The John McDonnell Column
The media are in a frenzy over the electoral rise of UKIP. But why are people surprised at all about the emergence and performance of UKIP?
It falls to the left to help explain that the rise of UKIP is extremely predictable.
After weeks of canvassing you find that you need a simple doorstep response to those people who say they’re thinking of voting UKIP. We must put this explanation into readily understandable terms so people have a very straightforward narrative to support and repeat.
It goes like this.
In every period of recession opportunist politicians from the right have emerged to seize upon the hardships people face to exploit them for their own ends. They always have to find a scapegoat to distract people from the real causes of the recession.
In this recession it is UKIP. In the past it’s been Mosley’s fascists in the 1930s and the National Front in the 1980s. The scapegoats were the Jews and later blacks and Asians. UKIP are publicly seizing upon European migrants as the scapegoat and privately many of their spokespeople are targeting all migrants. The Tories are targeting people on welfare benefits, especially people with disabilities.
It’s the same old story. Our response is to address the hardships people are facing, explain the real causes and offer real solutions.
The hardships UKIP has focused on are homes and jobs. The shortage of housing had been caused by successive governments not investing in council housing. House prices have soared because of the housing shortages and rents have increased massively because rent controls were scrapped. There are also 600,000 homes standing empty.
The solution is not rocket science. We should launch a large scale building programme, compulsorily purchase empty homes and sites for construction and introduce cheap mortgages with no deposit requirements and bring back rent controls.
The competition for jobs is caused by a still sluggish economy only slowly recovering from the recession caused by the bankers. The government is failing to invest in creating the jobs we need. The solution is a public investment programme not only in housing but in sectors like alternative energy and insulation, as set out in the Green New Deal, to provide one million new sustainable jobs.
The reason people feel so insecure at work is because this Coalition government is trying to introduce a new form of feudalism. Under the new feudal system the Lords at the top are replaced by super rich oligarchs and corporations. Their aim is that the rest of us become treated as the new serfs, working on zero-hours contracts, for as little as possible with no rights at work and no ability to fight back through our trade unions. Under the government’s workfare system people on benefits are forced to work for nothing or face sanctions and destitution with complete loss of income. It’s the new modern form of slavery.
Of course employers will try to use migrants and the unemployed to cut wages and employment conditions. They always do. The enemy is not the migrant and unemployed person who is just desperate for work but the companies and bosses that try to divide and rule us. The answer as it has always been is to organise together to protect and improve wages and conditions. The best way of doing this is to join a union and fight back.
The migrants who have come here, like every other wave of migrants to this country, are making a major contribution to our society, and with an ageing population these young migrants are ensuring that we have an economy that can pay for the services needed by the elderly.
If we can explain the rise of UKIP in this straightforward way we also need to explain why the Labour Party has not been able to benefit from people’s discontent. The reasons are also straightforward. Labour was not only implicated in causing the economic crisis but also has failed to provide a simple message of how it would give people hope that their needs and concerns would be addressed by a Labour government.
Just a few simple policies of hope would do it. Under Labour everyone will have a home. Everyone will have a job, and a living wage in work or a citizen’s income out of work. Everyone will have free travel, healthcare, childcare, care for the elderly and education throughout life. We will have a programme of building council homes, cheap mortgages, rent controls, public investment in jobs, a fair tax system, public ownership of rail, ending privatisation in the NHS and scrapping tuition fees.
That should see off UKIP and the Coalition.
John McDonnell is MP for Hayes and Harlington and Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and of the Labour Representation Committee.