Boredom and disillusionment are the familiar starting points in many political conversations today. Especially in the wake of the unsuccessful secession attempt in Scotland last September, other avenues have re-opened and provided the establishment with the shake-up it desperately needed.
With public political intake still dominated by both the Labour and Conservative parties – as well as the Scottish Nationalists north of the border – a look into the lesser known policies of the minority parties is worthwhile, not only for interest’s sake, but for the sake of more rigorous decision-making in the run up to the election this May. So then, a pint of ale and a thumbs up to welcome the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and a bottle of locally-sourced mineral water and a friendly wave to welcome perhaps their polar opposites, the Green Party (backed by 15% and 7%, respectively, in the latest YouGov poll).
To begin with the bigger of the two underdogs, news reports surrounding UKIP crossed the threshold of obsession months ago. The splattering of party leader Nigel Farage and some of his associates into wider public political consciousness was not easily avoided. As a result, their image, charisma and outlook are all common knowledge, and most of those who will be voting in three months’ time will already have acquired their own Pavlovian response to the emblematic purple and yellow. Such responses range from the proud smiles of Eurosceptics and climate change deniers, to the chuckle of indifference, all the way to perhaps the most common: two clenched fists and apoplectic disgust.
Comedian and campaigner Russell Brand recently warned of Mr Farage, proclaiming him “a pound-shop Enoch Powell” while sitting opposite the man on BBC’s Question Time. That might have been half a step too far, but in order to judge such a comparison, a deeper look into the UKIP perspective is required. Correspondence with David Challice of UKIP Head Office provided interesting insight into the international aspects of their thinking.
The most widely known of UKIP’s foreign policies – that from which the party takes its name–is a swift departure from the European Union. While the party’s intentions supposedly lie in greater economic autonomy and better moral standing for the British people, this move would have manifold ramifications in the realm of diplomacy, not least because it would likely provoke a furious economic backlash from the powers on the continent. With uncertainty currently fogging the future of the EU anyway, a British exit would not only deliver a heavy blow to regional stability, but also to the UK itself. If only on the cultural side of things, the departure would prove counter-productive; the enigma of ‘British values’ is often thrown about in UK politics. One might be hard pressed to define them exactly, but narrow-mindedness isn’t one of them.
Much less known, however, are UKIP’s other foreign policies. When asked about the main international goals of a hypothetical UKIP government, for example, Mr Challice explained that a central focus would be “to rebuild bridges with all countries, including Iran and Russia.” Rehabilitating diplomatic ties with Syria, he adds, would be a necessary move in the struggle against perhaps the only organisation that has dominated headlines in Britain more than UKIP themselves – Islamic State. Furthermore, Challice stated, “the main security threat to the UK is militant Islam and we should be concentrating on uprooting it wherever it is found.” Britain, Northern Nigeria, Somalia and Iraq are suggested as the main fronts in this endeavour, implying not only a heightened securitisation of Islam on home soil in the event of a UKIP accession to power, but an actively interventionist stance regarding the Middle East and North Africa. If the people of those regions might hope for at least some compensation for such activities, a UKIP government in Westminster would only further disappoint: the party plan to slash the British overseas aid budget from £12.8 billion to £2 billion. Challice explained: “Any aid that we provide will be examined under a microscope. No more money to buy some dictator a new jet or to swell the coffers of his Swiss bank.”
Regarding foreign policy in general, Mr Challice references an obscure inspiration: Clement Attlee’s Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin. Bevin is quoted in saying during his time in office almost eighty years ago, that his foreign policy aim was “to be able to board a train at Victoria and go anywhere I damn well please!” From that, one can only take that Bevin would have adored some form of supranational agreement or institution that would allow freedom of travel across borders: the European Union perhaps.
Turning to the environment, territory in which the Green Party might be better suited, one need only briefly quote Nigel Farage’s opinion on renewable energy. Wind turbines, he said on his Common Sense tour in 2013, are a form of “Vandalism… ugly, disgusting, useless, bird-slicing and expensive…” Ironically, UKIP are set on maintaining the UK’s stockpile of nuclear missiles.
A degree in political science is far from necessary to recognise the Green Party’s central ethos. They are widely respected for it, if only in word and not through tangible votes. Perhaps the only parallel to be reasonably drawn between UKIP and the Greens is that their domestic policies have received the majority of attention so far; but of course striving for a fairer, more ecologically sound society involves much more than domestic affairs. It seems a Green government in office would effectively be a democratic experiment, the first of its kind in the world, and the party intends to make numerous major changes to the UK’s position on the global stage.
“The world we build for our children,” official Green Party policy states, “will not depend on exploitative economic relationships or on new roles for outdated security alliances, but on the acceptance of our global interdependence. The present environmental destruction threatens our common survival; we have no choice but to build common and co-operative responses.” At first glance, this seemingly liberal countermeasure to more realist outlooks such as UKIP’s is obvious. Through greatly modified and increasingly democratized institutional cooperation overseas, the Greens would seek to achieve security without the need for interventions on foreign soil – a policy that has been enacted by every British Prime Minister since James Callaghan. But to think about the ecological hubris that the human race has taunted over recent decades is to realize that the urgency of the Green approach is in fact the most realist of them all.
Under a Green government the British arsenal of nuclear weapons would be immediately and unilaterally dismantled in accordance with the Greens’ belief that their maintenance is not only environmentally reckless and staggeringly expensive, but morally repugnant and illegal. But the party would not stop there. While an effort to maintain minimal yet competent defensive security would continue, offensive weaponry in its entirety would be abolished. To many members of the British public, these aims might appear naïve or even dangerous, and predictable outrage would surely follow in the American camp. The selectiveness and militarization of international cooperation, the Greens would argue, is an illogical remnant of the Cold War order, at no stage of which did the UK play a preponderant role.
Looking beyond arms politics, the Greens would seek to reform, rather than abandon, the EU. An enhanced level of democracy in such an institution is paramount according to this party, and decision-making in the impenetrable fortress of the Brussels bureaucracy should be more transparent, publicly accessible, and publicly accountable too. The stark claim that the Greens would immediately end the so-called ‘special relationship’ adds to these ideas to suggest that, in a Green world, the UK would adopt a more Euro-loving stance. In contrast to UKIP’s suggestion, international aid would be incrementally increased, but highly monitored to avoid dependency and corruption.
Even the shallowest of looks at the hypothetical international interactions of current minority parties shows how open and radical the electorate’s options in reality are. Politics aside, our species plunges deeper towards environmental catastrophe every year. Significant, tangible response from London has been nearly negligible since that issue was raised, and for many, radicalism is the only door left unclosed. UKIP attract many as a protest vote; an exit from the distant mechanisms in Europe. But in the greener picture, such an outlook is almost petty in the face of dangers that threaten not just the nation or the flag, but the entire planet. It could be said that water is always good for you, but stale English ale only does so much.