Riding immigration to Westminster

I saw this at work today, and just had to write about it: while 12% of Britons indicated intention to vote for the UKIP according to the latest YouGov voting intention polls (a significant rise compared to 2010’s actual 3.1% and late 2012’s projected 8%), double that amount seem to consider the party the most trustworthy “to deal with the issue of immigration” (compared to Conservatives’ 19%, Labour’s 12% and the Lib Dems’ 5%).

While it is too early to draw any concrete conclusions, said figures are indicative of the existing influence of UKIP on the current British political agenda, which is highly likely to increase even more – along with its projected votes. One need not look far for signs. Earlier this month, Labour addressed immigration in a party political broadcast for the first time in their institutional history, admitting being “wrong in the past” about the issue. The governing coalition’s recent decision to scrap and re-structure the UK Border Agency was called by home affairs commentators a “sign of politicians spooked by UKIP”.

The UKIP wastes no time in capitalising on policy shifts caused, in part, by its increasingly important role in British politics. Mere hours after David Cameron’s EU referendum speech, Nigel Farage was calling the referendum debate “UKIP’s biggest victory to date“, boasting that the party was “more relevant than ever”. Similarly, Farage called the PM’s late March 2013 immigration speech “a clear echo of UKIP’s policy”, arguing that the real aim of government policy ideas on the issue of migration is “to counter the threat of UKIP”.

It’s safe to argue that, judging from the results of these recent YouGov polls, the threat is all too real.

One has to wonder, though; were those respondents really aware of the party’s hardline stance on immigration and asylum (their aim to reintroduce the ‘Primary Purpose Rule’ is an illustrative example),  or simply making an emotional, protest choice loosely based on known party line? I am inclined toward the second, but lack any data to back this up.

However, the more I look at latest developments in British politics, the more I am convinced I am watching a re-run of  post-2009 Greece. Ruling right wing party of country in recession loses votes from its right flank on issues such as immigration, adopts increasingly hardline stance, ultimately fails to avert disgruntled voters from veering towards previously insignificant right wing party. At the same time, previously insignificant right wing party influences government agenda, capitalises on ruling party’s increasingly hardline stance on issues such as immigration claiming at the same time it is nowhere near enough, attracts disgruntled voters, becomes key player.

A further similarity is that UKIP’s support comes from “workers towards the bottom end of the pay scale, struggling to get by with increased living costs, while a difficult business climate and redundancy continue to threaten”; an expanding audience under current circumstances. Herein, I believe, lies the true reason behind the current focus on immigration, and UKIP’s recent successes. As recession bites deeper into the economy, and traditional political forces fail to get things right, disappointed voters are looking for culprits and change agents. Inevitably, immigrants “taking British jobs” fit that first category perfectly. The UKIP is trying hard to fit the second and it looks like it’s succeeding.

Thankfully, in the case of the UK, no protest votes have gone to neo-Nazi nationalists or junta nostalgists.

That being said, watch this space. The UKIP, after all, has a right flank as well.

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