Flat Taxes and a Privatised NHS: Ruthlessly Right-Wing UKIP Doesn’t Care About the Poor

In the politics of the Netherlands, a testimonial party is one that exists to accomplish a single cause. So where does the UK Independence Party turn now?

Led by the charismatic and ruthlessly right-wing populist Nigel Farage, UKIP was propelled in a few years from a fringe group to major party status.

But since the vote for Brexit in 2016 the party has lost both Farage’s leadership and the cause of its foundation - opposing EU membership - a mantle embraced by Theresa May’s Tories.

Farage’s former deputy Paul Nuttall - standing in the Stoke Central by-election - is UKIP’s third leader in four months, having succeeded Diane James who resigned a mere 18 days after being elected. Nuttall’s own short leadership has been plagued by calamity due to his apparent habit for alternative fact-telling.

First emerged allegations that Nuttall had fabricated a PhD and a professional footballing career, and he was placed under police investigation for giving his address as a Stoke Central property that stood empty.

But the laughable became the reprehensible when Nuttall’s claims to have had “close friends” affected by the 1989 Hillsborough disaster were contradicted by Hillsborough survivors and justice campaigners.

It appears that the Liverpudlian Nuttall appropriated one of Britain’s worst miscarriages of justice for political profit. Nuttall protests that these accusations are a smear campaign, and he shed tears at UKIP’s spring conference, but his reputation has been left seriously frayed.

Farage has refused to campaign for Nuttall in Stoke, yet has also warned that he has to win to the election to retain his already scant credibility - which could indicate another Farage comeback.

But Farage was adamant about his lack of interest in returning as UKIP leader (and he even hinted of re-joining the Tories to be in a stronger position in lobbying for Brexit). If Farage sticks to broadcasting and President Trump surrogacy, even if Nuttall vacates the leadership, then UKIP faces a critical shortage of potential leaders.

Though the left might revel in UKIP’s dysfunction, there’s no room for complacency

Candidates include millionaire donor Arron Banks, who attacked Hillsborough campaigners for “milking” the tragedy. Douglas Carswell is UKIP’s only MP yet has had a long-running war of words of Farage on the latter’s harsh rhetoric about migrants and refugees.

Suzanne Evans is the skilled communicator who put together UKIP’s last general election manifesto, but Evans is in the Carswell camp reviled by the Farage-loving membership that backed Nuttall.

Though the left might revel in UKIP’s dysfunction, there’s no room for complacency: nearly seventy percent of voters in Stoke-on-Trent voted to leave the EU so Nuttall still has a significant chance of winning.

Given that Nuttall poses a threat to a seat with a large Labour majority, it highlights the dilemma for Labour posed by the rise of UKIP; whereas if Nuttall loses in Stoke it puts into question the future of UKIP as a serious political force.

A recent opinion poll by YouGov indicates that Labour has fallen behind UKIP among working class voters, which no doubt correlates with how dozens of Labour cities and regions across England and Wales voted for Brexit.

On policies like renationalisation of the railways and public utilities, most UKIP voters agree with Jeremy Corbyn. Nuttall, like Farage, has been forced to renege on his sympathy for privatisation of the National Health Service.

Equally UKIP’s record of backing flat-taxes on high-earners and big business, and diluting workplace rights, seems unlikely to appeal to people who would otherwise vote Labour.

UKIP is now positioning itself as a challenger to an "out-of-touch", "metropolitan" Labour Party

The key reason for UKIP’s popularity lies - of course - in immigration, the issue which is more important to most UKIP voters than the matter of EU membership.

Nuttall has focused on immigration in his effort to win in Stoke, blaming Labour for facilitating free movement putting “untold pressure on housing, [while] parents struggle to get the right school place for their children and A&E waiting times are too long.”

But overall, EU migrants are net contributors to the UK economy. According to the London School of Economics, they do “not have a negative effect on local services such as education, health or social housing; nor do they have any effect on social instability as indicated by crime rates.”

UKIP’s support for an “Australian-style” points-based immigration system would limit intake to the tens of thousands. But potential future limits on EU migration are one of the many uncertainties concerning economists in the unfolding disaster of Brexit.

If UKIP wouldn’t dismantle the NHS through privatisation, then it could certainly wreck it by depriving it of staff.  Chris Murray of the IPPR gets straight to the point: “There are currently around 57,000 EU nationals working in the English NHS, accounting for 5% of its workforce; one in 10 of the UK’s registered doctors is an EU national. Without them the NHS would collapse.”

Without Farage and the EU to oppose UKIP is still searching for a new raison d'être. Once a threat to the Tories, UKIP is now positioning itself as a challenger to an "out-of-touch", "metropolitan" Labour Party. But beneath Nuttall’s bluster on immigration lies a policy agenda that could shift the tax burden to lower incomes, endanger public services and compound the impact of a Brexit already hitting living standards.

So Stoke Central has become an acid test for Labour. If Nuttall somehow manages to triumph, then what does it say about Labour’s strategy for winning across Brexit Britain?

More about the author

About the author

Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.

Follow Jacob on Twitter.

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