UKIP: Immigration or Inequality?

The defection of Douglas Carswell on the 28th of August was the latest development and PR scoop for the United Kingdom Independence Party. More significantly, polls currently predict that Carswell will win the subsequent by-election in his constituency of Clacton. This would give the anti-establishment outfit an enhanced platform on which to attack the general election next May. Throughout UKIP’s rise, it is continually branded as primarily being anti-immigration. Is this an accurate portrayal of Nigel Farage’s political vehicle?

Firstly, let us consider the case for immigration being the main wave carrying support for UKIP. Hardly a week passes when right wing publications fail to print a story of the flood of ‘benefit-claiming, job-pinching’ migrants. This past week saw the focus turn to Calais and the desperate attempts of many Sudanese and Afghans to board a ferry. Since 2004, when Tony Blair ‘opened the door’ to Eastern European countries, immigration has garnered increasing attention, notably since the formation of the coalition. Immigration undoubtedly draws people to Farage’s rhetoric, as many privately express similar sentiments. Nevertheless, there is a larger, subtler force at play.

It can be illustrated with a common scene at many supermarkets in early evening. You often witness people squabbling over ‘bargains’ contained within the reduced sections; loaves of bread for 10p, being such an example. Such scuffles defy belief. Customers become irate at a largely foreign dominated group grabbing all the reduced items. Claims such as ‘they don’t belong here’ can be heard frequently. This is not their real gripe though. The true struggle is that they, in the current economic climate, have been drawn to such reduced items; forced to by wage stagnation, and, in many cases, unemployment. This set against a backdrop of rising prices, notably for food and energy, unavoidable costs. This group, although not always, are often white, and from a background of unskilled labour. In many senses, they have fallen behind. They resent this. Dissent against immigration is the product of their angst, but not necessarily the cause.

Such a group, people whom David Cameron attempts to woo by labelling them as ‘hard-working’ have been left behind by a UK economy that has seen an inexorable shift to skilled services, as manufacturing and retail slowly erodes. This is a result of firms outsourcing and the rise of e-commerce. Wages remain stubbornly low. The central issue here is inequality. Many of those who are attracted to UKIP see an educated elite; the Oxbridge suits that want to protect those who possess similar skills. In many cases, they can’t afford things they once took for granted, such as being able to support their local football team. This feeling of being deserted by the nation they once believed they were such an integral part of is the root cause behind the rise of UKIP. Such a trend can arguably be seen to have developed pre-2004, pre-immigration. They just weren’t aware. The financial crisis and the austerity that ensued added a turbo-charged effect to a trend that was inevitable.

The truth for this group of mostly middle-aged citizens though is that UKIP has no answer to their plight. Immigrants, especially those from the EU, often take jobs that they are unwilling to, either because they are considered socially degrading or simply because they do not want them. Loosening ties the EU, the primary export market for the UK, is hardly a recipe for reviving what remains of a sluggish manufacturing sector. Moreover, UKIP’s lack of an education policy does not address the issue that more people will leave the system without the necessary attributes to compete and will thus be consigned to such a group in the future.

Douglas Carswell will not win in Clacton next month for these reasons; he will win for being Douglas Carswell, a loyal MP to his constituents. Next May, however, the battle will be different. UKIP will take Tory voters. It will also erode the Labour vote in the North, who attempt to appeal to voters with many of the traits this article has alluded too. In the long-term, Labour should be more concerned. Just as the country is increasingly south vs. north in the fight for Westminster, many want to make it UKIP vs. the rest. Labour looses as much as anyone in such a scenario. So, while Theresa May seeks to portray a stern outlook on immigration, this will not solve the UKIP problem. It requires an increase in apprenticeships, skilled training and a change in work ethic. For many, such reforms will come too late. For this reason, UKIP is here to stay.