Last week, the UKIP leader Gerard Batten compared far-right activist Tommy Robinson to Nelson Mandela. Batten claimed that ‘in the grand scheme of things…he will be seen as on the right side of a struggle between good and evil.’ This kind of lunacy isn’t surprising from a party seemingly on its last legs, its membership reduced to an assortment of the alt-right, conventional racists and Hard-Brexit zealots. For years Robinson has also been on the fringes, although his recent imprisonment has energised the far right on both sides of the Atlantic. Suddenly it seems UKIP hasn’t yet died its last death.
The political irrelevance of UKIP and Tommy Robinson has given us some relief in recent years. UKIP’s descent, post-referendum, into an extensive parade of incompetent, problematic leaders at least meant that the figures of Farage and other overtly ethnic-nationalist leaders would not find representation in parliament any time soon. The four million people who voted for him in 2015 would have to find political shelter elsewhere. Sadly, this is no longer true.
The flame of British xenophobia is feeling confidence like never before. UKIP has welcomed alt-right celebrities such as Paul Joseph Watson, Mark Meechan, and Carl Benjamin as part of a surge of disgruntled Tory Brexiteers who feel let down by Theresa May’s Brexit compromise. Recent polls have highlighted a remarkable 8% of voters declaring an interest in this party, which was ugly before but has now veered into outright neo-fascist politics. ‘Free Tommy Robinson’ is a social movement capable of holding rallies across the country and is a focal point of racist hysteria, notoriously abusing a visibly Muslim bus driver who was unfortunate enough to find herself driving through a London demonstration. Criticism of these movements is patchy. Protesters were quick to demonise the visit of Donald Trump to the UK and mobilise around 250,000 against his presence. Yet what good does it do to attack Trump and not the Trumpian spirit of racism, intolerance and white supremacy which also infests the UK?
A newly released YouGov poll suggests that in a second Brexit referendum (with the choices being Deal, No-Deal or Remain): ‘Remain would defeat a no-deal Brexit by 55% to 45%.’ That margin is far from encouraging; it was 55-45% statistics which led Westminster politicians and social media pundits alike to conclude Remain was guaranteed a victory the first time. We have reached the stage in which half the nation, feeling alienated from politics, the media, the ‘experts,’ and aggravated by immigration, have concluded that ‘No Deal’ is a palatable option. May’s attempt to push through a Brexit ‘in name only’ deal seem repugnant to large sections of the electorate, while a second referendum or cancellation of the whole process would likely trigger an unprecedented populist revolt. How on earth did we get here?
UKIP's voters, unimpressed by its dysfunctional operation and beguiled my May's populist Toryism, deserted their party in droves in 2017. The loss of their majority disguised the fact that the Conservatives achieved 42% of the vote in 2017, a historic figure. UKIP voters saw May as an anti-immigrant, anti-European crusader, while for liberals and people of colour it was clear that the contribution of immigration was no longer welcome in the new fortress kingdom. What has emerged under May is a frightening coalition of typical Conservatives and a xenophobic right, keen to pump out contradictory messages about 'fuck(ing)' business and Brexit dividends at the same time. This coalition cannot last.
'Politics hates a vacuum,’ Naomi Klein, the activist, once wrote. 'If it isn't filled with hope, someone will fill it with fear.' As May struggles towards a compromise, a vacuum is opening up between the unhappy bedfellows on the right. The extremists are waiting to fill this with the fears they have relied upon so many times before; fear of change, of diversity, and of national decline. UKIP will ride this to a new notoriety if Brexit is 'betrayed.' This zombie is far from dead.