UKIP, xenophobia and the upcoming general election
Divisive role of racism
Racism is a potent weapon used by the ruling class to divide the working class so as to render the latter powerless in its struggle against capitalist exploitation and all the ills that flow from it – unemployment, inadequate housing, poor education, with health provision and social services under relentless attack. Racist propaganda aims to portray the foreigner and the immigrant as the enemy, responsible for all the ills of capitalism, and thus direct the wrath of the working class against the ills and inequities of capitalism against those who are the worst victims of capitalist exploitation and predatory imperialist wars. While ever-present in bourgeois society, racism assumes monstrous proportions in periods of economic crisis, as has been the case since 2008, which set off the worst ever economic crisis, as well as in the run-up to elections, when bourgeois parties try to gain electoral advantage by setting up their divisive stalls through whipping up anti-immigrant and anti-refugee hysteria. The next British general election, due in May 2015, is no exception. This time round, spurred on by the electoral successes of the anti-immigrant and anti-EU Ukip (United Kingdom Independence Party), the major bourgeois parties – Conservative, Labour and LibDem – have turned up the volume of their racist propaganda.
Ukip’s electoral success
Ukip won the greatest share of votes in the last election to the European Parliament held on Thursday 22 May 2014 on an anti-EU and anti-immigration platform, causing panic in the Conservative camp. With a fairly large number of Conservative parliamentarians harbouring great sympathy for the Ukip programme, Prime Minister David Cameron, in an effort to appease the Eurosceptic battalions in his party, was obliged to promise, if his party won the election, an in-or-out referendum in 2017 on British membership of the European Union. Further, he asserted that he would recommend a British exit from the EU unless he could secure better terms for Britain, which would require treaty revision. That will not happen, for such a revision requires the agreement of all other member states, quite of few of which are opposed to such an outcome. For its part, Ukip has successfully exploited the chasm that separates Cameron’s rhetoric from reality and has lured two Conservative MPs to defect to its camp – Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless.
The Clacton and Strood by-elections
Having defected to Ukip, Douglas Carswell resigned his parliamentary seat, forcing a by-election in his Clacton constituency from where he won, with a 35% swing over the Tories. This was quickly followed by the defection to Ukip of another Conservative MP, Mark Reckless. Following in the footsteps of Carswell, he too resigned his seat, forcing a by-election in the constituency of Rochester and Strood. With a swing of 42% to Ukip, Reckless won on 20 November by a majority of 2,900 votes, securing 16,867 votes (42.10%), while the Conservative candidate polled 13,947 (34.81%) and Labour 6,713 (16.76%). The LibDems, with 349 (0.87%) were reduced to total irrelevance, with their share of the votes sinking below the 1.2% the Liberals received at the Glasgow Camlachie by-election in 1948.
More than Douglas Carswell, who is a figure of some stature and intellectual depth, the defection and victory of Reckless, a much-derided nonentity, sent shockwaves through the Conservative Party. If Ukip can win in Rochester, which was the 271st most winnable seat on its list, it can hardly augur well for the Tories. Their defeat in Rochester was all the more glaring considering that Cameron had made it a point of prestige, reportedly saying that he wanted to kick Reckless’s fat arse off the green benches of the Commons and insisting that he would throw the kitchen sink at winning the seat. Cabinet members and Conservative MPs were instructed to visit the constituency in support of their candidate. Notwith-standing a record number of 97 ministerial visits, including five by Mr Cameron, as well as by 246 Tory MPs (80% of their number in the Commons), each of whom made at least one visit, and a logistically impressive mail drop to each household across the constituency on the morning of the poll, the Tories failed to win the seat where they had a majority of 10,000 at the last election.
Profusion of racist propaganda
In sheer desperation, the Conservative candidate, Miss Kelly Tolhurst, sent a barely disguised racist letter, approved by the Tory headquarters, mentioning “uncontrolled immigration” and the fact that local people felt unsafe on their high street owing to crime, linking the two issues in a way that made it appear that it was the immigrants who were responsible for crime on the high street. Even some right-wing Tory MPs were reportedly ‘incandescent’ about the letter, characterising it as ‘deeply unpleasant’.
For his part, Reckless maintained that Ukip stood for the repatriation of migrants after Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, a statement which Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, was forced to dismiss, with Reckless insisting that repatriation had been the party policy up to then. A mere few days later, Farage went on to say that children born to immigrant parents in the UK ought also to be regarded as immigrants.
While the prime minister slyly hints that Britain is in danger of being overwhelmed by migrants, some of his colleagues are only too overt on the subject. His Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, explicitly asserted on the Andrew Marr Show that Britain’s towns were being “swamped” by migrants, with their residents “under siege” from “large numbers of migrant workers and people claiming benefits”. On instructions from the Party leadership, Fallon retracted his remarks but by then his utterances had achieved their intended purpose of fanning the flames of racism. Be it said in passing that Fallon received public support from several MPs, including David Blunkett, former Labour Home Secretary.
Ukip and Labour
In addition to being a threat to Tory electoral fortunes, there are signs that Ukip is eating into Labour votes as well. In October, Ukip came within 617 votes of winning in Heywood and Middleton (Greater Manchester), a safe Labour seat in the Party’s former industrial heartlands. Ukip asserts that it, not Labour, represents the concerns of the working class. The truth is that none of the bourgeois parties, including Ukip, care about, let alone represent, the interests of the working class. Ukip’s main policy plank – anti-EU an anti-immigration – is hardly a recipe for the liberation of the working class from the horrors of capitalism.
In an effort to placate the eurosceptic wing of his party and win the coming General Election, David Cameron is concentrating on securing EU agreement for draconian restrictions on in-work and out-of-work benefits for migrants from the EU, such as the denial of universal credit to those who are unemployed, denial of tax credits, social housing and child benefits to those who have been in Britain for less than four years; and those unable to secure work for six months are to face deportation. If implemented, these proposals can only result in the subjection of migrants to further exploitation and degradation.
Not desiring to lag behind, the Labour Party too is busy burnishing its anti-immigrant image, notwithstanding the assertion by Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, to the effect that Labour will not pander to ” those who deny the positive contribution that immigrants have always made to our country”. It is precisely to such people that Labour is busy pandering. In October, Labour leader Ed Miliband, saying that immigration was the top concern of his Party, went on to declare that Labour would work for EU reforms, which would entail barring migrants from new member countries for a longer period, and deny child benefit and tax credit for children resident outside of Britain. In November, Ms Reeves announced an extension of the restriction on out-of-work and in-work benefits.
Writing in Why Vote Labour 2015, Shadow Immigration Minister, David Hanson, with admirable candour, stated: ” There is nothing in labour history, values, or traditions that require us to be in favour, in principle, of unlimited immigration”, adding that “…we have and always will be for managed immigration”. Dead right! Like the other bourgeois parties, Labour is, as it always has been, in favour of managing immigration to suit the interests of British capital, for the purpose of every single measure to draw a line between migrant and indigenous workers, as by limiting or denying state benefits to the former, is to hand them on a platter to the capitalist class as material for super-exploitation. This in turn puts downward pressure on the wages and conditions of non-migrant labour and gives rise to resentment against the unfortunate foreign victims of such measures, while the capitalist class laughs all the way to the bank.
At the end of November, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) published figures revealing that in the year to June 2014, net migration to the UK rose to 260,000, compared with 244,000 in June 2010 when the Conservative and LibDem coalition government came into office promising to reduce migration to the ” tens of thousands” by 2015. According to the latest figures, immigration for the year 2014 rose to 583,000, up from 502,000 in the previous 12 months.
Ukip seized upon these figures, with Nigel Farage accusing the Tories “of a total scandal or a long-standing con trick”.
Ukip migration spokesman, Steven Woolfe, said:
” Today’s astronomical migration figures show an abject failure by this Government to control immigration, despite countless promises to the public.
“‘The eye-watering increase places immense strain on employment prospects, schools, hospitals and housing.”
It is not immigrants who are placing strain on employment prospects, schools, hospitals and housing; it is the inexorable workings of capitalism which produce these strains, for even if every immigrant were to be thrown out of the country, within a very short time capitalism will see to it that a certain portion of the population is superfluous to its requirements. This is the truth that none of the bourgeois political parties dares to speak.
In an attempt to out-Ukip Ukip, a Labour spokesman greeted these figures thus:
“Every quarter, the net migration figures shred Theresa May’s reputation a little bit more. A failing immigration system presided over by a failing Home Secretary and Prime Minister”.
In addition, the ONS figures drove home the simple fact that the government’s fixation on EU migrants, driven by Ukip, bears no relation to reality. Of the 583,000 people who came to Britain from abroad, a good deal fewer than half, or 247,000, came from the EU. In other words, as usual, greater migration is from outside the EU which theoretically is within the government’s remit to control, which goes to show that all the anti-EU noise by the government, as well as other bourgeois parties, is merely a side show to distract the attention of the masses and deluding them into believing that an exit from the EU will solve all problems. Moreover nothing is ever mentioned about the 315,000 plus people who EMIGRATE from the UK every year! It is equally deceptive to assert that an end to all immigration will solve the problems of unemployment, for imperialism is bound to continue causing job losses through the export of capital and increased labour productivity on a vast scale without any help from net immigration.
As regards the influx of refugees, they are the victims of wars waged by imperialism, or the civil strife inspired, aided and abetted by imperialism – from Yugoslavia to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and many other places. Their number, for the first time since the Second World War, stands at a record 50 million. These are people who have been forced in their millions, literally at gunpoint, to flee from their countries, devastated by predatory imperialist wars waged by Anglo-American imperialism, yet they are denied refugee status by the ruling classes of the very countries which are responsible for their sad plight. In 2014 alone, 3,000 people have died in the course of attempts to reach Europe via the Mediterranean. Those lucky enough to survive the journey are subjected to extremely harsh treatment by the police forces of the countries of their intended destination or of the transit countries. One has only to cast a cursory glance at the refugee shacks in the French port of Calais to gauge the immorality and inhumanity with which imperialism treats the victims of its wars.
The US and British inspired civil strife in Syria alone has forced 3.3 million Syrians to become refugees abroad, with another 7.6 million internally displaced, with no end in sight as yet as leading imperialist powers continue to fuel the war with weapons and money funnelled through their surrogates – the Gulf autocracies and the Turkish government of Erdogan.
The British working class is honour bound to defend the right of the victims of its ‘own’ ruling class to seek and gain asylum in Britain. Any other stance would be the height of meanness and a total violation of the basic principles of proletarian internationalism.
Labour – not a working-class Party
If the Labour Party were truly a party of the working class, which it decidedly is not, its spokesmen would not be promising the recruitment of 1,000 extra UK border guards to keep immigrants out. They would not be complaining, as the Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper did recently, that during the Coalition government ” the number of people stopped and turned away at the border has halved. A smaller proportion of the people absconding at the border are being found”, adding that “we recently discovered 175,000 failed asylum seekers may not be removed because the Department has ‘limited resources'”. How is this stance any different from that of Ukip?
If indeed Labour had the interests of the working class at heart, it would instead be pinning the blame for all the major ills of our society on capitalism – not on the victims of this system. However, it is not a party of the British proletariat, notwithstanding the shrill assertions of its apologists – ‘left’-wing social democrats, renegade revisionists and counter-revolutionary Trotskyites. Rather than looking after the interests of the working class, it stands, just like the other bourgeois parties, for attacking the working class at home and waging war against the oppressed peoples abroad. And to continue to do that, it needs a divided working class, to which end it is not at all disinclined, just like the other bourgeois parties, to use the weapon of racism.
Migrants are not scroungers
Far from being scroungers, who lead lazy lives on state benefits, repeated studies have shown that just the opposite is the case. The latest study on the subject by two distinguished migration experts at University College, London University, published in November, brings out clearly that between 2000 and 2011, European migrants made a net contribution of £20bn to public finances; of this, £5bn was from East European migrants, educating whom would have cost Britain £6.8bn had their education not been paid for by their countries of origin. If they appear to be contributing to poor housing, bad schools and inadequate health provision, that is mainly due to the fact that, being at the bottom of the pile, they end up in deprived and rundown places which are not provided with decent services and facilities – a fault that is neither theirs nor of the people already eking out an existence in such places.
Disillusionment with bourgeois parties
The rise of Ukip is a reflection of the disillusionment of the electorate with the three major bourgeois political parties, none of which have any real solutions to the problems facing the working class. Having spent gargantuan amounts rescuing the robber barons of finance capital, with the Treasury empty and budget deficits uncomfortably high, wages stagnant despite the economy being allegedly in its sixth year of recovery, the government is busy attacking the working class through continuing austerity as well as waging war abroad. In the absence of a truly revolutionary party of the proletariat, whatever resistance the working class has to offer is channelled into the dead end of support for the Labour Party which promises to implement similar austerity measures only over a slightly longer period sprinkled with ‘kindly’ rhetoric. Thus we find ourselves in the dreadful situation whereby the ruling class not only attacks the working class and wages war on the oppressed people but also, through its agents in the working-class movement, controls the anti-austerity and anti-war campaigns whose function, it would appear, is to pacify the anger of the working class and mobilise them as vehicles for the election of a Labour government. The People’s Assembly against austerity and the Stop the War Coalition perform precisely these dishonourable roles – furious denial by the revisionists and Trotskyites notwithstanding.
A hung parliament likely
Meanwhile, to stop the Ukip bandwagon gathering momentum, Conservatives and Labour are busy putting out the same sort of vicious propaganda against migrants and refugees. Only the results following the coming general election will show if they have scuppered the chances of Ukip emerging as a third major force in the British parliament, eclipsing the LibDems. What is most likely, though, is that the next parliament, like the present one, would be hung, with no party commanding an absolute majority. Whether Labour or the Tories get the most seats will depend on the performance of the SNP (Scottish National Party) in Scotland. If the latter manages, as predicted, to rout Labour in Scotland, and Labour lost quite a few of its 41 seats in Scotland it would thus be deprived of the chance of emerging as the largest party in parliament.
Be that as it may, the working class needs to understand that no bourgeois party has a solution to its problems, for the solution lies outside the bounds of imperialism. There will be no peace on earth, and no end to attacks on the working class, as long as imperialism continues to exist. The overthrow of imperialism alone will bring about the liberation of the working class in the imperialist countries and the vast masses of oppressed people abroad. Unless and until the working class grasps this obvious truth, it is bound to be driven from pillar to post between the Conservatives, Labour and some other outfit like Ukip. Those who are really interested in serving the working class and the oppressed peoples have a duty to work for the building of a truly revolutionary party of the proletariat, without whose leadership the working class cannot accomplish its historical mission of achieving socialism through the overthrow of capitalism.
Europe not overpopulated
Before concluding this article, it is worth emphasising that neither Britain nor the rest of Europe are overpopulated. The European Commission has just published a report on the subject entitled The 2015 aging report: underlying assumption and projection methodologies. It states that in a Europe defined by aging societies, shrinking workforces and stagnant living standards, immigration, while being a political problem, is part of the solution.
The EC report forecasts that immigration into the UK up to 2060 will be to the tune of 9 million people, while net immigration into the EU will total 55 million, of whom 70% will be destined for just four of the EU’s 28 member states: 15.5 million to Italy, 9.2 million to the UK, 7 million to Germany and 6.5 million to Spain. That these projections are likely to be exploited by xenophobic parties such as Ukip in Britain , the Front National in France and the Northern League in Italy, has little to do with the reality of a Europe characterised by an aging and shrinking workforce.
The EC report goes on to say that Africa’s share of the global population is forecast to rise from 15% in 2010, while that of Europe will fall from 7.2% to 5%, despite net migration flows. Overall the EU’s population is forecast to rise to 523 million in 2060 form 507 million in 2013.
According to these projections, Britain will become the EU’s most populous country, with the number of people rising form the present 64.1 million to 86.1 million in 2060, with the French population rising from 65.7 million to 75.7 million, while that of Germany will register a decline from 81.3 million to 70.8. Largely owing to immigration, the UK would wield extra weight in the EU – if, that is, the EU is still in existence by then and the UK continues to be a member of it.
Conclusion of the EC report
European societies are aging so fast that, even with net migration, the EU will in 2060 have only two working-age people for every person over the age of 65, instead of the present four.
Nobody knows whether these projections will actually come to be realised. One thing, however, is clear, i.e., that in the sober analysis of the European ruling classes, immigration is more of an economic necessity than a political choice.
As usual, bourgeois thinking on the subject is marked by a kind of schizophrenia. On the one hand the bourgeoisie whips up racist and anti-immigrant hysteria, the better to divide the working class by diverting the latter’s gaze away from capitalism as the real cause of its misery and laying the blame on the doorstep of immigrants, while on the other hand it at the same time produces well-founded reports that emphasise the necessity of increased immigration.
Overpopulation and immigrants are not the problem. Capitalism alone stands in the way of fraternal harmony, rising prosperity and a peaceful world. Let the working class realise this truth, rise to the occasion and accomplish its historical mission of overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with socialism. Let those who claim to be socialists, Marxist-Leninists, make sure that it is this message, and this alone, that permeates the working-class movement.