Friday, 18 December 2015

Has Ukip Santa come early?

According to the Graun, " Douglas Carswell, the Ukip MP, has called on Nigel Farage to step down as leader to help the party draw a line under its unpleasant and socially illiberal image" which suggests that Mr Carswell* has misidentified his party's main feature as a bug. As any fule kno, Ukip's whole USP is being unpleasant and illiberal (or "politically incorrect" in Kipperspeak).  Think of the party as a wannabe crowdsourced Donald Trump, optimised to hyperventilate on the oxygen of publicity:
August 2015. Bobby Douglas, a UKIP council candidate in Wales, calls for immigrants to be ‘gassed like badgers’. It would be hyperbolic to attach much significance, in and of itself, to the spleen of a racist mediocrity. But quantity becomes quality, and Douglas is one of many, many such symptoms. His ranting breached even his own party’s standards – UKIP suspended him. This doesn’t obviate the fact that such sadistic cathexis was shoved into the public sphere in the first place: in fact, as we’ll see, it’s part of how it performs a function. UKIP’s an efficient machine for the extrusion of such fantasies into social life, to a purpose, and the party’s repeated suspension of its own members is just the clattering of the mechanism resetting itself.**

In their discussion of what the media theorist Nick Couldry calls its ‘theatre of cruelty’, Henry Giroux and Philip Mirowski, among many others, have have written extensively on neoliberalism’s sadistic culture, the increasingly open vilification of ‘losers’ and the crowing of and over ‘winners’. Swathes of mass entertainment celebrate physical agony (‘torture porn’), metaphorical ‘eviction’ (reality TV) and the punitive gaze at the desperate – leavened with the schmaltz that is its obverse. As Mirowski points out, in Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, it is not, of course, that ‘spectacles of cruelty’ are new, but that the theatre is ‘unabashed’, ‘has been made to seem so unexceptional’; and that in the context of neoliberalism it is doing something distinct. It serves, he says, ‘more targeted purposes [than distraction], such as teaching techniques optimised to reinforce the neoliberal self’.
Writes China Mieville (it's worth reading his whole piece, an angry and very timely take on the mobilisation of vindictive cruelty as a means of social control).

Anyway, the continuing civil war between the party's one MP and its leader looks like an early Christmas present for the rest of us. Or is it? That depends on what Ukip is really for. If the party's wealthy backers intended to realise Margaret Thatcher's dream of eliminating the very idea of socialism from British political life by usurping the Labour Party, then the in-fighting is great news.

If, however, Ukip is just a disposable front for a faction of the conservative family, with the more limited brief of shoving the Overton Window in a more Eurosceptic direction, then maybe it's not such great news. Because if that's all it's for, then maybe the disintegration of Ukip is simply the culmination of a plan coming together. Having nudged the UK towards Brexit, maybe Ukip's work here is done and all that remains is for the party to self-destruct once the Conservative Party has been bullied into an acceptable level of xenophobia. If Ukip is intended to fall apart and stop splitting the small "c" conservative vote once a sufficient degree of Europhobia has been delivered, maybe it's not time to celebrate yet.

Not having access the inner thoughts of Stuart Wheeler and the other mangers of the Ukip piggy bank, I can't say whether we're looking at cock-up or conspiracy here. Let's hope it's the former.

* Post amended - an over-enthusiastic spell-checker originally changed "Carswell" to " Farewell." Glitch or omen? You decide...

**My emphasis.