The results for all 650 constituencies in, time to make some brief observations.
(1) Almost everyone was wrong (including myself). It is 1992 all over again, with opinion polls massively understating Conservative support.
(2) Regionally, the story was essentially one of Conservative and SNP triumph in England and Scotland, respectively. Miliband (Labour), Clegg (LibDem), and Farage (UKIP) all resigned within the hour. The Tories can now govern for the next 5 years without having to accomodate any coalition partner. Cameron must be a very happy man today.
(3) Once again the inadequacies of the FPTP electoral model were on full display, with UKIP getting 3.9 million votes and one seat (!) while the SNP got 1.5 million votes and 56 seats. That is because the latter got pluralities in almost all Scottish regions, while UKIP was perenially scoring second place to the Conservatives in England.
(4) Our good friend Matthew Atkins, interviewed here, got 10% in his constituency of Lancaster and Fleetwood, which is a respectable result for a region where Labour is strong. If UKIP hadn’t been scoring 10%-15% across most of England – primarily to the loss of the Conservatives – then even more of England would have been blue, including Lancaster and Fleetwood.
(5) Bearing the above point in mind, the vision of the country by national lines becomes even starker than what would be implied by this map (Blue = Conservatives; Red = Labour; Yellow = SNP; Orange = Liberal Demorats; Green = various Welsh and Irish nationalists):
EDIT: As whyvert points out in the comments, the 2015 map here seems to be based on forecasts, as opposed to the actual elections results. Here is the real map. Nothing changes cardinally, just the English/Scottish border is no longer delineated quite as neatly, and the Conservative victory in England becomes all the more absolute.
This is what we have now:
A very convincing Conservative win in England, where it has repositioned itself successfully as the party that looks after English interests.
A spectacular SNP sweep in the north.
Which is to the detriment of Labour, the party that has been historically strong throughout the Kingdom: In Scotland, the industrial northwest, immigrant communities, and the socialist parts of London.
With nationally-orientated parties in the ascendant throughout the country, questions must be asked as to how long the UK will be able to hold together, the failure of Scotland’s independence referendum last year regardless. The economy is in a stable long-term stagnation (real GDP per capita has even now yet to recover to its peak level of 2007), while big deficit spending continues. There will likely now be a further wave of austerity, which will not please leftist Scots. Cameron has also promised a referendum on EU membership for 2017, should the Conservatives win an outright majority in the current elections, which they have. Polls indicate this refenredum will probably fail, but as we have seen, polls can be deceptive. If that vote wins, it may well provoke another Scottish crisis, since Scots are very EU-friendly, and for many of them it would be just another case of the English deciding their fates.
This is not to say that I think the UK will break up sometime this decade. To the contrary, a whole chain of things still has go wrong (or right, depending on your outlook) for that to happen. No, my argument is far more minimal. It is that the political challenges the UK faces to its continued existence have not vanished after the failure of the Scottish independence referendum.
The UK will be holding its general elections on May 7th, potentially – probably, if the opinion polls are anything to go by – bringing to an end the past five years of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. Neither the Conservatives, nor Labour – the UK’s two main parties – are projected to get anywhere near a majority of the seats. Its “first past the post” electoral system means that the Scottish Nationalist Party is poised for a sweep of Scotland’s 59 constituencies, crippling Labour’s chances of a national majority.
Fortunately for Labour, the Conservatives are getting undermined by the rising star on the bloc, the populist, anti-EU UK Independence Party headed by the colorful Nigel Farage. As a result, many constituencies that were previously Tory fiefdoms will now go to Labour (like third party candidates in the US, sizable parties like UKIP and the Greens can act as spoilers on the dominant parties, but they cannot win many seats themselves). The “hollowing out” of Tory support by the UKIP is driven by rising popular disillusionment with the Conservatives for their perceived elitism and failure to stem mass immigration, which is inflicting pain on the British working class. As for the other parties, the Liberal Democrats have seen their approval ratings collapse due to their volte face on university tuition hikes in 2010, and as a consequence have returned to their old status of political mediocrity; it is now the SNP, not the LibDems, who are likely to be the kingmakers in any coalition arrangement. The end result of this electoral shift, ironically, is that some kind of Labour-SNP-Green coalition is now a very real possibility.
I have lived in the UK for some time. One of my friends there, Matthew Atkins, has become UKIP’s candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood, a region in north-west England that is known for being one of the focal points of the industrial revolution. In an attempt to understand the new forces that are sweeping aside the old structures of British politics, I conducted an email interview with him in which I solicited his thoughts and opinions on where Britain is going and what role UKIP is going to play in this. The French journalist and intellectual Craig Willy, whom I also interviewed a few years back, joined me in the interrogations.
Personally, I think Atkins has provided some excellent and thought provoking answers to what are some difficult and even politically awkward questions. I thank Atkins for his time and energy; it is especially appreciated given that the interview took place very close to the elections date, when campaining is, presumably, at its most intense. I also thank Craig Willy for contributing his own carefully considered questions on EU and foreign policy issues.
Anatoly Karlin vs. Matthew Atkins
AK: Please tell us a bit about yourself, why you joined UKIP, why you chose to stand as its candidate in Lancaster and Fleetwood, and which of its policies are dearest to you and which ones you have some issues with (surely there are at least one or two?).
MA: I was born in Dundee in Scotland and moved to the Lancaster area when I was 14. After school I went away to university in Oxford and worked for a couple of years in London. After that I came back to Lancaster and studied at the university for a Masters and I am currently doing a Phd (all in Law). I am standing in Lancaster because I feel like it is my home town, even though I actually live just over the constituency boundary (we have strange constituency borders which don’t reflect community ties in our area).
My support for UKIP began because I drifted away from the Conservative party in a lot of ways and eventually realised I actually believed in what UKIP were saying not the Tories. To list a few factors:
As a grammar school boy (single-sex, selective, state funded education), I support grammar schools, only UKIP still back them.
The coalition government’s changes to student tuition fees are sheer madness, and will result in unpaid debts of £300Bn or so by the middle of the century.
I did not agree with the Conservative planning policy that led to the spread of wind turbines which I think are expensive and don’t really work. I do not believe Britain belongs in the European Union, because we do not believe in political union and we have a different social and economic outlook to continental Europe. I also think it holds us back from engaging properly with the rest of the work and creates unnecessary bureaucracy.
Additionally, a spell volunteering with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, local community advice centres, probably moved my politics a bit to the left on the economy. I think I saw more first hand how right wing economics can adversely impact on poorer communities unless policy transition is managed very carefully, even though I still fundamentally am an economic conservative.
However, the catalyst which actually got me actively involved in politics and caused me to join UKIP was the Redefinition of Marriage Act. As a person of strong faith, this was an unacceptable betrayal by the Conservative party of a large section of their vote, as it was done without a mandate, without a proper debate and without consideration of the consequences for people of faith. UKIP were the only major party to recognise the importance of Christian values to the history and social fabric of Britain, as well as the implications of the Act for Christians and other people of faith, and so I became a member and active supporter of the party. Once in the party I engaged properly with the debate on immigration for the first time because it had never affected me personally before. I immediately began to see the massive groundswell of public opinion on the subject was not just ignorance and bigotry but actually reflected huge social and economic changes that were going on in parts of the UK as a result of uncontrolled economic migration to the UK, particularly in traditionally working class communities.
Therefore the policies which are closest to me personally are not necessarily those which are the most important to the party, though I am obviously still strongly behind the UKIP line on those areas. The party has 5 main pledges: Leave the EU, Control our borders and cut immigration, Cut foreign aid (which is now a very bloated budget in the UK), Put £3Bn more into doctors and nurses in the NHS and Take minimum wage earners out of taxation (for efficiency reasons as well as to help low earners make ends meet). Personally, the UKIP stance on freedom of conscience, protection of religious freedom and the importance of Christian values is one of the most important policy areas. I believe freedom of conscience legislation is now urgently needed to protect Christians in the teaching profession, churches and religious organisation and in the workplace more widely from the encroachment of equalities legislation on traditional moral values. Also close to my heart is the policy to essentially scrap tuition fees for STEMM subjects, I think we need to go back down the road of fewer students but free places urgently or our university system will rapidly be in a mess.
Policy areas of UKIP I am less keen on are things like limiting child benefit to 2 children for new claimants, but that is because I am from a big family (one of four). There tends to be a pretty stark split between those from families with lots of kids and those with fewer kids on this issue. I also recognise that it may be arguably a fairer approach than at present. Ironically, given the fact the first past the post system is a huge disadvantage to UKIP, I am not that much of a fan of voting reform. We had a recent referendum rejecting AV, and I dislike AV because I think your first vote should be your only vote, it means much more. PR I think is a step in the wrong direction because I think candidates need to be more accountable to local constituents not less so, but I know there are many systems, some of which retain an element of local representation. However, these are minor quibbles, in general I think we have an excellent manifesto in almost every policy area (I am about 97% UKIP on whoshouldIvotefor type websites ).
AK: UKIP is the closest the UK has to what might be a traditionalist party, and I appreciate that this is why you as a man of Christian faith were drawn to them. However, it appears to me that Farage has been yoyoing on these issues of late, especially when it comes to gay marriage. First he was against it, then dithered, then changed his tack completely and said that it would be “grossly unfair and unethical to ‘un-marry’ loving couples or restrict further marriages.” It seems that he has conceded the culture war has been lost and is merely trying to salvage whatever he can, such as allowing churches to opt out. Perhaps it is simply inevitable, with even 54% of UKIP voters supporting gay marriage. Surely it is electorally prudent. But considering Robert Conquest’s Second Law of Politics – that “any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing” – is it consistent with a longterm commitment to social conservatism and traditional British values?
MA: I don’t really dispute that you are bang on right about most of this. UKIP is a libertarian party not a Christian one, it is not proposing to repeal same-same marriage, and even I accept that for that to happen there would have to be a significant cultural shift back to faith in the UK, which may not be likely to happen so I will not be actively fighting for the repeal of same-sex marriage, but I do want to push for the cultural shift back to the Christian faith, for a lot of reasons, not just this particular issue. However, UKIPs policy is not merely an opt out for churches, it is proper protection of conscience legislation, to modify equality legislation. This would not to allow you to refuse someone a job or anything, but would make it clear that Christians can be sure they will not be sacked or prosecuted for openly expressing their faith and even acting on it in regards this issue. Aside from that UKIP and Nigel Farage have said that the UK should be more “muscular” in expressing its Christian values. UKIP were also the only party to oppose the change in the law on marriage in the first place, for which I still give them significant credit. I know Nigel Farage is not overly concerned about this, nor are many voters, however I would equally suspect we lose very, very few votes from our stance as a party on this point and we gain quite a lot.
The key point for me is that UKIP is a party where I can still genuinely be an open Christian and a politician. In the Conservative party for example, Nicki Morgan has famously U-turned completely on this issue in order to be given a ministerial job. Labour actively whipped candidates to vote against protection of conscience amendments to the Bill and as we all know “don’t do God”. Both parties are aggressively secularist, the Greens and the Lib Dems are openly aggressively secularist. Some people may like that, but many do not. It will never be party policy in UKIP to be actively Christian, though notice it is party policy to promote Christian values, but at the moment it is not incompatible with party policy for me to stand for that on a personal level. That is as good as I am going to get at present, and I intend to make use of the opportunity that provides me.
AK: I am aware that this will not be a popular argument here, but I do think it’s a legitimate one. There are some schools of thought that, properly targetted, foreign aid can actually help stem immigration from Third World countries by reducing their fertility rates and improving domestic conditions, thus providing less incentives to hazard the perilous and expensive sea routes to Europe. It could even provide more “bang for the buck” in reducing immigration relative to more obvious and expensive solutions such as higher spending on border control. As an added bonus, it’s also a great deal more humane. Furthermore, spending on foreign aid is actually very small as a percentage of GDP – less than 1% in all countries but Norway or Sweden – even though this does go against popular perceptions and popular rhetoric. Do you think aid spending is something that the UK could productively work on with the EU and/or other European countries?
MA: I accept that in limited cases that argument may be true, and again it was not until I joined UKIP and examined the facts that I became committed to a cut in the UK foreign aid budget. I am also not saying it is right for every country to cut foreign aid. For me the foreign aid debate in the UK boils down to one thing though – the number £12Bn (and rising). I don’t know how many people you think it would take to effectively spend £12Bn every year on an issue as complicated as international poverty and development, I think it would take an awful lot. Many thousands. I do not support creating a massive organisation to ensure our foreign aid is well spent, at present all the evidence is that large chunks of it are badly spent. I think that issue is essentially intractable. The budget has increased £4Bn in 5 years on the basis of pure ideology, with no evidence of its effectiveness. In fact last year the responsible department spent £1Bn in 8 weeks just to meet its spending targets. Badly spent aid has enormous potential to entrench corrupt regimes and build vanity projects that will fall apart without on going maintenance, with significant environmental and economic costs. The figure of 0.7% of GDP was agreed internationally in the 1970s and few countries have ever met it. Inflation has rendered the figure outdated. The sums involved are too large to be effectively utilised unless we can trust the government in target countries to spend well, which we can’t. I looked at the spending figures and if we met every international spending obligation we have at present and maintained every bi-lateral budget allocation we have in the foreign aid budget on health, education, disaster relief and water aid, we would still have spent well under half the budget. Maybe the cut we are proposing, down to 0.2% of GDP which is what America spends, the most generous country in the world, is too great, but at least half the budget simply cannot be justified on current figures. As Nigel Farage has said, it is a moral crutch to assuage our consciences for the trade barriers we put in place that prevent the African agricultural economy from developing and the FDI practices our companies use to exploit the resources in LEDCs. If we really want to change world poverty there are things we can do to help, at least half our foreign aid budget is not currently one of them.
Therefore in UKIP we would not just cut the spending, we would increase and make fairer the trade we have with developing countries. Then we would spend the money to remedy some of the appalling shortfalls in care in the UK. For example in mental health and elderly social care. It is also worth noting that many of our top military personnel think it is madness to be cutting defense spending as we are, especially on personnel, while raising foreign aid. The contribution that our armed forced make to humanitarian efforts and peace-keeping is a far better way to spend the money in promoting development than the foreign aid budget itself.
AK: Since the last elections, the once marginal UKIP raised its profile so much that it has now displaced the Liberal Democrats as the third party of British politics according to the opinion polls. This is a very impressive achievement. But it is only projected to get a few seats – as much as ten times fewer than the SNP, which only contests seats in Scotland, a region that has less than 10% of the UK’s population. That doesn’t sound very fair! Is it time to get rid of the first past the post system? If so, how do you/UKIP intend to go about it?
MA: I think I actually answered this a little bit in the question before. UKIP now propose “electoral reform” but we haven’t plumped for a particular system yet. The trick is to find one that doesn’t result in too many Green MPs… I jest but it feels to me like the whole electoral reform debate is like that, how can any political party ever be impartial on this point? Personally, I find lobbying and party funding to be a bigger issue, and the UK system of postal voting. To me the biggest barriers to UKIP winning seats is actually the relative amount of money we have compared to Labour and the Conservatives, and the vast number of essentially unionised “foot-soldiers” Labour have when campaigning. For example, in every constituency (every marginal one anyway), Labour will man every polling station in shifts and will have a fleet of cars taking their voters to vote. In the constituency where I am standing, I have been able to afford (mostly through personal financing or donations from family, friends and local supporters) to send out 1 leaflet to every house-hold, and I have hand delivered a second leaflet to about 5000 houses with the help of about 5 people. Both the main parties have had between themselves and the central office (which gets round spending rules) 8-10 leaflets or communications to every house-hold. Having seen the scale of the industrial machine these parties run (I have not even mentioned the half of it, phone-banks, lists of known voters to contact, targeted visits and leaflets to postal voters…), I would support government-funded, mandatory equal funding of about £5-10k. More than that is really just spam. Even at £10k with 10 candidates per constituency, and I think that could be significantly limited by controls on whether independent candidates qualify, it would only cost about £50 million every 5 years. It would also have the effect of freeing parties from the perceived corrupt clutches of big money donors and unions. I think this would make a significant difference to the ability of new political movements to impact politics. Probably more so than PR. Plus I think it would make our system more democratic, open and transparent. We have had a number of dodgy donor scandals now, in my opinion, it is time for a change. The postal vote problem for smaller party is that no there are no restrictions on who can get a postal vote, when it really should be for the disabled and elderly; as it is, about a quarter to a third of the vote is postal. This means the money problem is exacerbated by the extra expense in targeting the postal vote, and if you don’t do it, big chunks of the vote will have already voted before they hear anything about your campaign. Again it feels like a deliberate tactic by the established parties, particularly the Conservatives with its rural vote, to entrench its support and make it hard for a new party to gain any traction. I would go back to a system where only those who need it can have a postal vote. The problem is of course with declining voter numbers in general, the postal vote increases turnout, so is often seen as a good thing, without proper consideration being given to the unintended democratic consequences.
AK: Personal arbitrary pet peeve of mine – why does UKIP have the pound sign as its logo? Strikes me as a tad too commercialist for what is, after all, a nativist party. Then again, the UK is a pretty commercial civilization – nation of shopkeepers and all that – so I don’t suppose it’s necessarily contradictory. But still. I feel that at least to some extent the immigration/integration crisis has been brought on by (short-term) economic preoccupations. So is it worth retaining the pound sign as UKIP’s symbol, as opposed to, oh I don’t know… a lion, or a bulldog, or a chick with a shield and trident, or something.
MA: The pound symbol is on one level, old branding. It dates back to the big fight over whether Britain would join the Euro currency. See the failed 2001 Conservative campaign of WIlliam Hague and “keep the pound”. However, it remains quite a potent symbol of anti-EU sentiment, and the way in which the UK does not fit into that organisation. I think that is why we keep it. Plus if we were to change it we would have a difficult media fight on our hands not to be accused of “abandoning the pound” or moving away from our core Brexit message. With our core vote being in the older age group as well, it is not always wise to change something which isn’t obviously broken. I think the pound symbol has something reassuringly British to it as well, a symbol of our bygone economic power, influence and stability. Though I agree plenty of other symbols, like those you suggest, could do that job. I think if we get out of the EU, we will have to change the branding, but that will be a time of significant soul searching for the party if it happens in any case.
AK: The UK leaves the EU. You are given a pack of crayons and tasked with designing UKIP’s new logo. What do you draw?
MA: I think I would go with a lion, yellow on purple.
AK: Commenting on the immigration question two weeks ago, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said that Commonwealth immigrants should be privileged over EU immigrants:
I have to confess I do have a slight preference. I do think, naturally, that people from India and Australia are in some ways more likely to speak English, understand common law and have a connection with this country than some people that come perhaps from countries that haven’t fully recovered from being behind the Iron Curtain.
Do you agree with him that an Indian is better suited for life in Britain than a Czech?
MA: I certainly understand what he means. I think British people have a lot of subtle and unspoken cultural norms. The class system might be a sort of example, most British people have a natural feel for class, but it is difficult to express, and tends to be quite mysterious to foreigners. As a result, even though I actually think Britain is one of the least racist places in Europe, one reason alongside economics for the large scale migration, it can feel a very unwelcoming place to outsiders. Even some students I knew from North America could find British people emotionally reserved and distant and so feel a bit lonely here. I think one reason for the successful integration of Indians into our society is that I think the legacy of the Raj (and perhaps some native cultural similarity) has meant more immigrants from the Indian subcontinent fit more naturally into our culture and society. I think it also feels true that from a white, British perspective, less of the Eastern European immigrants speak English than Commonwealth immigrants, but I don’t know if the statistics would bear that out. It may also be that the educational class of immigrant we would get from India is likely to be higher, I think, off the top of my head EU migration is generally higher educated than Non-EU but that will include French, German, Spanish etc. migration. Certainly much of the migration we view as problematic, the migration which is taking low-skill jobs (even if the worker may actually be much more highly qualified) is coming from Eastern Europe and in my experience will often have little to no English language skills, at least at first, and may be highly migratory, coming and going from place to place within the UK and their home country, without settling and integrating. Obviously the comment is a generalisation and there will be some Czechs who will integrate extremely well and it is likely if you took a rural Indian peasant or someone from a New Delhi slum with little education they would not. To me this reinforces the argument for immigration controls, selecting suitable migrants with necessary skills insofar as economic migration is concerned. If someone is an asylum seeker or refugee that is a different matter entirely, and none of these things are as important as providing a safe haven for those fleeing persecution. I think what Nigel Farage meant though holds fairly true in terms of the multi-cultural problem. Cultural barriers can be hard to overcome, if we want to build a happy, well-integrated society, I think we have to recognise that.
AK: As you say, the right selection criteria is key. Certainly there are many Indians who are more qualified than many Eastern Europeans. That is a legitimate enough argument. But many people will surely have issues with this: “If someone is an asylum seeker or refugee that is a different matter entirely, and none of these things are as important as providing a safe haven for those fleeing persecution.” Unfortunately, that is around 10 million people in ISIS-controlled Syria and Iraq alone. You see where I’m going with this? That’s a potentially very big contingent of people. Depending on how you define “persecution” – it could run into the tens or even hundreds of millions.
MA: I think at an international level we need to agree how many refugees per year each developed country should take relative to the scale of the problem, and then refugees should be rescued as near to source as possible. Further attempts to illegally enter, like in the Mediterranean should be returned to port of origin, as in Australia. Refugee camps will be with us for a long time sadly. However, if that does not happen, we will just have to do what we can domestically, I agree there is a limit on what we can do, there always is, but without international agreement we are protected by the fact we are an island which is hard to reach, as the problems in Calais prove. The problem with a recent EU proposal to distribute refugees equally was that they were also proposing to do the selection and vetting (or rather not do it) at the international level. It is for national governments to decide on selection criteria and to vet those individuals who are suitable for entry. I do not believe the threat of persecution at home should force us to give shelter to dangerous terrorists or criminals. That is not UKIP policy on the subject it is my personal view. At present we are likely as a party to continue with the existing, rather silly system that if they can get to Britain they can apply for asylum and we will see if they ECHR will let us remove them or not as our main selection criteria for who gets to stay and who doesn’t.
AK: Farage believes handguns should be legalized. I agree! But only 5% of the British people feel likewise, which is the only fact that matters. (A more recent poll by The Telegraph showed majority support for handgun legalization, but it was an online poll and hence useless). What are your opinions, if any, on the matter? Is it worth UKIP even contesting this issue?
MA: Farage is a committed Libertarian, I go with him some of the way but not all of it. I would be prepared to explore options, but in my head I essentially have in mind licensed gun ranges that hold guns for people, behind locked doors, from which the owner is not allowed to remove the weapon. Given the accident rate with home firearm ownership, I don’t see any good reason to allow people to have handguns at home at present. However, I am not a fluffy liberal on the subject, it did not escape my notice how spectacularly unsuccessful the Texas attack on cartoonists was this week compared with those in Paris and Copenhagen, but then, that wasn’t really stopped by private gun ownership. There might still be a point there about gun culture though. If I thought the security situation was getting to the point where people need firearms for self-defense I would consider it, but we are nowhere near that point in the UK. To me the only argument at present is about sport shooting, and as I say I think we could find ways of allowing that in the context of licensed gun ranges which hold the firearms at all times. As you say though, politically it is a very thorny issue. No one in the UK is prepared to tolerate even the possibility of a repeat of what happened in the Dunblane Massacre (facts similar to Sandy Hook, but with handguns).
AK: This question I’m asking on behalf of a close friend, but it’s very germane nonetheless. Tim Aker, the head of UKIP’s policy unit, on being asked about whether he has looked into public sector pensions, said, “I have, and then got very scared and ran away.” Setting the world time record for political flip flops, he followed it up moments later with, “We haven’t looked into it.” I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t exactly inspire faith in UKIP’s economic competence. Could you give us a better answer? Why should pensioners vote for you over Labour or the Lib Dems?
MA: I expect part of the problem in that particular instance is that while Tim Aker might be head of the policy unit he is not the economic spokesman, which is Patrick O’Flynn. Tim may eventually may have arrived at the truth though, we aren’t currently planning any changes to public sector pensions, it remains a fairly intractable problem. They should not be cut any more, that would be unfair, but while they continue to be paid to a lot of worker out of general taxation rather than being saved up into pension funds, they get increasingly unaffordable. I think what will have to happen is gradually more and more new starters will have to go onto less favourable defined contribution schemes rather than the current defined benefit ones. I can’t foresee any negative impacts on current pensioners or those on existing schemes under UKIP though. We have a big grey vote. What we do offer that no other party does is fully flexible state pension. At present you can keep working longer to get more, but you can’t retire early and take less. We think it should work both ways, this will benefit particularly those with a decent workplace pension, who think of the state pension as an extra. They might actually get a retirement with us, rather than the way the other parties are going which is an ever increasing state pension age.
AK: Needless to say I wish you the best of luck. I know you would make a great MP, and UKIP is the British party that is closest to my own positions and I daresay to the positions of the average Unz Review reader. But let’s be honest… you’re facing some long odds. What are your post-elections plans in the event that you come second or third? Do you intend to continue campaigning for UKIP and participating fulltime in British politics? Do you see UKIP displacing the Conservatives as the dominant party of the right in the foreseeable future (and/or the SNP in Scotland)?
MA: Yes the odds are quite long but I do still believe anything can happen. Should I come second or third, or even if I win, a lot of work needs to be done to build up UKIP as a local party. We need more members so we can have more of those “foot-soldiers” I referred. We also don’t field a full slate of Council candidates (elections often run alongside the general election), which is something we need to change. However, unless I win I will not be doing politics full time, I will go back to my Phd study and teaching undergraduates.
The longer term outlook for UKIP as a whole is very uncertain, and potentially quite dependent on this election. If we get enough seats to push through our agenda, we may leave the EU, I think a lot of our manifesto would then be adopted by the governing party (unofficially of course) and it is hard to know how much credit UKIP will get for it. If we do get the credit the Conservatives could be finished but equally we could slip away quietly and be forgotten. However, it is reasonably likely the same problems we have now will continue for the next parliament at least, in which case UKIP will keep growing I think. We could wipe out the Tories in the North of England particularly, because our brand is not toxic with the Northern working class in the way theirs is. Many people in the North have not forgiven the Conservatives for Thatcherism and will not do for another generation or two. This is an existential problem for the Tories. They have tried to move to the liberal centre of politics in this past parliamentary session and it has cost them, and yet they are still seen as the nasty party because of benefit changes and low wages driving people to use foodbanks on a very large scale, something not seen in the UK for a long time. The Conservative brand is the oldest brand in British politics though, I am not writing it off yet. It may be that party will swing back towards ours and eventually we will merge, but I can only see this being a good thing if the success the UKIP brand has had with working class people rubs off on the Conservatives and the Conservatives return to a more traditional social outlook, otherwise they will always be a party for the City of London and not for small-c conservatives more widely.
AK: What’s your personal favorite video of Farage trolling the Eurocrats?
This is a favourite of mine, particularly the section staring just after the 2min mark and the section just after 5 min, some of the responses of the Eurocrats are astonishing. It is a particular low point in the chequered recent history of the EU.
AK: That was hilarious. Thanks. Personally, I think this was the crowning moment of Farage’s political career:
What about you, Craig? What’s your favorite Farage video?
MA: Hahaha that is a classic. I think it is even in one of the Songify the News videos. Thanks a lot Anatoly.
CW: My favorite Farage video:
Ringing the alarm on the Eurozone’s dangerous undemocratic turn in late 2011, with the parachuting of Eurocrats-cum-Goldman Sachs alumni in Athens and Rome!
Craig Willy vs. Matthew Atkins
CW: In polls, the British almost always rank immigration one of their top issues and they overwhelmingly favor reduction. Yet UKIP seems a bit vague on this point. By leaving the European Union, you would only limit EU migration, yet the British appear slightly more hostile to non-EU than to EU immigration (p. 60-1). What assurances can you make that you will tackle immigration and not disappoint the public on this issue, as the Tories did?
MA: I think by leaving the EU we not only gain the opportunity to limit EU migration, we gain the opportunity to create a holistic system. It is hard to assess how much Non-EU migration is appropriate while we are part of a system we cannot control. It makes it harder to calculate where we have a skills gap and how large that gap is. However, I do take the point we don’t talk about non-EU migration much because in some ways it is a thornier issue. One of the main things we think needs to happen is that international students should come out of the migration figure. 7/10 International students are Non-EU for a total in the last set of immigration figures of a low-end estimate of 120,000 people. Given net non-EU migration was 190,000 in those statistics (2013-14) then in UKIP I think we would say non-EU migration is currently around 70,000 or less as that student figure could be as high as 180,000 – I think that makes clear the point that it is time students were properly recorded in their own right. The next point I would make is that the study you cite is about positive and negative perceptions of EU and non-EU immigration. Perceptions of immigration are affected by many things, a significant number of them cultural, UKIP addresses some of these when it insists foreign Doctors should be able to speak English, for example. People in the UK, as I talked about in Anatoly’s questions, want to feel that the cultural history of the UK is respected and that new arrivals integrate properly. I also think British society needs a single culture, not the failed policy of multi-culturalism, and this is a position taken by UKIP. Obviously British culture adapts to new arrivals, Chicken Tikka Masala and UK hip-hop culture are great example, but to me they remain uniquely British, integrated into the fabric of our society, not a sign of a fragmentation of the British way of life. I think a big concern of many British people when it comes to immigration is that we are seeing increased Ghettoisation and the presence of cultures in the UK that have no interest in becoming part of wider society.
Even with our policies to address this aspect of migration, I would still say migration even from outside the EU alone is higher than UKIP is aiming for, but we have to recognise the fact that much of this migration is subject already to a form of points system and so is directed at UK skills shortages. One of the biggest areas is the need for more Doctors and Nurses in the NHS. We are not training enough home grown medical practitioners. UKIP would reintroduce the system of Nurses who are trained “on-the-job” without the need for an expensive academic qualification. We would also fund Medical degrees through a system by which a medical student will not have to repay their fees if they work in the UK for 5 years after qualifying. I think both of these measures would substantially increase the number of UK trained medics. At the moment I strongly believe that £9000 a year for 5 years is going to put far too many people off studying medicine for that to be sustainable. This is especially needed because it is becoming harder to recruit doctors from overseas as developing countries like India become more attractive to stay and work. I also think UKIP would be looking to ensure most international competition for jobs remains at a highly qualified level. Our whole policy of funding STEMM subjects should reduce the need for migration to meet UK skill shortages, but some professions, like academia and City financial jobs benefit enormously from an International labour market and I would envisage that continuing. However, the current immigration system, which allows EU migrants to freely travel to the UK to work at any level of the economy is madness. Migration needs to be on an equal footing and meet UK skill shortages or provide the best and brightest to enhance our industries, wherever in the world the migrants come from.
CW: UKIP appears to above all be a party concerned with British sovereignty. The party focuses mostly on the EU but is not the United States also a problem in this respect? The Snowden Leaks show that GCHQ collaborated with the NSA to engage in massive spying on British subjects. Politico recently reported that Washington has an effective “veto” on British nuclear weapons. The party also appears to be agnostic on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), an EU-U.S. free trade agreement, which could also reduce British regulatory sovereignty. Does UKIP have a plan to restore British sovereignty relative to the U.S.?
MA: I think the UK and the USA will always share a very close relationship, we like to think it is ‘special’ but we are never going to be the major player in the relationship. When it comes to security though, the whole Western world is really completely dependent on the US. Our nuclear deterrent is independent day to day, our submarines are not manned by Americans, but I know we could not run it without the Americans in general terms. They could pull the plug and take their missiles and maintenance equipment (which they lease to us) back, but they are not going to. In any case, the idea of the UK going to war without some sort of American support is almost unthinkable. We even quietly sought their approval before the Falklands War, if Thatcher had not had as much clout as she did with Reagan the islands might be Argentinian right now. I think the point about America is that while militarily we might be very dependent on them, they have little interest in running our country. We are a strategic asset to the Americans, they don’t really care about our business regulation, or our environmental policy or how we trade with other partners, except they like our support at the UN on some of those things, and I will concede that they prefer we should be in the EU to give them an inside view, but they aren’t going to force us to stay in. America isn’t looking to run Britain like the EU is, it views us as an economic and defense partner, even if it is a decidedly junior partner.
The Snowden revelations were extremely worrying, but if you look at the fine print, GCHQ was merrily doing far more intrusive things than the NSA. We weren’t just forced into that, we were fully complicit in it. One area where I am extremely libertarian is privacy, I believe it is worth the potential loss of life to terrorists not to spy on citizens to that level, but I am not sure the country is with me on that, and I would respect public opinion on it. I do think we need to have the debate. Either way I do not feel like it is a case of the USA interfering with our sovereignty, I think our own government was just as into spying as theirs and there was clearly a very close intelligence relationship. Obviously I am not privy to how the Americans would have reacted had we refused to be involved, I suspect they would have been disappointed in us but said OK and found a way round it. However, I don’t view spying as a threat to sovereignty in the same way as the EU, it is a threat to personal freedom yes, but I think I take the pragmatic view that it is inevitable in international relations. I would not be terribly offended to find the USA spied on our prime minister, or spied on our citizens. Spying is a technical breach of territorial integrity and Sovereignty in that sense, but it is not an attempt to control day to day life in another country, it is a means to ensure the interests of your own country are protected and promoted, a hostile action. It is part of our defensive responsibility to ensure foreign powers cannot do so, but realistically, with the resources and power the USA has, nobody except China and Russia are really going to be able to keep them out if they want to come in. That is just the reality of the world we live in. It is a very different type of threat to sovereignty to the EU, which wants to dictate laws to us, and integrate us into a kind of super-state. The EU has a far greater impact on the day to day lives of British people than American spying. Of course I know that is only true up until the point spying leads to the discovery of some information that results in an authoritarian policy response, which is why I am against mass surveillance and believe in protecting privacy, but as I say it is a different kind of threat. It is a “what of this gets into the wrong hands” problem, not one which is changing the laws of our country every day in the way that the EU is doing.
Our agnosticism on TTIP is due to a particular quibble over whether or not the NHS is exempt in law, which has the public very frightened, and the fact it is EU negotiated. From UKIP’s point of view the whole thing could be avoided if the UK was negotiating a specialist trade deal with the USA on its own, rather than being part of some massive general EU measure.
The last point I would make is that UKIP is the only party which will reverse defense spending cuts and honour our 2% NATO commitment. With any other party the UK will become increasingly dependent on the USA for defense and will be a less and less valuable military ally.
CW: UKIP seems to be an antiwar party. Why is this? In opposing intervention in Syria and Ukraine, the party agrees with a lot of left-wing and nationalist parties, but UKIP seems to be a different political animal.
MA: It is simply because neither of those wars have worked. In fact both situations are a complete disaster, and so is the situation in Libya. So is the situation in Iraq, and so was, and to some extent still is, the situation in Afghanistan. At some point we have to learn the lesson that we cannot fix a lot of these problems. Too many conflicts and uprising are related to incredibly complex local social, economic, religious and racial problems that in our Western ivory tower we cannot understand until we tramp through them with our size 12 feet (militarily speaking) and have made everything much worse. It is not because we don’t care we are non-interventionist, it is because history suggests we will not make things better except in the rarest of cases. Obviously we could start talking about the enormous cost to the UK, both financial and in terms of international political capital, but I think all those considerations are secondary to the fact that we cannot get involved unless we are very sure what the outcome of our actions will be, and it is going to be incredibly rare that we can. I think an exception would be a defensive war, if an ally is invaded, we can help protect them, but if you go on the offensive, you have to be very sure in what you are trying to accomplish.
Since I know the blog might have a mostly American audience, I do want to say that I recognise the enormous contribution America makes to world peace and security and the American desire to spread freedom and democracy is to be greatly admired. There was a debate that John McCain had with Vladimir Putin in their respective national press that I thought was fascinating, because in a weird way I agreed with both sides. The American sense of duty to the world, to make it a better place, is one of the things that makes that country the greatest in the world, but equally sometimes you have to be a bit hard nosed and say, we might be offering something good to that country, but there are too many people in that place who don’t want it, or the local situation means the county is not ready for it yet. It is the debate between internationalist idealism and Realpolitik, and I think UKIP tends to fall a little to the latter, a lot of us are slightly cynical people I suppose.
CW: Nigel Farage is clearly a populist. Sometimes he sounds a bit like a socially left nationalist like Marine Le Pen. But Farage are libertarian. What do you tell people, especially traditional Labour supporters, who are concerned about inequality, fat cats, social services and wages?
MA: I am not sure I agreed with that assessment of Nigel Farage, I think he is far more genuine than most politicians. He has stood clearly and firmly for one idea since the early 90s, that Britain should leave the EU. Everything else flows naturally from that. He has also predicted pretty much every significant disaster the EU has experienced to date. However, I would tend to agree inequality is not his main concern, but when has he said it was? What I say to them is Farage himself clearly cares about Britain and wants its people to succeed, at every level of scoiety, and UKIP as a party now has a significant left-leaning section to it, especially in the North. I do believe there was a time in history when the working people and the political right pursued the same ideas. We want to see reinvigorated British industries, fishing, farming, and even manufacturing and industrial. It may need to have a more high tech focus nowadays but that doesn’t mean it can’t exist. We want to see more apprenticeships and technical skills training. We want a simpler tax system that takes less from everybody and leaves everybody with more money in their pockets. We want a simpler benefits system that is there as a safety net, without all the hassle and complication but which gives people an incentive to work. We want corporations to pay their fair share of tax – but we recognise it is hard, which is why we would set up an expert financial commission to try and create a diverted profits tax, not have politicians do it. The truth is, if you want things to improve, you have to work with economics, not against it. I think UKIP is now in a unique position to walk that difficult line, because so many of our members are people who were not highly educated, but became very successful in long careers in industry and private enterprise. We are a party that believes in aspiration and exceptionalism. I think a lot of traditionally working class people recognise they are being sold a lie when they are told there is a magic fix that will suddenly rebalance all the wealth away from the ‘fat-cat’ rich, but they can’t vote Conservative because they don’t believe that party cares or will even try to change things. I believe UKIP will try, but will do so within the confines of sensible economics.
CW: Marine Le Pen’s falling out with her father Jean-Marie looks to be permanent, he has even been suspended from the Front National. Could this make it possible for UKIP and the FN to join forces?
MA: Not at present no. It is not yet clear the split is genuine, I spoke to a French journalist last week who believed it was for show, and even if it was most of the rest of the party is made up of the same Holocaust deniers and far-right nationalists. UKIP grew out of a centerist economic movement that wished to leave the EU, we do not see ourselves as nationalists, we are moderate patriots. The FN has a clear and undeniable far-right nationalist past, and it will have to go a long way yet before we can be assured that it has changed.
CW: While it is clear the FN and UKIP have different origins, isn’t a bit facile to characterize the Front in this way? Even former French Socialist PM Lionel Jospin has said the FN is not a “fascist” party, for example. And after all UKIP regularly faces little scandals for statements by members and candidates perceived to be Islamophobic, racist or anti-Semitic. Shouldn’t eurosceptic parties display more solidarity in the face of censorship and political correctness?
MA: I would probably accept I am being a bit facile and doing a disservice to many FN candidate and supporters who will be perfectly decent people. However, I have little choice. UKIP will not work with the FN until we can be sure we are not going to have unpleasant old quotations from senior figures in the FN read out to us on national media. We cannot afford to be tarred with the same brush. So I will admit I haven’t given the FN a fair hearing yet, but it really only affects the politics of the European Parliament, where even together we would not have a significant enough voice to actually change anything. The FN seem to be doing perfectly well in domestic French politics on their own. I also stand by my comment that FN has to work harder and go further to prove it is a new party because of its origins, I haven’t seen much sign of them doing that yet, but I will admit I haven’t been looking very hard, mainly for reasons of political expediency.
CW: Most studies, e.g. Open Europe, the Bertelsmann Foundation, suggest the UK’s economy would at best only marginally benefit from leaving the EU (and, equally, most studies suggest the Common Market has only slightly boosted GDP). Does UKIP not risk exaggerating the benefits of withdrawal and in appearing to be a single-issue party?
MA: Our manifesto is based around only costing in the £8Bn net we give the EU directly as a saving. Anything else we save would be a bonus. Plus I think there will be a significant boost to the UK in the medium term as we turn our attention back to courting trade with countries we have neglected, I think it could even start a much more productive period for the UK economy, when our productivity has been stagnating. I do believe necessity is the mother of invention in that sense, we will start to work at international trade again because we will have to, whereas now, we have to let the EU make our trade deals for us. However, as I said with Anatoly’s questions, we face an existential crisis if we succeed in precipitating a Brexit, but I still think there is a space left on the small c conservative right for us. We have a less toxic brand than the Conservatives with working people and a unique social outlook.
CW: What would be the ideal relationship between the EU and the UK for you? Isn’t the current setup – out of the Schengen Area and the Eurozone – pretty grand?
MA: The idea relationship is free trade without free movement and being required to EU technical specifications for goods as regards only those things we sell in the EU. One of the most important factors as I said is the ability to govern our own trade relationship with countries outside of the EU. The problem with the current setup is that all EU law has to be fully implements UK wide, whereas I think we would be better of if it only govern products we want to sell in the EU. Frankly I would prefer much of it did not exist at all, but that is too much to hope for. In any case a big part of the argument for me is not the merits or demerits of our current position, but the fact the EU is continuing on a road where we cannot follow, and it must do so in order for the Euro to survive. As the EU follows its pressing need and its stated desire for closer integration, the UK will be increasingly isolated in the EU anyway and the UK membership of the EU will become inconvenient for all involved. Apart from the large lump of money we pay the EU of course.
CW: Are you concerned that leaving the EU could hurt the City of London? The Continentals, led by Paris and Berlin, would then be free to regulate this substantial market without any British input.
MA: Not really, HSBC has begun a report into leaving the City but its destination would be Hong Kong not somewhere else in the EU. What concerns the City is regulation, I actually think eventually this will be worse in than out. Eventually Britain is not going to be able to stop the Franco-German desire to regulate financial services, I think our negotiating position, and the flexibility of the financial services industry to find clever ways of avoiding the regulation, is better served outside of the main institution of the EU. Especially since as I say my ideal scenario is that we follow EU rules only in so far as it concerns our business with the EU, not with the rest of the world. I think the City could grow in importance as the financial gateway to Europe, much like Hong Kong is to mainland China.
CW: How chuffed are you that you stayed out of the Euro?
MA: Very, very chuffed.
Hope you enjoyed this interview.
Please feel free to discuss all aspects of British politics and the forthcoming general elections in the comments. Also feel free to ask further questions of Mr. Atkins (or of myself or Craig), though considering the many demands on his time and attention right now, replies cannot be guaranteed.
I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.
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