Loudly Defending "Little England": Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is the product of Thatcherism's elimination of the threat of Labour's "socialism" and the trade unions' "communism". Their greatest fears allayed, the Little Englanders are now voicing their xenophobic antipathy to globalisation and its consequences.
IN LESS THAN A MONTH the people of the United Kingdom will have a new government. Depending on how the votes fall, one of the key figures in that new government could be Nigel Farage – leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
Frequently interviewed outside a traditional English pub, pint of beer in hand, Mr Farage has spent a decade perfecting his populist political persona: that of the loud, but fearless, member of the local golf club who isn’t afraid to call a guest-worker a “bloody foreigner” – and political correctness be damned!
UKIP claims to speak for “Little England” – think Hobbiton with Range Rovers – a place where retired small businessmen and local branch managers keep their suburban hedges neatly trimmed, and their little squares of lawn as closely shaved as their own ruddy cheeks. Safe within the confines of the golf-club, or down at their local, these Little Englanders grouse and grumble about what they see as their country’s slow dissolution in the acidic cosmopolitanism of the despised European Union (EU) and the caustic demographic backwash of Britain’s long lost Empire.
The success with which Nigel Farage has given voice to this genteel suburban xenophobia has the British Conservative Party running scared.
Time was when Little England’s visceral fear of the “socialists” in the Labour Party, and the “communists” in the trade unions, was sufficient to keep them safely inside the Tory Party’s big tent. But thanks to Margaret Thatcher (the woman Little Englanders would canonise if they could) the great left-wing bogeymen of the 50s, 60s and (especially) the 1970s have been reduced to things of vinegar and brown paper. Ed Miliband undoubtedly possesses many talents, but the ability to frighten Tories isn’t one of them.
With the Left no longer strong enough to keep the Right united, the natural fissures within British conservatism have grown wider.
Little England and UKIP wishes their beleaguered country could look like Inspector Barnaby’s Midsomer (minus the lethal homicide rate). Theirs would be a land of picturesque cottages, thriving high-street shops and large Anglican congregations. A world in which everybody’s white, nobody’s red, and blue is still the colour you call true. UKIP and Little England have no time for the EU’s circle of stars; no time for the Euro; and no time for the tens-of-thousands of “bloody foreigners” pouring across the English Channel.
In their heart-of-hearts they must know that their Little England has never existed outside the pages of Agatha Christie’s whodunits. What made England – and Britain – “great” were her factories, her cities and her highly-skilled working-class. William Blake’s “green and pleasant” England is a place rooted in “ancient time” – one that is quite incompatible with the “dark Satanic Mills” that have made the Britain of modern times so prosperous and heroic.
For all its aristocratic heritage and old-Etonian chic, the modern British Conservative Party was built by Stanley Baldwin, a Big England iron-and-steel industrialist who understood that if British capitalism showed itself to be incapable of sustaining a prosperous and growing middle-class, then its much larger (and considerably less prosperous) working-class would, eventually, put an end to it.
Little England may have loved Margaret Thatcher for smashing Labour and the unions, but it never really grasped the fact that the Left was not broken for the sake of the posh and the toff. On the contrary, Mrs Thatcher broke the Left because she regarded it as an impediment to the modernisation of Britain’s economy. She didn’t want to turn England into Midsomer Worthy, she wanted to turn England into Canary Wharf. Thatcherism was about barrow-boys breaking into boardrooms. It was about the City of London sucking the wealth of Europe into a very big British bang. It was about refashioning the British Labour Party in Thatcherism’s own image.
Mr Farage can sup his traditional English pint, and excoriate David Cameron’s Tories for selling England’s inheritance for a mess of EU-approved pottage, but the truth of the matter is that a Conservative-UKIP coalition government; one at odds with Labour and the Scots, and out of the European Union altogether, would very quickly have the nation on life-support.
What UKIP has yet to grasp is that, given the goals they share, David Cameron and Ed Miliband would rather rule Britain together, than see it decline, out of Europe, on its own.
This essay was originally published by The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 10 April 2015.