The resounding victory of Douglas Carswell in the Clacton by-election has caused something of a stir. Carswell, formerly a Conservative MP, resigned his seat after defecting to the UK Independence Party (UKIP), then stood as UKIP's candidate in the ensuing by-election. His success at the polls gained UKIP their first Westminster seat. 

It is far from clear how much of Carswell's victory was due to his personal popularity - by all accounts he had 15,000 personal pledges of support - and how much was due to support for UKIP. But another by-election on the same day, in the Heywood & Middleton constituency in Rochdale, suggests that rising support for UKIP, or perhaps more accurately falling support for the main parties, might have been a considerable factor. In Heywood & Middleton, Labour barely scraped back in. They won with a margin of only 617 votes - with UKIP in second place. Both the Conservatives and Lib Dems were trounced.

Meanwhile, across the Thames from Clacton, the constituency of Rochester & Strood - where I live - is preparing for its own by-election after the defection of Mark Reckless to UKIP. Like Carswell, Reckless has resigned his Westminster seat and is standing for UKIP in the by-election: the candidate selected by UKIP to stand in the 2015 general election, Dr. Mark Hanson, generously stood aside to make way for Reckless. Reckless does not have the personal popularity of Carswell, but North Kent is among the most Eurosceptic places in Britain:

(heat map h/t @MineForNothing)
It is therefore quite possible that Reckless will win. A recent Survation poll showed UKIP support up by 40% at the expense of the other main parties;
The local Conservatives in Rochester & Strood are worried. They are already on the campaign trail. Yesterday, they rang me. Ostensibly this was to find out about the local and national issues that most concerned me, but really it was to find out my voting intentions both for this by-election and for the general election.  I refused to be drawn on my voting intentions for the main parties. But I did say I would not be voting for UKIP. And in this post, I want to explain why.

Firstly, let me make it clear that my refusal to vote for UKIP does not indicate support for the main parties. I am unimpressed with all of them, and utterly sick of the deficit mania that is gripping politicians and media. The Conservatives need to realise that their figures don't add up: the Liberal Democrats need to be reminded that the deficit is not the economy: and Ed Balls needs to remember that he once knew some economics.  The tax and spending proposals of all three parties demonstrate either total ignorance of the reasons why the UK's fiscal deficit is not reducing as planned, or - more likely - wilful ignoring of the truth for political reasons.

Gavin Kelly of the Resolution Foundation, a rare voice of sanity, reminds us that what politicians say before an election and what they do afterwards are often - thankfully - very different things:
 And let’s not forget that fiscal timetables tend to be malleable. Regardless of anything that gets pledged pre-election, don’t be surprised if greater pragmatism emerges afterwards.
And he suggests that the bleak picture painted by all three parties in response to the deficit panic may, after the election, give way to something rather rosier:
It’s possible to sketch out a picture of the next Parliament that is less gruesome than we might think. Steady, job-rich GDP growth. The eventual resumption of pay rises as unemployment continues to fall. A very slow and gradual path of interest rate increases following rises in living standards, assisted by stable inflation and a housing market tamed by tougher regulation rather than the need for higher mortgage rates. And a timetable for chipping away at the deficit that extends over the parliament.
I'd buy that. But sadly no party is offering it. Until one of them does, I am firmly on the fence. For the first time in my adult life, I am faced with the prospect of being disenfranchised at the forthcoming election because I cannot agree with the policies of any of the main political parties.

And this brings me to UKIP. Many people are fleeing to UKIP (and to a lesser extent the Greens) because they reject the policies of the main political parties. But this is like a rebound relationship: it is founded on disappointment in old love rather than discovery of new love. Many of them would return to the main parties if the policies were changed. The problem is HOW they would need to be changed in order to attract them back.

One of the less welcome effects of prolonged economic difficulties is the rise of nationalism. We are seeing it all across Europe at the moment. You would think it would be most prevalent in the most deeply depressed countries. But that's not the case. The most vociferous nationalist movements are actually in countries that are not (yet) depressed. And this is because people resort to nationalism as a way of hanging on to what they have when they feel it is under threat.

UKIP is a nationalist party. It appeals to people who want "Britain for the British". People who, like my partner, resent the fact that national utilities and large businesses are owned by "foreigners". People who, like the friend who came to see me yesterday, believe that people are coming into this country to freeload on the NHS (but forget about the Club Med Britons, many of them elderly, who "freeload" on the health services of Southern European countries). People who believe that immigrants are costing the country money in benefits, when in fact immigrants are net contributors to the fiscal purse. People who believe that we should "shut the doors" to prevent "foreigners" coming in, taking our jobs and our houses, sponging off our benefits and our health service, breeding like rabbits and crowding out the "indigenous British". Where I live, a lot of people think like this. And since the financial crisis, more people have turned to this sort of nationalistic thinking. UKIP's message is reassuring for people who feel threatened: "This country is ours and we aren't going to share it with anyone".  I sympathise, but I believe they are wrong.
Balkanisation doesn't create prosperity (if you don't believe this, just look at the Balkan economies). Sharing is what makes the world prosperous. Immigration benefits both the immigrants and the country that receives them: it may also benefit the sending country, if migrants remit funds to their families left behind. It is an effective way of improving the prosperity of everyone. The UK's high immigration level has, on balance, benefited it. Yes, there are always people who lose out: it is no accident that the most anti-immigration parts of the UK are areas with high unemployment and areas where local services have been put under strain by high levels of immigration. But this is a matter for fiscal policy to resolve. It is not a reason to close the doors.

UKIP is not only anti-immigration, it is also anti-EU. But membership of the EU has, on balance, benefited the UK. Just as I felt the Scots were wrong to seek to leave a successful union, I feel equally strongly that Britain would be wrong to leave the EU, even though by many measures it is less successful a union than the UK and is seriously threatened by the sheer idiocy of European politicians. The EU needs reform, not rejection. The UK has been instrumental in reforming the EU before and it can, and in my view should, do it again. Counting ourselves out, when we have such extensive trade and business links with the rest of the EU, would be madness.

In any sharing arrangement, however mutually beneficial, people tend to notice what they have to give up more than what they gain. When times are good, they tolerate this, though they may grumble. But when times are hard, people become resentful of giving up to others what they consider to be rightfully theirs. And they start to blame those others for their current difficulties. This is what drives nationalism. At its extreme, it destroys families, friendships and communities. It sets neighbour against neighbour, community against community, country against country. It is fundamentally destructive and it should be resisted, not welcomed.

This is why I will not vote for UKIP.


  1. A vote for the Greens could be positive for alternative economic policies of Basic aka Citizens Income and Land Value Tax, not merely a protest vote, surely?

    1. It could, but I still think a lot of the people who vote Green do so because the Lib Dems and Labour have let them down so badly.

    2. Hi Frances,

      Isn't the 'reluctance to vote for smaller parties / desire to return to larger parties' just a result of the FPTP electoral system? People are aware that they are essentially devaluing their own votes when voting for smaller parties. There'd be little incentive/need to 'return home' politically, under PR, for example.

      I suspect that part of UKIP's rapid ascent is that they've attained that critical mass of "might actually win", thanks to the extensive media coverage. So there's a systemic positive feedback cycle under way; it's largely utilitarian, not ideological.

      Disillusionment with the last 10 years of government (thanks to coalition) obviously rules out all 3 now-culpable main parties. If the Greens/UKIPs media coverage was reversed, I'm convinced the Greens would now have the position of "only FPTP-viable protest vote".

  2. Membership of the hated EU has not benefited us in any way, shape or form. If you cannot see or refuse to see that self-determination is all then you are a misguided fool. Would you let another person dictate to you what you should spend. and on what you should spend, on how you should live your life? Would you accept me dictating to you what you should and shouldn't do. Of course not, but that is what the EU does. and it does it in spades. I have no issue with those outside our shores, I'm more than happy to trade with them and be friends, but I will NOT be dictated to.

    1. I realise you feel strongly about this, but calling me a "misguided fool" because I don't agree with you does nothing to further the debate and is frankly rude. If you wish to comment further here, please refrain from "ad hominem" attacks and gratuitous insults. This comment stream is for polite and reasoned argument, not for ill-tempered rants.

    2. Personally, I tend to believe that Europe is too variable in it's economics to be tied to, as policies made may well not benefit us as a result (I believe similar things about London and the rest of the UK). However, that is more a comment on what type of regulations the EU should concentrate on rather than a view that we should have nothing to do with them.

      I also tend to feel the House of Lords is an outmoded relic.

      However, the number of unutterably stupid laws made by Parliament and struck down by either the House of Lords or the EU in the last 35 years or so (ie since I've been old enough to follow politics) is incredible. It really cuts away at my gut beliefs.

      I am also not convinced by the arguments of Westminster and the press that moving power to anywhere other than Westminster is a bad thing (ie devolution down to local government or up to Europe). Westminster does a very poor job of proving that the country is safe in it's hands, yet also wants all the power for itself.

    3. Seems Green Party sees itself as a protest vote if its spox on BBC4 Today is anything to go by. His line of argument was that a vote for UKIP was a vote for the Tories (same financial City folk...), that the only protest vote was one for the Greens. His party needs to present a more positive image if its serious about an economic challenge.

  3. This will probably write me off an one of the "liberal elite", but anybody who even considers voting for UKIP is an idiot. Do they really think that their actual policies will even deliver anything that they want - apart from the warm glow of living in the 50s again? Is a vote for an old white male former City Boy a vote against the establishment? They're nothing more than the Real Tory Party.

    But they will get plenty of air time from the London media bubble - and the main parties will take their lead from that bubble. It can be seen at work already, where the main story seems to be that Miliband is supposed to be under threat from the UKIP surge. Yet the Heywood & Middleton vote and your Rochester and Strood poll show the Labour vote to be largely solid - despite the media bandwagon - while the Tory and Lib Dem vote is vapourising.

  4. Frances, do you know what proportion of the popn in Rochester & Strood are immigrants? Striking for me for Clacton is that the % of immigrants there is lower than for Essex and indeed England as a whole, and also that unemployment isn't *that* high (though of course this could be a composition effect from the large numbers of retirees):

    I still wonder if UKIP isn't basically the dump-bin of protest votes at elections perceived as meaningless (by-elections and European), which traditionally have gone to the LibDems but don't now that they are part of government. In that case, if history is a guide, a lot are likely to revert to the main parties and esp the Tories at the General. That said, the Heywood & Middleton result is more interesting, suggesting (as you wrote) that voters are pissed off with all the main parties, not just those in government.

    It would be very interesting if we had a "None of the above" on UK ballot papers. I suspect that come next May, it would win in a landslide.

    1. That's fairly normal. The areas that distrust immigrants are normally those where the immigrants aren't.

      I don't really know why people are distrusting immigrants so much on an economic basis. I mean clearly some of it is normal distrust of strangers, and some of it is the media whipping up hate to sell papers. I have to wonder how much of the desire to do so is caused by people deliberately wanting to move attention away from larger issues (such as massive underinvestment, a financial system focussed on gambling on metrics rather than gambling by investing, and the benefits of technological progress being largely given to capital owners), given that the media and political establishment is generally owned by people close to those capital owners.

    2. Actually something just occurred to me: I suspect quite a lot of the population of Clacton are white former Londoners or near-Londoners who moved out decades ago as part of white flight. Thus their attitudes to immigrants are ossified from that era, especially since they don't actually encounter many immigrants where they live.

      Similarly, some of the most virulent anti-immigrant people I have ever met are in the white English expat community in Mallorca, a lot of whom moved out of the UK altogether for the same reasons. The fact that they are immigrants themselves seems an irony quite beyond their comprehension.

    3. As a resident, Frances can confirm, but I was brought up in the Medway Towns and frequently go back. The impression that I get is that the centres of neighbouring Chatham and Gillingham have quite high immigrant populations, but it's lower in Rochester and Strood.

    4. Probably lower in Rochester itself, but Strood has a large Asian immigrant community.

  5. Hi Frances

    I think you might be suffering from that narrow vision espoused by many in politics, that of "nationalism is bad". Is it bad for the Swiss? For the Chinese? or pretty much any other sovereign nation other than the EU and the US, both of whom are falling apart at the seams.

    Yes 'nationalism' can be bad... North Korea, Scotland, but it can also be unifying, especially in times of hardship.

  6. "but forget about the Club Med Britons, many of them elderly, who "freeload" on the health services of Southern European countries"

    I thought the UK paid towards the healthcare costs of UK pensioners in other UK countries e.g. 4000 Euros per pensioner p.a. in Spain and 8000 Euros in Ireland.

    Isn't only migrant workers paying taxes/social security are entitled to use the host countries health care system?

    1. Gary,

      You've made exactly my point. Legal immigrants to the UK are no more "freeloading" on the UK's NHS than legally-resident expat Britons are "freeloading" on other healthcare systems. They either contribute through their taxes or there is a payment from the host country. I think my friend was referring to healthcare tourism, but I'd say there's more of that going on I the other direction - Britons going to Eastern Europe for cheap liposuction and cancer treament they can't get in the UK.

    2. You're comparing apples and oranges. No other health system in Europe (and probably in the world) allows someone to get off a plane, rock up at A&E, and get treatment for whatever ails them, totally for free. But we do. For example if you live in Spain, even as a pensioner you have to pay a monthly fee to their version of the NHS. Its not free. And if you're not registered with the system the care is not free either. So anyone just turning up will get short shrift. Try getting free health care in Spain if you fall ill on holiday, you won't get very far without a credit card. Whereas anyone can turn up at A&E here and they'll get the same treatment as a native, for nothing.

      And comparing foreign nationals using the NHS totally for free with UK nationals going to Eastern Europe and paying for their own private treatment is nonsense. The two are utterly incomparable.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Jim

      Check out 'Reciprocal Health Care Agreements'. Many countries do.
      As an Australian, I can in the UK, just as you could during a holiday in Australia.

    5. Jim,

      EU nationals are entitled to healthcare in any of the countries of the EU. However, healthcare systems vary from country to country and what is free in the UK is not necessarily free in other EU countries. For example, in the UK seeing a doctor is free, but in France (I think) there Is a fee. But of course even in the UK healthcare is not totally free - for example, in England there are prescription charges.

      There are also reciprocal arrangements under which nationals of one country can receive treatment in another that is not available in their own country.

      For me, the fact that I can access healthcare anywhere in the EU on the same terms as nationals of whichever country I am in is a huge relief and I really wouldn't want to see it ended.

  7. "Sharing is what makes the world prosperous".

    Very true, sharing is what makes the economy go round.
    Capitalism is the simplest form of sharing, and it works well for the simplest (low value, fast transaction/relationships) activities. For big, complex, multiple party things, it doesn't work so well. Other arrangements are needed, generally with regulations and governance bodies to facilitate ownership, management and protection.

    From this distance, it looks that the UKIP has no idea what it would do for/with the economy, once it left the European Union.

  8. I don't like UKIP but I am prepared to vote for them this time - to shake up the useless incumbents. I live in an erstwhile safe Tory seat with a useless MP with no interest in the area and where necessary projects have been ignored for decades.

    Practically speaking there is no realistic chance of UKIP getting enough power in May to leave the EU or do any lasting harm - but they could give the incumbents a really good scare and shake them up - in effect we could get offered a much better product in 2020 - the real prize.

    No point worrying about wasting 5 years in between - on present form it will be same-old same-old. So everything to play for I feel. Think of politicians as tools to be hired for the job at hand.

  9. I'm waiting for a party to state that there should be zero or near zero net migration. I feel that this would benefit the quality of life eventually in the Uk. This is an island with finite space and finite resources after all.. even back in WW2 self sufficiency in food was not possible, and there are far more people in the Uk now.

    For this to happen both border controls would need to be improved and something like the Australian style system introduced. Please note that I'm not suggesting no immigration I'm saying balance it with migration! And I guess for economics this may not be desirable however as increased population tends to higher GDP?


  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Many British people feel that things are changing too fast, that the familiar old towns are nowadays full of foreign shops and foreigners, speaking foreign languages. They feel alienated in their own land. They vote UKIP because they think they can turn the clock back. They don't care about the economics.

    1. I walked through the town centre of my home town the other day (a bog standard middle England town, by no means a inner city type environment) and lost count of the foreign languages I heard being spoken. Every other person wasn't British it seemed. Our country has been transformed in front of our eyes, and not for the better, and the liberal elite wonder why we're pretty p*ssed off about it, because they can get a cheap nanny and housekeeper, so immigration is wonderful isn't it?

    2. Why are you afraid of people speaking foreign languages?

  12. I don't strongly disagree with anything you write here, but I sense a bit of confusion in the ideas. For example, you say people are voting for the UKIP "because they reject the policies of the main political parties." but then you - correctly - note that the UKIP is a nationalistic party.

    I think what that means is that the a vote for the UKIP isn't so much a rejection of the policies of the main parties as it is an indication that the UKIP offers something *more* than the main parties. The more that it offers is simply, as you say, nationalism.

    The message that people like Farage project is that you don't have to be PC, you can say what you want, you can reject the European project, and be nationalistic. Well, I am old enough to remember when nationalism was the default, not the nationalism of fascism or anything close to it, but a positive nationalism that permitted pride in country and culture, and did not require a cultural cringe in the face of oh, so superior, Europe, nor a knee-jerk rejection of our own history. That makes Farage's blunt nationalism quite attractive.

    I also agree with a lot of what you write about the UKIP. They have many negatives. In fact, I dislike all single policy parties because the tend to be principled about only one issue and completely opportunistic on all the others. However, I think that we have to recognize that Farage has a kind of political genius in that he has recognized that there is a deep seam of national frustration that can be mined for votes.

    I think that frustration comes from a couple of sources. One is that way we are constantly berated about a history we used to be proud of. Second is that we are more and more accountable to unelected foreign officials. And third that the EU is an instinctively anti-British entity and European politicians generally tend to be patronising toward the British and in fact, often completely impertinent. Just this week, Schauble was saying "You should join the euro. It would be better for you." No evidence, no logical argument, just do it because a superior German tells you to do it.

    My bottom line is simple. I hope the Tories take us out of the EU and get us back to running our own country, but if Cameron can't do it, I am quite prepared to wait for the UKIP to gain the seats they need to do it themselves. My more realistic expectation is that it will be a combination, and that in the end a Tory-UKIP coalition will do the job. In other words, I don't reject the Tories, but I see the UKIP adding a determination that the Tories lack. Evidently I am not alone.

    1. Jon,

      It's not confusion, exactly, more that I didn't extend the argument enough. I realised after I posted this that I had not really discussed why alienation from mainstream politics would drive people towards a nationalist party.

      However, I would say that the commenters on this post - including you - have gone a long way towards answering that question. Mainstream politics is not addressing the real issues. But nationalism is a symptom, not a cause. Pandering to "Britain for the Brits" nationalism will not solve the underlying problems, some (but not all) of which you identify.

      You want to blame Europe for the loss of pride in British culture and British history. But I am as British as you and as proud of my history and my culture as you, and I am every bit as angry as you at the creeping erosion of national sovereignty that the EU as currently configured is causing. Yet I don't feel the need to lash out at Europe. I see the benefits of participation in Europe and I don't want my country hurt by an angry and messy exit.

      I totally disagree that UKIP offers "more" than mainstream politics. It actually offers less, since as others have pointed out, ALL it offers is exit from Europe and restricted immigration. It has no clear economic or social policies and is deeply divided. Nationalism alone is not enough to run a country.

    2. "I totally disagree that UKIP offers "more" than mainstream politics. It actually offers less, since as others have pointed out, ALL it offers is exit from Europe and restricted immigration. It has no clear economic or social policies and is deeply divided. Nationalism alone is not enough to run a country."

      I agree but a lot of people feel that UKIP is against the cause of the problems and speaks out against them and does something against them. You talk about the problem being in EU politics but not in EU. You cannot separete the two really. More and more this seems to me utopian project that ends in catastrophe.
      “There will be no repatriation of EU powers. It is not our problem; it is not us making the demands. You are either ‘in’ or ‘out’.”

      Jose Manuel Barroso has warned in the past that plans to retrieve powers to member states are “doomed to failure” saying:
      “What is difficult, or even impossible, is if we go for the exercise of repatriation of competences because that means revising the treaties and revision means unanimity. From my experience of 10 years, I don’t believe it will work.”

      You say It needs to be reformed, I beleive this is wishful thinking. The biggest problem is monetary union of course but not only. This union to be politically manageable it needs to be a federation. People in member states don't want to lose national democracy. i have asked this question from European Parliament canditades in Estonia. How you see the financial unbalance problem to be solved and high unemployment fixed in member states? They say almost the same, "Europe needs to change, it has changed and it will change bla bla bla" with no plan or vision what to do. European politics are so distant from ordinary people that they don't even feel their decision changes anything, It is just sort of in fashion to be with the West and not with Russia in Eastern Europe. Almost nothing can be done on national government level in response to demand shocks and high unemployment. Watch this video Coppola, I am interested on your take :)

  13. It is noticeable that the CBI document you refer to assumes the UK could not make trade deals without the EU's help.
    The immigration document disputes Migrationwatch's methodology-very much a "Mandy Rice Davies moment"! Also it seems to take no account of future demands on our Ponzi welfare system.

    1. I picked one at random out of a long list of documents that show the positive effect of immigration. As for welfare - by far the biggest demands on our welfare system come from the elderly, who are of course almost entirely indigenous.

    2. And the incomers will never grow old?......hence the point about future demands.

    3. So, the incomers will not become old?

  14. UKiP is the biggest mistake of British policy. But it's problem of people from UK not main. I hope they will never play big role on political scene.

  15. Francis presents the British with a false choice.
    Between the old Imperialistic nationalism of the UK and the lack of either local or national self determination of today.
    Of course British nationalism is a absurdity given its proto euro like creation.

    You must see a nation as not a undifferentiated mass of indivduals but as a collection of frustrated communities ,large and small .whose rightfull powers of self goverment have been usurped in recent centuries by bureaucracies in Dublin , London ., Brussels etc etc.

    The erosion of self government at for example a city level continues at a unbridled pace.
    However we have now entered a extreme supranational level of extraction.

    Unfortunetly London has always remained at the epicentre of this centralizing darkness.

  16. PS
    We are not dealing with a immigrantation policy we are dealing with a plantation policy .
    A epic world event of some importance.

    The banks behind the modern post feudal centralized state have done this on repeated occasions - the idea is to create a flux in society where traditional non monetary cultural practices are replaced by a society that becomes ever more deeply monetized.
    The Ulster & Munster plantations are a classic example of this but I have also seen this at a micro level in Corsica where the Genoese planted Greek settlers in a coatal town so as to acheive the same objectives.

  17. Even if membership of the EU has on balance helped the UK, I am concerned over loss of national sovereignty and the fact the EU requires a VAT, a very inefficient tax that harms the UK.


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