On the one hand, listening to the radio this morning one couldn’t help but laugh out loud when the general secretary of UKIP described the party as akin to the Black Death in that it lies dormant for a long time and then comes back to life when you are least expecting it. He will hopefully open them to ridicule and do damage to the party in the short term. What he actually meant was that the Black Death was a positive development in that it freed people up from the necessity of staying in their village in the long term and led, some have argued, to the development of modernity and the end of feudalism. Be that it is it may, it was a pretty stupid thing to say.
However, it was not necessarily wrong and as welcome as it is to see the party reduced the point where it has only a few councillors left in the country, it would not be a good idea to disagree with Paul Oakley’s basic point that what UKIP represents is indeed a dormant force. Xenophobic populism morphing into outright fascism is always a real and present danger in any liberal democracy. When the conditions are right then populist and simplistic answers to specific and complex questions are always sought.
It is the vagaries of the United Kingdom’s electoral system of First Past The Post that has prevented the far right from ever attaining more than marginal success in electoral terms. This does not mean, however, that there is no potential for its development. Although I am in favour of electoral reform (along German/Scottish lines) we should also be under no illusion that a party like UKIP would not do well under that system. We only have to look at the rise of the AfD in Germany – now the official opposition in Parliament — to see that danger. However, it is perverse to argue that we should cleave to an undemocratic electoral system (as perverse as it is to cling to the hope that the unelected House of Lords will save us from Brexit) rather than build alliances against the hard right.
Unfortunately, the traditional hard left seems also to be going on this sort of anti-elitist binge which smacks increasingly of national Bolshevism.
Now is not the time to be attacking liberal democracy as some sort of elitist plot, in the hope that coat tailing xenophobia and populism will lead to a socialist revolution. This was tried once before when significant parts of the German left reacted to the rise of fascism in the 1930s by trying to steal their clothes on the spurious grounds that after fascism it would be their turn. This mad Stalinist policy was counter-productive then and is certainly counter-productive now. For all their faults the EU and the Democratic party in the US are the only realistic games in town against the rise of Russian and Trumpian xenophobic nationalism.