Saturday, 28 March 2015

The red and blue wings of the purple party

Among its many other opinion polling activities, YouGov have carried out an intriguing study of “red” and “blue” supporters of United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

UKIP is the party of the hard right which had something of a surge last year. Its support seems mercifully to be eroding these days, but it still stands far higher than is healthy for a nation that wants to remain a liberal democracy. It has yet to come up with anything much one could call policy, but it wants Britain out of the European Union and it really, really doesn’t like immigration.

That anti-immigration – and frankly anti-immigrant – stand really is unshakeable. It is certainly impervious to evidence. The fact that the net effect of immigration has been highly beneficial to the UK fails to sway them. That’s even though recent studies have suggested that close to the quarter of the growth being enjoyed by the country today is down to immigrants.

YouGov doesn’t say how many Ukippers are “red” (former Labour supporters) as opposed to “blue” (former Tories). It simply tells us that “although UKIP voters are more likely to be prior Conservatives, there are a significant number who have also switched from Labour.” What they do tell us, and it’s well worth reading, is who belongs to these two tribes, what beliefs they share and – more interestingly still – what aspirations separate them.

So what unites them?

Unsurprisingly, they all agree in their dislike of immigration and the EU. They’d also like to see a tougher approach to crime and more discipline in schools.

And who are they?

YouGov's presentation of the membership of the two UKIP tribes

Ukippers are relatively old in both groups, but there are more of them in the Blue camp: 54% are 55 and over, against 44% of the red variety, of whom 39% are aged 40-54 against 28% of the Blues. The Blue group tend to be more middle class (55% in groups ABC1 against 45% in C2DE, where for the reds, the percentages are 39% to 61%). None of them are particularly highly educated: 13% of the Blues are graduates, 6% of the Reds and only 15% of the Blues, 13% of the Reds have any other kind of higher education.

The ideas that separate them are curious. The Red trend favours renationalisation of both the railways and the public utilities, which is extraordinary: UKIP is led by Nigel Farage, former Tory, former stockbroker, bankrolled by former Tory donors. Do red Ukippers really believe that such a party, with such a leader, is going to take on private ownership of the economy? Does the fact that they can hold such a belief merely reflect their relative lack of education?

The distinctive views of the Blues (and they’re the majority, remember) are opposition to political correctness, which must be one of the great non-issues of our time, and to the Human Rights Act, reflecting the extraordinary achievement of the right wing, to have made the concept of Human Rights somehow unattractive. They also favour a more punitive justice system.

YouGov's identification of the views that link, or separate, UKIP tribes
What is most striking is how deep the differences are. The pursuit of nationalisation is a notion more usually associated with left wing, populist parties. The authoritarian streak, with its desire for harsher justice and its disdain for human rights, is more associated with the right.

Sadly, we’ve seen such parties before. They build themselves a mass following by adopting some of the rhetoric of the left. In power, though, all that is quickly lost. What remains is the authoritarianism. And as often as not, its earliest targets are the very members of the party who were first attracted by the more populist pretensions.

The reds put the blues in charge. And then become its first victims.

But let’s hope the erosion of UKIP support keeps eroding, so we never have to find out whether they’d go down the same path.

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