Owen Jones, left wing agitator extraordinaire, wrote an article in the Indy a year and a half ago asking why there was no left wing equivalent of UKIP. He didn’t put it in the following words, but I will: why, in the face of the splintering of the party political system, combined with Ed Miliband’s dithering and drift away from the leftie populism of his early leadership, not to mention the collapse of the Lib Dems as a left wing populist vote, has there not been a party who has been able to capitalise on this in the slightest? The Greens poll figures remain obscure to say the very least. No one else is even remotely a contender at it stands.
Let’s start with the Greens. They haven’t been able to move up the polls for two distinct reasons: one, they are too disorganised. They have a bad reputation in the councils where they have a major presence, which is death to a small party under First Past the Post. Two, they are trying to fight two distinct battles at once and therefore getting themselves tied up in knots. The environmental agenda and the far left agenda are not the same, yet the Greens act as if they are. So long as they continue to remain unaware of this problem, it will persist.
So the Greens couldn’t do it; why not someone else? Looking at UKIP, what they had going for them was one hot issue, which actually wasn’t their raison d’etre topic but one related to it, namely immigration. What theme would a populist party of the left gather around? This is so simple, it’s not even funny: socialism. Of the pure unfettered kind, in other words nationalisation of industry, universal employment, abolition of private property. This will only ever attract at most about ten percent of the population. But that’s all UKIP is getting and that’s the comparison we’re making.
This UKIP of the left would also need a charismatic leader. Jones himself could have perhaps stepped into this role. He is a little young, but does have a huge following. But it’s telling that he seems to have never considered leaving the Labour fold. And by doing so answered his own question. Whatever the Labour Party does, however far to the right they tack at any given stage, the lefties always decide to stick around. Or at least come back at the first hint of any leftward movement, such as in 2010.
But with Len McCluskey’s mutterings around disaffiliating Unite from Labour if the next election result doesn’t suit him, this UKIP of the left might not be as far off as it feels right now. Because let’s face it, that’s what such a party would really need – the unions, with their money and their ready-to-hand organisational resource. Until that takes place, I think such a party is a non-starter. And whatever Owen Jones writes in the Indy, he knows this to be the case.
I’ll close with this thought: the UKIP of the left should have been, ironically enough, UKIP. Had Farage right from the start set out to create a left-wing centred case for why Britain shouldn’t be in the EU, and found a way to attach it all to austerity and neoliberalism as the Eurosceptics in his beloved Norway have always managed to do, he might have been onto something. This leftie UKIP would have placed a huge amount of pressure on Labour to renounce their pro-Europe, internationalist views as a holdover from the New Labour era. It may well have worked. People like Bob Crow would have been immediately interested. Going for the libertarian right approach was always doomed to failure, as Farage is only now discovering when it is too late.