A senior Tory has allegedly stated a belief commonly held amongst central party managers everywhere: that their activists are ‘swivel-eyed loons’.  ‘Loon’, of course, is ultimate derived from ‘lunar’; the traditional belief that madness was more common during full moons. If we assume that voting Conservative is a form of madness, we can check whether a full moon does in fact impact upon the Tory vote by cross-referencing it with daily polls:

Loony ToriesSource: Polling undertaken on the UTC date of a full moon since beginning of 2012 when YouGov started recording UKIP separately.

There is a small but noticeable impact on both the Conservative and UKIP voting intention, with the former impact significant at the 5% level*. This is the inverse of what people who would also be happy to dub UKIP nutters would expect, and presents a danger for Mr Cameron. The first Thursday in May 2015 is the day after a full moon. The motion of our nearest celestial partner may yet cost the Conservatives the next election.

*This relationship attenuates as the data set grows, precisely as a non-crazy person would expect. From 2010 to the present day it’s practically insignificant. One could attribute the short-term effect to science being right or Nigel Farage being a werewolf.

It is no coincidence that UKIP’s rise is in line with popular concern about immigration. Or is it? It’s true that Britain hasn’t been quite this concerned with immigration since 2011, and everyone remembers those days two years ago when Farage’s face beamed from every channel twenty four hours of the day. We’ve taken as read that their rise means the British public is positively infuriated with the thought of dirty foreigners coming over here and ruining everything with their ethics of work. It’s possible that we might be wrong.

ImmigSource: Ipsos MORI

Concern about immigration is not bound up with concern about unemployment or indeed the economy. In fact, when times are bad and people are worried about jobs, they’re less likely to be worried about immigration. This is completely counterintuitive to anyone raised on a diet of history lessons in which the Nazis exploited fears about the economy to scapegoat the Jews. However, it would appear that we’ve drawn the wrong lesson from history.

Opposition to immigration, along with gay marriage, the EU and other things that UKIP is on record as not liking, is not driven by economic circumstances. Rather, it appears to be cultural: opposing all of those things appears to be what you do in order to signify your membership of the Fuddy Duddy Tribe. Like all cultural issues, it’s something people only have time for when they’re not worried about where the next meal is coming from. This leads us to an interesting quandary for the Conservative Party: the rise of UKIP is as a result of the Coalition’s stewardship of the economy no longer being quite so dreadful. This has given their former voters the freedom to vote with their ‘resentment of change’ hat on, rather than their ‘must be sensible’ hat. If we were back in recession, UKIP wouldn’t be doing so well.

The United Kingdom Independence Party, to give it its full rather clunky name, is expected to do rather well in the local elections today. The main driver behind this potential success is ostensibly its positioning as an anti-establishment vehicle for discontent with the main parties. This is interesting, because claiming to be against the establishment requires an understanding of what the establishment is in the first place, and libertarians like the UKIPers have traditionally been very bad at properly analysing the structures of power.

So I’m going to do it for them. I’m going to go through each of the policies listed on their website (or at least the ones that appear to be actual policies rather than random statements of intent) and assign each a number. 1 will represent a policy that changes who has power and influence in Britain today, 0 will represent a policy that has no impact on power structures, and -1 will represent a policy that actually increases the power of the establishment. For clarity, I am defining ‘establishment’ as ‘the current distribution of resources, policy influence and decision-making powers in the UK today’.

1. Defence

Like most libertarians, UKIPers fetishise defence, presumably so they can call on the army when the hoi polloi revolt against the total removal of their legal protections. UKIP’s defence policy is to increase defence spending back to 2010 levels, disband the Ministry of Defence and turn over control to high-ranking officers rather than civilians, scrap Trident and replace it with nuclear cruise missiles, and buy more tanks and boats. There’s also a lot in there about bolstering the role of the Territorial Army, which is no way a reflection of what many UKIPers spend their weekends doing.

While this policy clearly impacts upon the MoD, it alters power structures by expanding the role of an existing authority – the military. Laughable as you might find the idea that we need aircraft carriers to fend off Somali pirates in converted fishing vessels (yes, really, that’s their argument), it’s undeniable that this is a significant change to the balance of power, and so I will award their defence policy a score of 1.

2. Immigration

Unlike most libertarians, UKIP do not believe in the free movement of peoples. They propose a five year freeze on immigration for permanent settlement and the imposition of a points based system for limited immigration for specific skill sets the UK cannot supply. The practical upshot of this is to get rid of Polish plumbers and other archetypes of foreign labourers beloved by the popular press.

Reducing immigration will lower economic growth, making us all a little poorer. However, there is evidence that an influx of labour depresses the wages of the bottom decile of the population, even though average wages rise. Functionally then, restricting immigration makes the poorest slightly better off relative to the majority of the population, although everyone is poorer than before. This is a shift in the distribution of resources, and so I give this policy a score of 1.

3. Tax & Spending

Please note: the policy under discussion here is a ‘proposal’ rather than formal policy. Nigel Farage has apparently contradicted this policy elsewhere. However, there is nothing else available that would indicate UKIP’s position.

UKIP want a ‘flat tax’ on income over £13,000 of about 25%. This is a colossal tax cut for the most well-off, and a tax rise for the less well off. This would dramatically reduce the overall tax take, producing, one supposes, a much-reduced scope for redistributional payments like pensions and the NHS. They want to shift the burden of corporate tax away from profits and onto ‘added value’, being the difference between the cost of the inputs and the value of the outputs. This will dramatically penalise our already struggling manufacturing industries and provide a great boon for financial services as HMRC struggles to work out precisely how much value a particular financial product adds to its constituent parts. Under this policy, those who are already doing well are awarded and the less well off are penalised. I give this a score of -1.

4. Health

UKIP wants to reallocate central NHS funding to elected boards in each county (presumably this means a single one for London, unless by ‘county’ they also mean ‘borough’). They want nurses to stop getting these new-fangled degree things because education prevents people from caring. I presume this is why; they seem to think that nursing degrees don’t involve any time on the wards at all, rather than at least half as at present. I remain baffled as to why there’s this common presumption that nurses should be the equivalent of manual labourers; the human body is rather complicated and I’d like people looking after to me to know what they’re doing.

I digress. The County Health Boards would represent a significant redistribution of power downwards, but coupled with this policy is the power to allow a charge for all prescriptions, not just those of the better off. This is a revocation of the principle of free-at-the-point-of-use, meaning that it’s a step in the direction of state-funded healthcare being inaccessible to the least well off. As this policy partly redistributes power and partly reinforces existing resource distribution, I give it a 0.

5. Small businesses & employment law

As a tiny businessman, I welcome UKIP’s warm words of support for small business, although they’re identical to the ones that come from every politician. A key way in which politicians could reduce the stress on small businesses is by stopping saying that we’re the engines of growth for the economy. It’s a lot of responsibility.

UKIP want to help us by getting rid of almost all employment protections, including weekly working hours, holidays and holiday, overtime, parental leave, redundancy and sick pay, and require a standard contract form which indicates the average wages and conditions for that role in that industry. While I look forward to seeing the vast bureaucracy that would be required to continually assess wages in each of the nearly 10,000 SIC codes, I can’t help but suspect that average wages in each would be set by the dominant player in the sector, who would be able to pay more than, say, start-ups. This would make it harder to crack open market incumbents by reducing the available pool of labour at a price we could afford. Coupled with the fact that employees have less influence than employers, I’m giving this a -1.

6. Energy

Ah, Roger Helmer, a man I recall responding to my press releases with ‘Poppycock!’ whenever I said something he didn’t want to believe. UKIP’s energy policy is based on opposition to something they don’t want to believe, namely climate change. They reject renewables that impact on the landscape (solar and wind), want an end to environment-related subsidies, love nukes and want more gas and coal.

The practical upshot of this will be to cement the market dominance of the Big Six energy supply companies, because the big stuff is expensive and they’re the only ones building it. The only power plants built in the UK in the last five years which aren’t owned by an international energy conglomerate are renewables or small-scale CHP.

The response of the market incumbents to the removal of environmental tariffs will be the discovery that the previous price was what the market could bear, so they’re free to raise prices. If UKIP genuinely think that the Big Six are going to suddenly opt for lower profits then they’re being even more bonkers than when they think you need a Sea Harrier to blow up a dinghy. A big -1 here.

7. The EU

Bafflingly, UKIP doesn’t have a policy on the EU. They mention that they want to leave in other documents, but they don’t set out how they’d do it. I therefore am unsure of the impact of this ‘policy’ – certainly, redistributing power from Brussels to the UK counts as being anti-establishment, but because our ties to the EU are so complex its impact is uncertain. EU funding for deprived regions would vanish, along with substantial trade ties. We’d certainly be poorer, at least initially. I therefore have to give this a 0, pending further information.

In conclusion, UKIP score -1 on the anti-establishment front, or 0 if you exclude their tax ‘proposal’. From this we can say that UKIP, despite its Farage-shaped veneer, is at least as pro-establishment as the other parties, and potentially even more so.

A rival to liberalism

May 17, 2012

Flip Chart Fairy Tales has put up an interesting post entitled ‘A post-liberal future‘. In it, they argue that economic and social liberalism has been the dominant force in our politics for the last quarter century, exemplified in both Thatcher and Blair. Both of the large parties have represented an alliance between liberal and illiberal political objectives, with the liberal objectives of both parties winning out over the illiberal. FCFT summarises this thusly:

“As it reached out to the increasingly powerful middle classes, the old Tory Party of army, church and king adopted economic liberalism to appeal to business interests. The Labour Party fused middle-class radical liberalism with working class socialism and trade unionism, attracting prominent radicals, like the Foots and Benns, away from the old Liberal Party.”

FCFT then covers the reasons why this dominance may be coming to an end with the resurgence of anti-individualism in our politics. Certainly, one can see this at opposite ends of the traditional political spectrum – Blue Labour was in essence a call for the privileging of the working-class community over the success of the individual, while Conservative back benchers with a focus on pro-marriage legislation and law and order have a similar bent. It is in essence a debate over what society should prioritise: individual freedom or social capital, John Stuart Mill versus Karl Polanyi.

It is, however, still a debate which is hopelessly confused. UKIP, a party that takes most of its votes from tradition-bound Tories, is lead by a libertarian. The new economics foundation, a thinktank that focuses on bringing in Polanyi-esque solutions to social problems, has a workstream focusing on providing the individual with tools to participate in democratic decision-making. The majority of the UK’s political discourse still focuses on the question of the distribution of economic resources, rather than the moral focus of society.

However, this has not always been the case. The resurgence of social capital in our political discourse is not new, but rather an old thing come again. The political division at the start of the last century between Liberals and Conservatives encapsulated that distinction. For liberalism to no longer become the dominant political ideology would require a realignment along the same lines as the one which originally led to the ‘strange death of liberal England’. To put this in graphic form, it would require a shift of political alliances from this:

To this:

Such a dramatic realignment of our politics seems unlikely. However, there are signs that it is happening. One of the most noteworthy aspects of the No2AV campaign was the willingness of Old Labour and the more regressive Conservatives to sit down together in order to secure the existing voting system. Indeed, we saw Cameron share a platform with John Reid, something almost unprecedented. John Cruddas, one of the architects of Blue Labour, is rumoured to be in favour of an in-out referendum on Europe – something which would put him in bed with the Tory backbenches.

A real political realignment would not be an overnight affair, judging by the experience of the old Liberal Party. Rather, it would involve coalitions, insurgent new parties, and a willingness shown by parliamentarians to hop the benches to a place that suits their political goals more effectively. The first two are taking place. We have yet to see any significant evidence of the third.