and nationalism don’t come up. The middle class left used to sometimes say to us ‘what happens when the working class demands that you burn out the gypsies?’ Answer: the working class never have (that the middle class left thinks they would speaks a great deal about them).

    And conversely, it’s when class politics are absent that the politics of race and nationalism come to the fore, or as Red Action put it: ‘In the absence of class, race; in the absence of socialism, nationalism’. In the absence of a progressive working class alternative, UKIP can go into Labour strongholds and say to the disillusioned working class ‘we’re going to stop immigration from the EU which is undercutting your wages and putting you out of work’, and the element of truth in that is enough to win them second places.

    So the fact that immigration is such a hot-button issue is a consequence of the failure of the left to offer an alternative, pro-working class political narrative. If ‘immigration’ as a stand-alone issue completely divorced from capitalist relations and a class context is the central point of discussion, the left has already gone wrong somewhere, and neutralising the issue is probably the most that can be done (by not blindly supporting a ‘no borders’ position, by not dismissing working class concerns as racist and reactionary). In this article: we have tried to turn it around and place immigration into the context of class and globalisation. Some quotes:

    ‘UK plc wants a certain level of “quality and controlled immigration”, not because it is benevolent or kind hearted, but because this dampens wages down and keeps the working class insecure through the creation of what can only be described as a reserve army of labour: immigration is being used as a weapon of class warfare. The importation of skilled labour from overseas also represents a free gift to capital: why spend time and money investing in British workers when you can simply steal much needed skilled labour from poorer countries instead?’

    ‘The global movement of labour is largely restrained and regulated, but the movement of capital is, by and large, completely unrestricted. Indeed, the term ‘neo-liberalism’ is perhaps best understood as ‘freedom for capital, not labour’… Current immigration policy, like everything else, is now predicated solely on capital’s terms… labour is only permitted to move insofar as it benefits capital.

    ‘So long as control over the economy remains concentrated in private hands – and there remains no worthwhile opposition – capital will simply manipulate and regulate net migratory pressures (which ultimately derive from inequality between nations) according to its own requirements.

    ‘But ultimately, there is only one pro-working class resolution to the problems outlined above: democratic control of the economy. This is the only way of producing a migratory framework -indeed, an economic framework- that is geared toward human needs (of the domestic population as well as of migrants), not just the sectional needs of capital.’

  5. Martin Says:

    David Fogden:

    The left has made far grander errors than any particular attitude it has shown towards an English Parliament.

  6. Huejack Says:


    Hard to tell at this stage. Although the fact that they appear to be struggling to agree on how to address the working class/’working people’ suggests they have a fair bit to go. They also seem unduly excited by the 8,000 likes they got following their call to arms. However what does that translate to on the ground – say, maybe at best, 800 activists? Which is not ordinarily to be sneezed at. But then UKIP are approaching the 30,000 actually membership, while EDL scored over 60,000 Facebook likes the other day. The point being that if any sort of impact is to be made is has to be done against prevailing political winds, which makes access to resources even more relevant. Big boys games big boys rules.

    All that before you mention strategy and tactics. And the inevitable fall-out from that. As I understand it some within are calling for the adoption of the IWCA strategy without probably fully understanding that this will require more than simply orientating toward the historic constituency. It also requires policies, at a macro and micro level, to be calibrated accordingly. For example the Left as whole are currently trapped behind the 8 ball on identity politics. Treating everyone the same is something the working class understand. Sub-dividing working class forces on the grounds of colour; a house being constantly divided against itself, is understandably a harder sell. So good luck with that.
    2) Are the IWCA still active ‘on the ground’? If so, have they abandoned the electoral arena for now?

    The IWCA has demonstrated how very very easy it is, on even the flimsiest budget, to fill the vacuum in working class areas. Though they are attention grabbers, having elected Cllrs are not in themselves the name of the game, especially given the limitations of the councils themselves. But what putting up candidates proves is how well or badly the core task of of reconnecting with the working class has been implemented in between the elections. So in that sense having done the pioneering bit we are waiting for the second foot to fall. Sometimes, as in any other walk of life, you simply have to be patient.

  7. Dave Amis Says:

    This may be slightly off topic but this is the view from the Thurrock Heckler on the killing of Lee Rigby, the predicatable reaction of the left, the re-emergence of the EDL as a force on the streets and the left’s total inability to deal with it –

    PS – If you want to use this article on this site feel free to do so. If you’d like me to expand on certain areas, let me know and I’ll be happy to do so…

  8. Paul B Says:

    UKIPs next party political broadcast highlights exclusively their leadership discussing/canvassing white working class voters in London. According to the film maker – ironically the wife of a Labour MP – their message, as referenced in the IWCA article, is finding an echo. The latest polls ndicate that this is the case.

    Their leadership are making clear that they are specifically targeting a constituency that Labour could once regard as its core but no longer – a clear orientation and attempt to follow on from the BNP and ‘fill the vacuum’ of working class political representation. Unlike the BNP there are no brand considerations getting in the way (but like the BNP there is the question of their ability to manage their rapid increase in support and electoral success and fundamentaly their long term game of attempting to ride 2 horses politically).

    Meanwhile – as the Thurrock Heckler article makes clear – the left essentially despise the (white) working class and increasingly can’t hide the fact. It speaks volumes that in a period of a prolonged capitalist crisis that it speaks to and for only itself.

    It’s therefore difficult to see the ‘second foot falling’ anytime soon and equally hard not to be profoundly depressed about the inevitable consequences of the current trajectory. A very slow fix if at all.

  9. DD Says:

    “It speaks volumes that in a period of a prolonged capitalist crisis that it speaks to and for only itself.” Paul B

    Watching the development of LU is instructive. As the name suggests it once again sees left unity as the solution even though it has repeatedly been demonstrated, adding one former trot to another former trot does not make for prescience. But once more they have rallied around unity rather than an analysis, much less a strategy. The siren voices, as the majority see, or will see it, calling for some type of IWCA lite approach will be silenced if they haven’t already been.

    For the loudest voces the starting point is as usual all about ‘we must be’ (‘internationalist’…tick…)rather than than look at the situation objectively first, and then declare ‘what we must do’ and let the political programme follow from that. Instead they are starting with the checklist, so regardless of the intentions of at least some to learn from the past blunders, the box ticking will lead them right back to where they started.

  10. DD Says:

    “The resentments fuelling Ukip run deep, and have built up over two decades of marginalisation and neglect. Apologies are a start. But there will be no quick fix.

    “How bad could this get? Labour should look to Europe, where for 20 years social democrats have struggled with the fact that their base is highly vulnerable to radical right invaders. Consider this: during its initial breakthrough period in 1984, the French Front National drew just 8% of its support from manual workers. By 1995, this had rocketed to almost 30%, leaving Le Pen’s as the most popular political party among workers. It was the same story in Austria, where between 1979 and 1999 the Freedom party saw its share of the blue-collar vote surge from 4 to 47%, making it the No 1 vehicle for working-class protest. The mechanics of the British system mean that Labour has never been confronted with this challenge. The BNP might have knocked at the door, but when Labour finally kicked into gear it ensured that only few voters let the extremists in. But it is clear to us that Ukip has the potential to come crashing through the house.”

  11. David Fogden Says:

    Martin I agree that the left have made grander errors than any particular attitude towards an English parliament. The point I was trying to make is that if the left had adopted a different attitude towards the English working class then these people would not become cannon fodder for the likes of the BNP, UKIP and the EDL. Adopting English radicalism rather than banging on about Marx, Trotsky and Lenin could possibly make the left viable in these communities.

  12. Martin Says:

    David Fogden:

    ‘if the left had adopted a different attitude towards the English working class then these people would not become cannon fodder for the likes of the BNP, UKIP and the EDL.’

    Yes, the middle class left as has been constituted for decades is fundamentally anti-working class, the IWCA has long been aware of this.

    ‘Adopting English radicalism rather than banging on about Marx, Trotsky and Lenin could possibly make the left viable in these communities.’

    What’s ‘English radicalism’?

  13. David Fogden Says:

    English radicalism is basically left nationalism. Even though I would add that the Left/ Right paradigm is outdated and should be replaced with a centralist/ de-centralist model. English radicals see a long line of struggle against their British oppressors from Hereward the Wake, Peasants Revolt, the Levellers etc up to the early Labour movement. They are not for a better word “Little Englanders” who just see the situation in terms of an English parliament/Independence or an exit from the EU but see their struggle in the wider anti globalist/ imperialist struggle

  14. Martin Says:

    ‘the Left/ Right paradigm is outdated and should be replaced with a centralist/ de-centralist model’

    The right and left wing visions of decentralisation are fundamentally different: neo-liberal capitalism (decentralisation of power from the state to capital) and libertarian socialism (decentralisation of power from the state to labour) are two wholly different things (although in reality there’s no such thing as ‘free market capitalism’, capitalism has always depended upon a degree of state support and protection), so the left-right paradigm is by no means outdated.

    ‘the wider anti globalist/ imperialist struggle’

    What’s ‘the anti globalist/ imperialist struggle’? Who is this struggle being waged against?

  15. David Fogden Says:

    Whilst the visions of the left and right may be different, the results are the same. Rather than decentralization you get more centralization of state power. As you point out that in reality there is no such thing as free market capitalism. Neo liberals depend on the power of the state to push their agenda whether by force or by manufacture of consent. Unfortunately for the left the decentralization of power from the state to labour has actually seen power end up in the hands of the “party” elite.

    The wider anti globalist /imperialist is the struggle to resist the situation where power ends up in the hands of the few at the expense of the majority. The question is how do we build that movement?

  16. M Risbrook Says:

    ‘the Left/ Right paradigm is outdated and should be replaced with a centralist/ de-centralist model’

    As the 21st century unfolds there will be a shift away from left / right towards globalised / localised. Nationalists already know this but the establishment tries to hide it from the masses. Americans hinder themselves with the liberal / conservative dichotomy which is worse than the continuous left / right spectrum that the British are accustomed to.

    ‘Adopting English radicalism rather than banging on about Marx, Trotsky and Lenin could possibly make the left viable in these communities.’

    The secret of success of the Labour party (and the failure of the communists) during the early 20th century was that Labour was culturally British – in tune with the everyday lifestyle and train of thought of the majority of working class people back then. The communists weren’t. They were too intellectual and too foreign.

Leave a Reply