The new poll that finds almost half of UKIP voters admit to racial prejudice, but a large chunk of those don’t believe themselves to be racist. This goes beyond voters to the many UKIP officials at the local level who have been expelled for racist views, like Rozanne Duncan this month. Again, she says she’s not racist despite not apologizing for what she said.
This seems to be part of the larger devaluation of words in political discourse. If one can admit openly to prejudice but deny they are racist, the whole debate on what constitutes a racist loses its mooring and floats in the void.
Even more extreme individuals use terms like “racialist” or “racial realist” to describe themselves. People who use race to structure their view, and value one conception of race above another, find the word too toxic to apply. This is why language keeps migrating- political correctness has changed over the decades in part because terms gain toxicity from being used as insults, necessitating new, previously unused language. Racist is used as an insult in a way that racialist is not, because racialist was more or less invented in recent times. In that sense, words gain new meaning over time- and what constitutes a racist seems to change by the year. Apparently UKIP voters aren’t racist- they’re some new, replacement word.
In march I wrote a lengthy piece on voter turnout in developed nations, particularly ones with low corruption. My ultimate explanation for the phenomenon of declining voter turnout was what I dubbed democratic fatigue. Google shows that I’m not the first writer to come up with this phrase, but I’m one of very few. It’s a good definition of the problem, so I will continue to use it. Perhaps it will catch on.
The European Union elections concluded last week, one of the largest democratic events on Earth. Ever since direct elections to a European Parliament started, turnout has decreased significantly. Good news in 2014 came not from a positive growth in participation but a stagnation. It was basically the same as it was the last time around in 2009.
What this figure means is an open question. It could mean that 43%, on aggregate, is the bottom. What may be more likely is that there was an increase in interest from far-right and Eurosceptic parties, which propped up an otherwise shrinking electorate. Certainly this may explain some results in countries like France – it’s not just a big shift from other parties, but rather that the National Front electorate is just more interested in these elections. Looking at a party like UKIP, which won the UK elections, one has to see their history of success with EU elections alongside their zero Members of Parliament.
That’s an interesting modifier when looking at democratic fatigue – belief that the election results will change power relations. This applies locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. The perception is that the European Parliament is basically powerless, so voting is more an intellectual (or anti-intellectual) exercise. I find the whole process interesting as an outsider from a two-party country, but it’s quite different from the inside. There’s a thirty point difference between this year’s European elections and the 2010 general election in the United Kingdom. The split between presidential and midterm elections in the United States is well-known. It’s clear that it’s a continuum – people view the President as a clear power player, Congress as a lesser and more nebulous institution, and it goes down the line. The European Parliament at this point has more in common with the UN General Assembly; it is adjacent to power in several directions but is clearly not the group in charge of things.
How to make the EU more engaging and increase participation (an article with some of that conversation is here) is not sure- the disillusion with the elections is nearly total in Slovakia, for instance, while turnout in other countries is robust and healthy. The current state of things seems to be sliding towards a negative election, where people vote for anti-EU parties in increasing numbers, rather than groups that want to build the EU into something larger and better. This isn’t a majority of the vote but it’s headed that way. In my original post I talked about how turnout declines when things are working more or less okay; the Eurozone crisis perked some people up a bit, going against the prevailing feeling that the EU elections are pointless.
There are lessons with last week’s elections all over Europe that can apply on the local and national level. What the European Parliament lacks in power and reach may apply to other governments, and turnout may be lower because of those same issues. Overall turnout for these elections was about the same as for Egypt’s election of their new military general-turned-politician, despite an opposition boycott. Perhaps everyone has found a reason to not show up.
So there is a massive election going on throughout Europe for the European Parliament, with the Netherlands and the United Kingdom voting Thursday, and the bulk of the continent following on Saturday. The election dynamic is an interesting one – historically the Parliament has been without much authority and thus most elections have had very low turnout. Two dynamics are at play that makes this one a bit different. The first is that since the Treaty of Lisbon, EU bodies have been gaining more authority. Thus these elections are gaining some importance, at least in terms of party prestige.
The second is that in the past few years there has been a sharp increase in eurosceptic parties – a generic term for any party that opposes their country’s inclusion in the European Union. These parties are on balance, though not exclusively, conservative to far-right.
Projections indicate a rise for a coalition headed by the UK Independence Party (‘UKIP’, which is said as a word) and increasing seats for parties to the right of UKIP, like the National Front in France. The influence of these parties is also creeping into other groups. The UK Conservatives are being hounded towards a referendum on Britain in the EU, and the Greens support a referendum out of the necessity of getting it over with and focusing on other policy issues.
What I’ve posted up are the current local election results for councils in England, which were held the same day. EU results will not be posted until Sunday (after all the other countries have voted), so this is the data we have to look at now. It is interesting because British political news has been dominated by three questions:
1) Is UKIP racist? The answer to this, at least from my perspective, is “at the very least, unintentionally.”
2) How big will UKIP’s win be, and will they win the European Parliament elections in the UK?
3) Where is UKIP getting all this support from?
The second question is outstanding, though polling indicates it’s likely. The third we can start looking at thanks to this local election data.
I’m going to make a theory based on the simplest look at this current data, which has been developing since returns started coming in. An issue with this is that positive results are necessarily good results. One can still underperform. However, it seems UKIP is getting their increased support from Conservatives that are either upset with the current Cameron administration, angry at the European Union, or both. It seems to me that the switch between the Liberal Democrats and Labour may also be a simple swing – people that aren’t Conservatives (which to some is a lifestyle, or a cultural taboo) but are tired of the coalition government are switching to Labour. The big loser is the UK government, the big winner are parties in the opposition. It’s something that looks familiar to any American who’s seen enough midterm elections, though this has the dynamic of a new political force entering and taking support, rather than it falling back to the traditional opposition.
The EU vote will be interesting for me, since the Greens enjoyed a late poll surge and may hit 10%. Local elections are a bit more difficult (the EU is very environmentally-focused, so a Green vote makes sense), but I hope they pick up a bit of support. As an outsider it’s difficult to grasp all the subtleties – much of the UK election has been about immigration, and I’m not part of the American contingent that thinks immigration is bad or dangerous.
At some level elections are always interesting. No matter what political body they are for, they can tell people, locals or foreigners, something about the country in question. Here we see two shifts, one against the incumbent regime, and another against the larger union that the United Kingdom is a key part of. Combined they benefit two different forces, namely the establishment opposition and the anti-EU front.