Tuesday, 21 April 2015

UKIP - the new Bennites, but with added fruitcake

Paradoxes abound in politics.  The late Tony Benn polarised opinion on the left, whilst emerging as the definitive 1970s and 1980s folk demon (supplanted now by immigrants, scroungers and those who are just a little bit different) for the right.  Benn was a romantic scholar, idealising the vision of a pre-Marxist radicalism, but with his own peculiar integrity.  What is now fascinating is that, as one of the most adamant anti-EEC voices in the Labour Party, many of his clothes have been stolen by the Kippers and the lunatic right of the Tory party.

The economic condition of the UK in the 1970s, prior to the mobilisation of North Sea oil and gas,  was parlous.  A combination of mismanagement and a perfect storm resulted in very high inflation, declining output and burgeoning public spending - and the first recorded instance of what was then a developed manufacturing economy having to seek rescue from the IMF.  In 1976, Benn was the leading advocate of what became the Alternative Economic Strategy.  This is, with only minor variations, now the mantra of much of the Europhobic right.

When the UK finally joined Europe, it was principally to gain access to a large free-trade bloc.  This remains central today.  The AES was the expression of a protectionist, interventionist economy - effectively a siege state with prohibitive tariffs for imports, significant controls on capital movement, government control of wider economic activity and very high taxation.  It attracted the hard left, gradually acquiring more demands from both within the Labour party and in the contemporary Trotskyite groups, finding its final flowering in the 1983 General Election manifesto.

State control of the commanding heights of the economy was central to the AES - including nationalising the banks - regarded as too mad in 1983 to have any traction.  This became mainstream policy in 2008.  For the nay-sayers, they may have been proved right, because the banking sector has not been chastened or responded to any prodding for social responsibility!  The anti-European, little-England autarky now has its clearest expression in the Kipper approach, although with their mastery of inadvertent but crass spin, they are still pretending that the remaining 26 members of the EU would be happy with the UK being a vassal state in much the same way that Norway and Switzerland have developed to maintain trading links.

The AES was a major delusion, but it was a response to a specific crisis.  The contemporary little Englanders are lunatics at best, culpable and persistent liars as well.  Discounting their links to interest groups from the far right, free-market nutters of the freakiest kind, and their inchoate nostalgia for a 1950s that never existed, the proposition that Britain could inoculate itself from all those nasty, intelligent, hard-working foreigners is a chimera that only exists in the heads of those who peddle it, and in the droolings of stooge journalists who are either insulated from reality or selling their souls to pay their way.

Benn's disciples, even if not the man himself, saw nationalisation and intervention as good in themselves - whereas the right would puff up their credentials in promoting the market.  This is mendacious piffle, as promoting themselves is the only prime motivator.  To listen to Farage and right-wing fools such as Bill Cash, Michael Fabricant and even members of the Cabinet, you would consider that the EU is some form of moral cesspit rather than an imperfect institution capable and deserving of reform.  That this scare tactic doesn't appear to be working is another parallel with the Bennites - the more the mantra was pushed the more the gaps appeared to be exploited.  This time, however, parts of the press are on their side.

The UKIP bubble appears to be bursting, with constant racism, sexism, homophobia and just plain fascism the daily diet.  Add to this its intellectual bankruptcy, and the new Benn will find himself marginalised yet again.  Whatever the mainstream debate, the inability of a tendency which bases its ideology on the shouted rantings of a lager lout at midnight on a Friday to develop a credible programme will be one of the lessons learned from the last five years.  The Kippers are managing to combine the ascetic misinterpretations of Tony Benn with the messianic evil of Oswald Mosley - and their fate will be that of the latter.

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