And speaking of Putin, one of the issues that came up during last nights debate was Farage’s admiration for Vladmir Putin. This despite the fact that his hero is clearly showing many signs of becoming yet another of the world’s despots, and is greatly undermining world security. Indeed if anything, Putin’s actions highlight why we need an EU to present a united front against him and avoid a European policy on Russia being dominated by the interests of the US.
Inevitably in the mind of a fantasist like Farage, he cannot understand why anyone would be so desperate as the Ukrainians to join the EU. He fantasied also last night that in the event of the UK leaving, the EU would implode without Britain, trying to suggest that protesters in Greece and Cyprus were fighting to break up the EU.
Actually what the protesters were opposing was the lack of EU solidarity for the situation in Greece, which they argue is not in keeping with the spirit of co-operation (i.e. they want an EU that isnt dominated by right-wing, free market acolytes like Farage, Cameron or Merkel).
And in truth if the UK left (interesting to read how Brussels reacted to the debate), the rest of the EU would likely heave a huge sigh of relief, probably move towards greater federalisation…which, as was pointed out to Farage last night, he’d have no choice but to sign up too (and pay for!) as part of the price of getting a free trade agreement with the EU.
But leaving such obvious contradictions and hypocrisies aside, I would argue that Farages fawning over Putin betrays the fact that inside UKIP or the Tea Party types talking loudly about liberty, theres an Authoritarian fighting to get out.
For example on energy, UKIP have this strange obsession with nuclear (which we should probably be worried about!) wanting to get much of the UKs energy from nuclear. But a nuclear building programme would be a major international project that would take many decades and require much free movement of migrant workers. Even the French, despite their massive investment in nuclear cannot build an entire plant by themselves. Indeed the core of the reactor as well as many other crucial parts would almost certainly come from either Japan, China or Korea. So obviously this plan is incompatible with UKIP’s policy on immigration.
Indeed who is going to pay for these reactors? The British financial services industry turned its nose up at nuclear, even with the government offering to allow them to charge up to three times the going rate for electricity, hence why Hinkley point C is being financed by the Chinese.
And this mirrors the reality that much of the inward investment into the UK over the last twenty years has come from Asia and Europe, the very places which UKIP proposes to shut the door on, the very people whom they and the Home office are driving around telling to go home. How exactly would the UK fund its economic growth with policies that effectively make inward investment into the UK impossible?
And then theres UKIP’s policy on tax. One of the major hurdles faced by governments at the moment is the so-called baby boomer pension time bomb, which represents a demographic shift with far more retirees and less and less working age people paying tax to fund pensions. There are questions as to how the UK or many other Western states will avoid bankruptcy and afford to fund these pensions. Up until now the UK has managed to get around these demographics, by working age migrants coming in, getting jobs (sometimes as carers for the elderly!) and paying tax. Better yet, not only do we not have to pay for the education or upbringing of these migrants, many of them ultimately leave the UK before they get old and become a burden on the tax payer.
Where Farage sees scary dark skinned foreigners, the Treasury sees free money. As Ive mentioned before migrants, be they from the EU or beyond, are less likely to claim benefits that British citizens and the tiny amount this costs the taxpayer is easily outweighted by the taxes from those migrants who are working and earning. So many of those old folks cheering on Farage last night need to consider that a vote for him is probably a vote for a reduced pension and living out your days living on cat food while burning furniture for warmth.
Inevitably if UKIP ever made it into power, either as a majority party or a coalition partner, its likely that like so many other far right populist parties in other European countries, theyd be confronted with a fairly swift reality check. They would find it impossible to implement their policies (as they are often unworkable and often non-starters from day one). Even their cherished in or out referendum on the EU (consider it took the SNP many years and two parliaments to get this on the ballot paper despite holding a majority) would not be guaranteed, nor as straightforward to implement as they propose, as Ive discussed before.
What has resulted in other EU states, is typically that the Populist Party simply implodes at this point as it fails to achieve its stated goals, amid infighting and backstabbing, leading to an early election and them being crucified in the polls.
The alternative route however, which weve seen in other parts of the world, is to implement such radical policies by eliminating the principle obstacle democracy. Hence when a UKIP government finds the energy industry still wants to build wind farms (about a third of the electricity in republican Texas now comes from wind) or indeed the industry spooked by uncertainty stops all infrastructure improvements, forcing a messy nationalisation of the entire energy industry (maybe not a bad idea, but Farage’s icon Thatcher would be rolling in her grave). When immigrants start leaving and taking their money with them, the state reacts (as Putin has done in the past) with capital controls. When prices soar as a result of the impact of the countrys reduced trade with other countries, the state starts trying to fix prices.
When pensioners and the (former)working class types who originally voted them into power, show up outside parliament banging on pots and pans, the government is suddenly looking for new police powers to stop them. And when the media reports on this crack down and starts making a big deal about it, the state looks to censor these stories. This is essentially how Farage’s hero Putin when from populist to defacto dictator.
Similarly the American Tea Party is beset by obvious contradictions (as I mention in this long post here). Should you think Farage is a little unhinged, just listen to Rand Paul, the poster child of the Tea Party and US libertarians. He has endorsed a view that Christianity should be the state religion of the US, that it would be okay for a restaurant to refuse to serve someone based on their race and the discrimination against disabilities act should be repealed.
And those are among his less insane political positions, as he has also suggested that Medicare payments to doctors (i.e. hundreds of thousands a year) amounts to slavery, takes his pro-life views to the point of wanting to ban the morning after pill, blames World War 2 on the US and wants to face off against his opponents not with a debate, but by fighting duels (pistols at dawn!) :crazy:.
Meanwhile the religious conservative wing of the Tea Party wants to not only ban gay marriage but adopt policies like those in Uganda (which were inspired by a US preacher) and ban it altogether. If you think Obama’s too authoritarian with Obamacare, one can scarcely think of a government that is more authoritarian than one which not only comes in the door of your house, but up to the bedroom and tell’s you want you can and cannot do.
And the Libertarians favourite, the imposition of the gold standard, shows they are poor students of history. As a gold standard would probably have the oppose effect they believe (interesting lecture on that from an economist here), where we would see the rolling back of many of the post-Nixon free market reforms and a return of Keynesian style government intervention in the economy. Now while a little bit of that might not be a bad thing, the point is the end result of such a policy would be more big government not less.
Back in the real world, politicians often use the term realpolitik to describe the dilemma they often face. As there are certain policies that would just be impossible to implement, either because they would lead to massive discrimination and unfairness to certain people (democracy can be characterised as majority rule with minority rights) or the end result would be so hugely unpopular that the government of the day would be guaranteed to lose the next election, or the policy is just not practical or workable.
So while populist politicians might make interesting sound bites, the truth is that much of what UKIP is about is right wing political fantasy. Hard core political porn for disaffected Tories.
But should Clegg have taken Farage on? Not in the context in which the debate was held. Debating with someone who lives in a fantasy world make about as much sense as playing blind poker with a compulsive liar. You say youve a 4 of a kind, he says hes got a full house, you get an all blue, he claims to have a flush. You cant win!