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British Perspectives, March 2014 congress
British Perspectives, March 2014 congress
70. Opinion polls vary on attitudes to the EU. Some in the last six months have given a majority to leaving the EU, while the most recent puts the support for leaving at 28%, with another 38% wanting to stay in but to reduce EU powers (State of Nation Survey December 2013). Support for UKIP is clearly not primarily related to its views on Europe. The State of the Nation poll also asked potential UKIP voters why they would consider voting for it. Just 15% said it was because it had the best policies for Britain, 27% said it had the best policies for Europe, but more than half (56%) said they would vote UKIP as a means to 'protest against the mainstream political parties'. Earlier this year UKIP surged to 20% in the polls. It is now back at around 10% but could come first in the Euro elections on 22 May. This is partly because related issues will obviously be at the fore in these elections, but more because workers feel it is safe to use the European elections to make a protest vote. UKIP is a right-wing populist party, with a leadership of stock-brokers and arch reactionaries. In the past it was mainly disaffected Tory voters who supported it, but it is now picking up some ex-Labour voters. Nigel Farage is consciously encouraging this. As John Harris pointed out in the Guardian he is the only politician who gets coverage in the mainstream media who uses the term working-class in a positive sense. One reason UKIP has been able to pick up a vote is because it puts forward anti-immigrant propaganda, but is seen as 'more respectable' than the BNP. However, the main reason is because angry voters want a stick with which to beat the main parties, and UKIP is the only one to hand. It is still not certain how far UKIP can develop. Even a good vote in the European elections will not necessarily mean it can go on to make gains in Westminster, although it is likely to poll well enough to lose the Tories a few seats. Nonetheless, UKIP's growth is a dangerous development which may, like right-wing and far-right populist formations in other countries of Europe, gain some stability, particularly in the continued absence of a mass workers' party.
While Europe is not the central reason for UKIP's success, it is a factor, and an important issue for the workers' movement. Different sections of the working class do not see the question of Europe identically. For some, the arguments of the TUC leadership that Europe provides some limited protection against the vicious British capitalists still have some legitimacy. Others, particularly some young people, see it as positive because they are internationalist or are repelled by the 'little Englander' Tories. However, growing numbers of workers associate Europe with instability and austerity. Important sections of organised workers have also experienced the way that European directives have been used to drive through privatisation and the undermining of workers' rights. This is reflected in the numbers who want to leave the EU, but also the overwhelming majority who support the holding of a referendum on EU membership. We are taking part in the RMT imitative to stand in the European elections under the electoral banner 'No2EU-Yes 2 workers' rights'. We argued that this campaign could have been run under the auspices of TUSC, linked to the local election campaigns on the same day, but the opposition of the Communist Party (CPB) means that this proposal was not adopted. We then argued for a specific reference to socialism in the name which was also not adopted, although it is in the programme. However, while the campaign has not adopted all of our proposals it is completely correct for us to take part in it. It is an attempt to put a working-class internationalist alternative to the European Union which has, from its inception, been an agreement between the capitalist classes of Europe in order to further their interests, and is today very clearly an instrument of austerity.