It is fashionable among a certain kind of leftist to denounce Nigel Farage and United Kingdom Independence Party as fascists these days. It is equally fashionable among a certain kind of rightist to denounce those denunciations of UKIP as ludicrous for as no one in UKIP has (publicly) run around in black shirts Sieg Heiling everywhere. Residing as I do outside the UK and watching the upcoming election develop as it is, I think we should start talking about the fact that both those opinions are wrong, UKIP aren’t fascists; what they are is a Conservative nativist party, something that makes them unique in the history of British politics and much more dangerous than a communal garden fascist.
Britain is one of the few countries in Europe that have never elected fascists its national legislator; A major factor effecting this is historical differences in the way popular politics came about. The Conservative Party is a good example of the unique nature of Britain. Unlike it’s French and German counterparts whose founding was a response to a religious or economic need; or just a direct response to liberal-democratic movements, the Conservative and Unionist party of Great Britain is simply the parliamentary Arm of the British Aristocracy; Though the modern party was founded in 1834 it was a restructuring of the Tory Party (why we still call them Torys) who had gained the original insult from their more liberal opponents in the 1700s, in reference to the Irish Soldiers who had fought for the Absolute Monarchy of James II in 1690, who was trying to reverse the powers Parliament had won during the English Civil war. In this sence the British Conservative party is unique in being able to draw a more or less unbroken line from Cavaliers to themselves.
This is relevant because it’s important to note that British politics is not primarily about Ideology as much as it’s about interests. Ed Miliband is leader of the Party of Labour not the party of Social-Democrats, This has meant that parties in the UK have a wider appeal, dealing with identity and self-interest much more than ideological tenants. This has meant that the two major parties, the conservative party in particular, have historically been very good at absorbing most of their political fringe and driving what remains into political irrelevance.
This, I would argue, is behind the fact that Britain has never come close to electing fascists or indeed electing any fascists to Parliament, If we imagine politics as a sliding scale from left to right, until UKIP came along there was a genuine gap between the Conservative party and the various incarnations of British Fascism. This was because the Conservative party had been able to appeal too and lock down the demographics that typically populate a Fascist coalition; lower middle class, rural poor and the landed gentry. They have managed to do this because unlike their European counterparts, the British gentry have never been under any serious threat of destruction, and thus never fell into the kind of reactionary politics taken on by the European ruling classes at the start of the 20th century, which is arguably why the British aristocracy is still here. This meant that the only demographic available to British fascism was working class kids disaffected with the failures and/or collaborative attitude of the trade union movement, as a result fascism in Britain has taken on a distinct working class identity; distasteful to the upper and middle classes in most cases. This is why if you’re from an English-speaking country and you think of Nazis, you think of shaved heads and football shirts rather than dueling scars and riding crops. As a result fascism in the has never really had a significant group of people who advocate for any of their ideas that – for want of a better phrase – respectable people would and will listen to with a degree of seriousness. Until now that is.
The UK Independence party, along with the Green Party are the symptom of a new kind of politics, ironically much more European in nature, ending the de-facto internal coalitions and moving toward actual coalitions of a balkanized political class. Whilst, on the one hand this has the potential for a wider, more varied political discourse. This however does mean that the kind of people whose support has been withed from fascism in Britain are now freed up to empower the political far right without the shame of being associated in the popular mind with the decedents of Oswald Mosley. This is why organisations like Britan First and the English Defense League have been campaigning for UKIP, whatever the actual intentions of Nigel Farage, The party he leads represents the respectable end of British fascism, and need to be treated as such during the upcoming election, and beyond.