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A FASCINATING article in the Spectator at the end of June described the involvement of some well-heeled individuals from the US in the Ukip meltdown.
I don’t suppose Morning Star readers look at the very right-wing Spectator that much. But when it comes to the internal life of Ukip, I think Spectator journalist Freddy Gray has better sources than me, so the story merits some attention.
Ukip’s leadership have all fallen out with each other since failing to get any more MPs at the last election.
Obviously, the failure to get seats is the biggest reason for their disarray. But the Spectator says there is another force at work.
During the election Nigel Farage went for a strategy called “Shock and Awful” — of deliberately making statements that even his fellow Ukippers thought were shocking.
A prime Shock and Awful outrage bomb was dropped when Farage said “foreigners” with HIV shouldn’t be treated on the NHS in a high-profile television leaders’ debate.
This looked like a move away from Farage’s English-as-a-pint-of-bitter bigotry into US shock-jock styling.
And there was a US influence at work. A US website called Breitbart, run by former banker turned amateurish journalist Steven Bannon, got very keen on Ukip.
Bannon’s work and the Breitbart websites look pretty weak from Britain — sort of like a badly written Daily Mail.
Their documentary Occupy Unmasked gives a flavour of Bannon’s paranoid approach.
Apparently Occupy was a violent, dangerous, drug-ridden movement that was secretly funded and organised by big money “liberal operatives” — so simultaneously far-left, and run by Obama’s financial backers.
The Breitbart paranoid work may look unconvincing in Britain, but there are a lot of Tea Party-ish US folk clicking their mice and staring at their screens in the US, so it is fairly successful.
The Spectator called Breitbart a “mysteriously rich right-wing website.” There is a lot of cash around in the US to fund fairly bonkers right-wing projects.
Breitbart has set up a British wing under James Delingpole, a British journalist who tried — and mostly failed — to be a right-wing “personality.”
This website began flirting with Farage, and he winked back at the US-funded outfit.
Raheem Kassam, a former Conservative Party activist, first took a job with Breitbart, and then as a senior adviser to Farage.
Kassam is British, but he is an admirer of US-style Tea Party politics, and in turn was much liked by those behind Breitbart.
Kassam is widely seen as a divisive personality who helped Ukip’s leadership fall apart.
As the Spectator tells the tale, this shows that Farage was tempted by these US-funded types who promoted a “Tea Party tendency” in Ukip, whose attempts to launch an aggressive, US-style culture war destabilised Ukip.
Farage was once able to build a right-wing party by making it look down-to-earth and very British, to appeal to full-on bigots but also not frighten the horses of the horse-riding set.
But the brash US rightwingers spoiled all this.
“British politicians are easily seduced by American money and power, and it seems Farage, for all his anti-elitism, was no exception,” said the Spectator, with sadness.
Many of us aren’t sad at all about the Ukip self-destruct. But it is an interesting lesson about transatlantic traffic on the right.
US rightwingers have big money and loud voices, so can be a creepy influence on British politics.
But they mostly deal with a naive and supportive US audience so their schemes sometimes fall apart when they try and run them in Britain.
What the Spectator carefully avoided saying was that Kassam was also director of campaigns at the Henry Jackson Society.
This is another transatlantic right-wing group, that spends its time supporting US foreign policy — even if that means endlessly defending the CIA against charges of torture.
Some top Labour MPs — including shadow cabinet member Chris Bryant — should wonder if they still want to be members of a group that can employ Kassam, a man too divisively right-wing even for Ukip.
IN JUNE David Cameron laid the basis for George Osborne’s cuts to tax credits by arguing that they are “topping up low pay.”
Cameron said we should abandon “the complacency in how we approach the crucial issue of low pay” so we should “move from a low-wage, high-tax, high-welfare society to a higher-wage, lower-tax, lower-welfare society.”
Cameron is looking for good reasons to do a bad thing.
Tax credits do subsidise low-paying employers, but the answer to that is to increase pay, not slash benefits.
Osborne did announce increases in the minimum wage, but according to Labour’s calculations, any benefits made by the increased minimum wage are turned into big losses by the tax credit cuts.
In one particular sting, Osborne’s increase, called the living wage, excludes under-25s. So people under 25 aren’t “living,” they are just “existing.”
If Cameron really wanted to raise pay, there is a simple way — make it easier for unions to organise.
But he is actually doing the opposite, passing laws that undermine the right to strike and making it harder for workers to claim in employment tribunals.
When president Franklin Roosevelt launched a plan to get the US out of the Depression in the 1930s, giving unions better rights to organise and strike in a law called the Wagner Act were central.
Unions took advantage, with an organising wave that transformed much of US industry from low-wage to high-wage for generations. British unions did the same over the last century.
If rights are not offered, they must be taken. The cuts in tax credits are a challenge to both the Labour Party and trade unions.
We must find a way to fill the gap left by in-work benefit cuts, one that involves organising the unorganised.
People who work in very profitable shops and offices and workshops and warehouses are currently dependent on benefits which they are about to lose.
The unions, and Labour, need to fill that space by pushing for increased union organising.
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