Editorial: Anti-establishment politics done right

UKIP is occupying space that should be the terrain of the left, writes Emma Hughes

June 10, 2013
4 min read


Emma Hughes is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. She also works as a campaigner with environmental justice organisation Platform.

‘My priority is a new political party and movement in this country that wants to stand up for the interests of ordinary people.’ These were the words of UKIP’s grinning frontman, Nigel Farage, on the BBC the weekend after UKIP won 139 new council seats in the local elections. During the interview, the man who so dislikes immigrants, the EU and wind turbines presented himself as genuinely anti-establishment, distinguishing his party from the elite and remote Westminster vacuum by emphasising the working-class background of some candidates and describing himself as ‘someone who wants to do something’ rather than ‘someone who wants to be something’.

Of course, Farage would love to be part of the Westminster elite every bit as much as the next grey-suited, privately-schooled City trader. His own background is about as establishment as you get. And it didn’t take much by way of dirt-digging to uncover some UKIP candidates as the knife-in-teeth baring holocaust deniers that are so familiar to sub-cultures of the right. It’s clear that UKIP is sprinkling the kind of people who might have flirted with the BNP a few years ago with Farage fairy dust and providing them with a place of amelioration.

Right-wing Tories are using UKIP’s election success as a convenient reason to advance their own anti-EU, anti-immigration agenda, but there are other elements of Farage’s success that are worth reflecting on. In particular, UKIP’s focus on issues that affect people’s daily lives; Farage’s frequent citing of class; and the way he has separated himself from the austerity-obsessed political mainstream. While this can all be dismissed as a cynical bandwagon hitch, Farage is adept at making it look sincere. In doing so he is occupying space that should be the terrain of the left.

The insipid ‘one nation’-ism Ed Miliband took from the Tories will go no way to establishing Labour as a party that can challenge the elite; it is just a bland endorsement of a slightly less painful cuts agenda. The Green Party is articulating something different: a vision of social and environmental justice that challenges the market economy, rather than being co-opted by it. Yet despite this, its councillors have still acted as austerity enforcers at the local level, albeit unwillingly.

Recently in Brighton and Hove, where a minority administration runs the first Green-led council in Britain, a dispute over low-paid council employees’ wages caused a rift between the local Green Party and Green council leader Jason Kitcat. The experiences in Brighton have not so far provided an inspiring example of the difference a Green council could make, especially when compared with the resistance of some Labour councillors during the 1980s battles over rate-capping (see Mike Marqusee, page 14).

Many parts of the left have sought to offer an anti-establishment alternative outside party political spheres. The Occupy movements formed in an explosion of popular energy that was directed against a corporate co-option of politics. Other campaigns, such as Boycott Workfare and Fuel Poverty Action, begin with people’s lived experiences (either of unemployment or the inability to heat their homes) and offer sharp critiques of the corporate capture of the state. Last year, Fuel Poverty Action held a demo with about 50 members of the Greater London Pensioners’ Association. The group, along with No Dash For Gas, recently attended the pensioners’ AGM, where a motion was passed that condemned both the deaths of thousands of people every year from fuel poverty and the extortionate profits of the big six energy companies.

Such grounded struggles are seen by many on the UK left as the foundation for wider change. With attacks on every front, local struggles are making links and, at least informally, see themselves as engaged in a wider, systemic resistance. Too often, though, there is a gulf between these groups and national initiatives that do not always pay enough attention to the transformative potential of what is emerging from grassroots groups.

Hilary Wainwright urges us to pay more attention to the strategic importance of the local. Potentially it is where the forces for radical and egalitarian change are able to reach out to a wider public, including some of the people UKIP appeals to. It is here that there is an underestimated potential for the left to challenge dominant ideas. But these struggles need support and wider platforms.

Farage only talks of taking on big business, but groups like Boycott Workfare and Fuel Poverty Action actually do so. When the People’s Assembly gathers on 22 June, the organisers would do well to make sure it is a space in which the demands of working-class communities are heard and where the people assembling are able to plan a resistance that challenges the day-to-day impacts of capital. That would be a real anti-establishment politics.


Emma Hughes is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. She also works as a campaigner with environmental justice organisation Platform.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History