This article originally appeared in the Norwegian daily Verdens Gang Link here
Britain’s “winner takes all” electoral system must seem staggeringly unfair to Norwegians or the citizens of any country with proportional representation.
It meant in most of Britain that you had to vote for the Conservative or Labour Party if you wanted a say in government. Outside of the nationalist and sectarian bastions of Scotland and Northern Ireland, if you expressed another preference, you would waste your vote supporting a party that had no chance of gaining more than a handful of Members of Parliament, even if it represented 15 per cent or more of the population.
For all its unfairness, there was something to be said for the British way of doing politics. It helped ensure that Britain never had a mass fascist or communist party, and gave us “strong government”. The British had no choice but to be sensible.
Many don’t want to be sensible anymore. Being sensible makes no sense in a Europe torn by crisis. The disintegration of mainstream centre-right and centre-left parties you can see everywhere is happening here. But there’s a difference. If a Dane votes for the Danish People’s Party of a Finn for the True Finns, proportional representation will ensure that their votes matter. In Britain, winner takes all ensures that their votes won’t count.
Rational calculation is out of fashion, now. Millions of people are so disgusted with respectable, mainstream politics that they no longer care whether their vote counts or not. They will forget about their electoral system, and vote for the UK Independence Party’s programme of restricting immigration and leaving the European Union and its clever and slippery leader Nigel Farage.
Respectable journalists in London want to cling to the myth that Britain remains a moderate and sensible country, and hate it when I describe Ukip as a “far right party”. In a small way they have a point. Ukip’s leaders do not come from a neo-Nazi background, but from among conservatives who still worship Margaret Thatcher. They oppose the European Union, because it threatens British sovereignty and mass immigration and multiculturalism because they threaten British identity. Voters, who you might have thought had little in common with them, feel the same fear.
As true Thatcherites, Ukip’s are ideologically opposed to the welfare state. But the appeal of Ukip’s British nationalism means that huge numbers of working class and particularly elderly voters will support them. Ukip’s core supporters have been left behind by globalisation and by the dominant liberal culture of political correctness. They feel they no longer recognise their country. They feel it is no longer “theirs” at all.
Whether you are in Norway or Britain, you had better get used to Ukip-style movements. Old people are more likely to vote, and as the population ages, there are more of them. Everyone will have to reckon with their discontents.
But the “far right” label is not wholly wrong for all the qualifications I must make. Ukip allies with Polish far rightists in the European Parliament, who recycle all the usual denials of the Holocaust. Ukip candidates and its wealthy backers are always being exposed by the press for saying that black British citizens cannot be truly British, or that women cannot take senior jobs because they lack the drive and intelligence of men, or that God punishes Britain for allowing gay men to have sex by sending floods to southern England.
Farage himself is a brilliant manipulator of prejudice. He whips it up, and then pulls back at the last minute before anyone can accuse him of inciting violence. His defiance of polite pieites has succeeded in persuading the public that he is an honest man who tells truths his cowardly rivals dare not utter.
His public image is a lie, if I may use blunt language. Indeed I will go further and say that even by the standards of the British – a people famed the world over for our hypocrisy – Farage is the most astonishing charlatan. He does not attend the meetings of the European parliament to defend British interests, but pockets the money of the “hardworking taxpayers” he claims to represent and then runs away. He claims to be a patriot, but just like Marine le Pen defends Britain’s enemies in the Kremlin.
What is so depressing is that rather than take Ukip on, as Angela Merkel took on the anti-Muslim demonstrators in Dresden, Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party and David Cameron have appeased Ukip. Cameron has tried to compete with Ukip on the right, and win back its voters by assuring them that he will as tough as Farage on immigration. Miliband meanwhile is so frightened of losing white working class votes he dare not mount a principled attack.
Paradoxically, nothing justifies the contempt of Ukip supporters for mainstream political parties as much as the willingness of mainstream parties to flatter and indulge their prejudices
However few seats it wins in the British general election on May 7, Ukip has already won. It has succeeded in making Britain a smaller and nastier country.