Farage’s law: why UKIP and the Five Star Movement are short changing reason

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage Visits Eastleigh To Canvass With Candidate Diane James
Image courtesy of the Spectator

A tense dance is underway in Italy this week as the political right and left make moves towards populist leader Beppe Grillo while he skips out of their grasp and jangles the keys to the kingdom over their heads.

The result of Sunday’s election was a predictably muddled affair. Although Pier Luigi Bersani’s left wing challenger Democratic Party (PD) won control of the lower house, its failure to secure the Senate has forced it to grovel at the feet of Grillo’s Five Star Movement which won an amazing 25 per cent of the vote despite only forming three and a half years ago.

The movement prides itself on its anti-establishment mishmash of policies, which include include anti austerity measures, a free internet and mild Euroskepticism. It has refused to negotiate with any of the major parties, predicting fresh elections within the year.

This election has widely been treated as a victory for the little man and protest fringe parties across Europe like UKIP are taking note. But what has Grillo really achieved by bringing Italy to a standstill?

The bizarre populist glee of the Five Star Movement doesn’t seem to account for the stress it puts on the lives of ordinary people. The ‘that’ll learn attitude’ to the news Italy’s position in world markets stuttering and making it harder to get cheap credit doesn’t seem to recognise it has a knock on effect down the chain.

Yes, a fat cat will suffer a fall in his stock but a small business owner will find it harder to invest or even maintain the investments he already has.

Politicians across the world are awful. They are corrupt (especially in Italy), nepotistic, distant and far too concerned with their image than their voters. But protest voting won’t help.

The rise of movements like UKIP and the Five Star Movement demonstrate how politics now exists in a warped reality where people don’t understand the unavoidable unfairness of power. People think they are sending a message but all they are doing is perpetuating the Daily Mail politics which have got the modern political establishment in such a muddle in the first place.

UKIP and the Five Star Movement tell people what they want to hear, they create crowd pleasing policies that appeal to emotion rather than reason. At least the major parties make a stab at both even if they are mostly unsuccessful.

Have you ever read a UKIP manifesto? Its nonsensical. They promote conflicting policies and campaign on a social issues platform that went out of fashion twenty years ago. When challenged on this points they resort to bluster or blaming the EU.

For instance, in leaflets distributed by UKIP candidate for the Eastleigh byelection, Dianne James claimed four million Bulgarians planned to come to the UK in January 2014. In the Channel 4 hustings for the election, Kristan Guru Murphy pointed out there are only seven and half million Bulgarians in Bulgaria.

If UKIP really thought they had a ‘realistic chance of winning’, they would have put Farage in the hot seat.

Similarly, visit the comment pages of the Times, the Telegraph and Conservative Home, they seize even the flimsiest excuse to play the ‘Emperor’s New Followers’, pretending they are the voice of the majority when they just shout the loudest.

Or maybe they represent the majority of people with nothing better to do than spend all day online making snarky comments on the internet.

There is one fundamental rule of the internet, Godwin’s law; the longer an internet conservation goes on the probability of someone mentioning the Nazis reaches one.

Maybe its time that rule was amended so the probability of someone mentioning the EU becomes one. We could call it ‘Farage’s law’.

And whoever says ‘Vote UKIP’ immediately loses the argument. Especially if they do it in ALL CAPS.

They lie as much as any other politicians. The only reason they look humbler than any other political party is because they have less money and less political skill. Incompetence and bluster do not good rulers make.

Neither does a one line economic policy. Economics is a broad church; there are so many differing opinions out there all worshiping at the altars of Hayek, Keynes, Freedman, Marx etc. Modern, high profile and highly respected economists tend to pick sides. Some support Labour, some support the Conservatives, some advocate EU withdrawal, some do not.

But name me one high profile economist who agrees with UKIP. You can’t. Even if any existed, they would not dare admit it for fear of being laughed out of their departments.

Economics is an ugly, finicky, complicated business much like politics and there are no right answers or simple solutions. UKIP are not representing the people properly, they are probably disrespecting the electorate more than anyone else with their callous treatment of reason.

UKIP policy is an assault on reason. There is nothing wrong with ordinary people entering parliament, in fact it should be encouraged, but not because their overwhelming quality is their ordinariness. UKIP suffers from an inverted snobbery which pushes their candidates to the opposite end of the spectrum than the current roster of the three main parties.

Debate is binary, decisions are knee jerk, solutions are simplistic. They do not understand the unfair nature of political power is eternal and the problems of representation will probably never be solved, especially not by stamping your feet.

Their interpretation of ‘rule by the people’ is to sneer at intellectuals for being out of touch as if the lifetime long study of market forces is less of a qualifier to decide fiscal policy than ‘man down the pub’ logic.

Intellectualism is not any more of a disqualification for rule than ordinariness. UKIP criticise politicians for telling people to think in a certain way then tell them to think in a different way.

Whatever happen to thinking for yourself? It’s these different ideas and a place for everyone to share them is what we need. Not a new party line to follow.

They attack, they don’t challenge. They whine, they don’t debate. They are more interested in what people want to be the right answer, not what it actually is.

The rise of UKIP has exposed the holes in the modern political system. But they do not provide the solution.

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The youth timebomb: why the angry generation is becoming the militant generation

talibanFor many years people have been trying to explain why rational young men turn to extremism. From French revolution era protests like the Babeuf plot, the exploits of the IRA to modern day Islamist extremists at home and abroad, academics, psychologists and historians have tried to understand why they commit such heinous acts against their fellow men.

Now, not for the first time, sexual availability (and the lack there of) has been cited as the main cause of Afghan men joining the Taliban by journalist Mujib Mashal in an article for Foreign Policy.

Of course, I do know pretend to be an expert on the subject of Afghan culture but I find it hard to believe it can be boiled down to such a simple cause.

Mashal argues young men in the still deeply traditionally Afghanistan are becoming sexually frustrated by the lack of marriage opportunities in a country where bride prices remain high despite low levels of employment. Many men are being forced to seek employment as labourers in Iran to raise the money demanded by women’s families and are thus (supposedly) remaining virgins for longer.

The build up of this frustration is supposedly being exploited by the Taliban who offer the best wages in the area, especially in Helmand, and the promise of 72 virgins waiting for them in paradise.

While I have to concede Mashal probably knows more about the specifics of the region (and being a man) than I do, I have to question if it can really be that simple. To boil down all male frustrations in a situation as complex as Afghanistan seems unnecessarily reductive.

Instead the picture, as always, is more complex.

Some blame must be held at the feet of the NATO occupation itself. Whilst America and their allies have been welcome in the past by the metropolitan elites of Kabul, after 11 and a half long years of occupation their patience is wearing thin.

The invading forces promised democracy, prosperity and peace they are struggling to deliver on that promise. Afghanistan is at the bottom of Transparency International’s list of corruption states alongside North Korea and Somalia. Hamid Karzai is supported by the NATO alliance not because he is a paragon of democratic virtue, but because he is not the Taliban. There are still questioning lingering over the the Afghan government’s legitimacy as well as the undue influence of Karzai’s family which has grown mysteriously wealthy since he took office.

Karzai’s own brother has been linked to the lucrative opium trade rampant in the country which is said to provide the Taliban with most of their funds.

As much as I am loathed to use historical examples as an absolute guide to the future of the country, I have to draw some parallels with America past interventions in the 20th century. The support of the Batista regime in Cuba, despite local opposition made it easier for Fidel Castro to swoop in as the America’s feared.

So a similar fate could await Afghanistan when the troops pull out. With even Karzai himself blaming the corruption woes of the country on its foreign occupiers it is easy to see how dissatisfaction can turn into extremism.

Like the young in the UK, Afghan young people were promised prosperity. However, unlike the young in the UK, they are living in an extreme and dangerous environment. After growing up amidst bloodshed and warfare a whole generation of young men and women thought they would start to see the beginning of a new order which has been instead mired in the old ways of corrupt leaders, blind occupiers and frustrated local communities.

For young (and old) women, domestic violence, rape and honour killings are still commonplace. Women were forced to accept a law passed in 2009 that banned them leaving the house in certain circumstances without the consent of their husbands. While the more urban educated classes may welcome women’s emancipation, the rural attitudes towards women suggest the country still has a long way to go.

For young men, often there only one choice; become a labourer or become a ‘freedom fighter’. With great wealth and power cut off by the dominance of a corrupted elite, the windows that appeared to open in 2001 have snapped shut in their faces. Many are too young to really remember what life was like under the Taliban and many are probably feeling like the unknown foreign devil is convenient scapegoat for all their problems.

Instead of sexual frustration, maybe the real reason for so many young men joining the Taliban is frustration itself. Sex, eternal glory and wealth all play their part in a bigger picture of dissatisfaction and disenchantment with the status quo. Maybe joining the Taliban for many young men in Afghanistan is an act of defiance? Instead of wanting 72 virgins, maybe this just want someone to sit up and take notice?