The British political class is in the midst of a fight – the election poll is taking place as I write this – but one thing unites them all, and that is hatred of the populist Nigel Farage and his UK Independence Party (UKIP). Farage is a personable guy, an ordinary bloke as they say, which accounts for a lot of his popularity: I mean, who would want to sit down to a pint with David Cameron, or, god forbid, Ed Miliband?
Aside from that, however, Farage embodies the very last of what might be called the British libertarian spirit, such as it is: although largely known in this country for his anti-immigration stance (which is practically illegal in politically correct Britain), he built up his party on the strength of his opposition to the European Union, which is hugely unpopular among ordinary British voters. Farage portrays the EU as intent on imposing a regime of economic and cultural strangulation on the whole of the continent, absorbing Britain into an authoritarian – and increasingly militaristic – Borg of bureaucratic collectivism.
Farage is also an outspoken noninterventionist when it comes to foreign policy, and a vocal dissident when it comes to the “Atlanticist” stance that has tied London to Washington’s apron-strings all these years. I doubt whether the organizers of CPAC, the annual neocon-dominated conservative conference, realized this when they invited him to speak this year. He told conference goers:
“We have been joined at the hip with America and we have been involved in an endless series of overseas engagements and foreign wars. Every time we do these things we’re told by our leaders that it’s to make the streets of London and New York safer. I would claim that we’ve actually enflamed and stoked the fires of militant Islam.”
The whole tone of the above linked Politico piece is at once shocked and dismissive: reporter Adam Lerner deems Farage “disruptive,” and wonders aloud why he was even invited to address American conservatives. “The English conservative populist also said he wasn’t afraid to condemn the last two Republican presidents’ foreign policy,” writes Lerner, “even if the people who championed it were hosting him in the United States."
Farage, however, isn’t bothered in the least about being “disruptive.” He told Lerner:
“I think that a lot of people in the audience will be quite surprised by what I’ve got to say this afternoon. They will think, ‘This Farage bloke, he’s like us. He probably thinks that going to war everywhere is a good idea.’ I don’t. I don’t. I think we’ve made a mess of it.”
If the American media is totally uncomprehending when it comes to Farage and UKIP, the British media gets him – and hates him with a viciousness it doesn’t bother hiding. The Independent takes the prize in this regard: they actually published a story claiming that a well-known mass-murderer is supposedly a UKIP sympathizer. All a UKIP activist has to do is look cross-eyed at a Politically Correct Person and the British media is in an uproar: a few hours before the polls opened someone dug up a video of Farage making a politically incorrect (and very widespread) “homophobic” joke in the course of a best man’s speech given at a wedding that took place fifteen years ago! “Protestors” have harassed Farage as he campaigns up and down the UK, and one UKIP candidate was “accidentally” left off the ballot this election. Ooops! So sorry about that!
Farage, in short, is a slightly abbreviated Anglicized version of Ron Paul, and receives exactly the same sort of treatment the Texas former congressman did at the hands of the elites: open contempt, if not hatred.
The analogy is very far from exact, however: Farage is weak on the British Big Brother, which he says appalls him but then he turns around and says “Oh but we do have enemies out there” and so universal surveillance is a necessary evil. While there is a libertarian element in UKIP, the party’s economic program would be considered unremarkable if advocated by a mildly conservative Republican. And he wants to increase the military budget in spite of UKIP’s antipathy to getting dragged into America’s wars.
But Farage is about the best one can hope for in hopelessly statist Britain, which long ago fell down the slippery slope into a version of George Orwell’s worst nightmare.
UKIP isn’t the only interesting development on the British political scene, however: it looks like the Scottish National Party (SNP), which wants Scotland to secede from the Union, is slated to take the overwhelming majority of Scottish seats in Parliament – formerly a Labor Party bastion. The SNP is a socialist outfit, running to Labor’s left, and may well prevent Miliband from moving into Number 10 Downing Street. Hatred of the “red Tories,” as nationalist Scotsmen are prone to calling the Labor party, is running pretty high, and the SNP is out to exact revenge on Labor for coming out for a “No” vote in the Scottish independence referendum. So that makes a Labor-SNP alliance to form a new government all the more unlikely – but, then again, faced with the prospect of power, perhaps they’ll find a way to rationalize a coalition government.
On the other hand, UKIP may get as much as 20 percent of the vote without gaining a single Member of Parliament: Farage himself is in a squeaker in his South Thanet constituency. And given the bad blood between the Tories and Farage, a Conservative-UKIP government is even more unlikely than a Labor-SNP lash-up. The Liberal Democrats, a right-wing split from Labor that has been dwindling slowly down to nothing in the polls, seem to be on the way out
The result: confusion!
What is happening in Britain is interesting for two reasons: 1) The rise of dissident “third” parties like UKIP, the SNP, the Greens, etc., demonstrates the failure of the political class, whether “left” or “right,” to provide any answers or even much credibility to a country increasingly sinking into economic and cultural anomie, and 2) What happens in Britain has historically prefigured what is bound to happen here in the States sooner or later, and already we can see some of the same trends manifesting themselves on American shores – particularly the growing dissatisfaction with the “major” parties and the longing for a populist champion to take on the political elites.
In America, however, the dissident trend is far more libertarian, given our political tradition – and much more widespread. Whether or not that tendency will manage to organize itself into a viable political vehicle – and overcome an entrenched (and vicious-when-cornered) political elite – is an open question.
Update: The exit polls say it looks like the Conservatives have gotten the most votes, enough to give them just short of a parliamentary majority. The Liberal Democrats are slated to retain only 10 seats, just enough to form a government with the Conservatives and keep Cameron in office. However, if Nick Clegg, the Lib-Dem leader, loses his seat, such an alliance is unlikely. And these are just the exit polls: it remains to be seen what the actual results turn out to be.
Update II: Well, it looks like I was quite wrong: the Conservatives have barely managed to gain an absolute majority, all by themselves, albeit a thin one. With Nigel Farage defeated in South Thanet, by some 3,000 votes, the Establishment is gleefully tolling the bell for UKIP – which managed to come in third as far as national vote totals, increasing its share by nearly 10 percent and bypassing the Liberal Democrats. But due to what we in the US would call gerrymandering, the five million voters who supported the UKIP will go largely unrepresented in Parliament. Naturally, the left-liberal media is bellowing its victory over Farage, reporting that he will “quit politics”: actually, he’s simply “taking the summer off,” as he said, and may well stand for the UKIP leadership in a few months. But then again, the British (and American) media have consistently misreported practically everything about Farage and his party – not that they have an agenda or anything, heaven forfend!
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.