How Do the British Handle Their Tea Party?

Kiran Stacey provided an illuminating review of a new book about the U.K. Independence Party in the FT this past weekend (possibly paywalled in some locations). The book’s authors, Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin, gained an unprecedented level of access into UKIP, which has supplanted the Liberal Democrats as the nation’s third party. American observers of the Tea Party movement will resonate with some of Ford and Goodwin’s reporting.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage, a master of the dog whistle, laments the changing character of Britain in an artful fashion that masks what is really an hard-edged animus towards immigrants. Who hears the whistle? Deflating the common belief that UKIP members are simply disaffected Tories, Ford and Goodwin discovered that most UKIP members are white, working-class, older males who feel that they are being economically passed by and politically ignored. In UKIP these alienated people — who in prior years would have been solid Labour supporters — find a vehicle to express their rage at government and the dominant political parties.

UKIP’s increasing appeal thus parallels that of the U.S. Tea Party movement, but with one saving grace. The British political system is structured such that the extremes have a hard time capturing either of the dominant political parties. One could see this as weakness, as do Ford and some American political mavens, such as Ed Kilgore. But in my Anglo-American policy work, I find the British habit of sidelining crackpots to be almost entirely to the good.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

One thought on “How Do the British Handle Their Tea Party?”

  1. "Deflating the common belief that UKIP members are simply disaffected Tories, Ford and Goodwin discovered that most UKIP members are white, working-class, older males who feel that they are being economically passed by and politically ignored. In UKIP these alienated people — who in prior years would have been solid Labour supporters — find a vehicle to express their rage at government and the dominant political parties."

    Keith, so far I've red only your short post; I haven't yet followed the link to the source. But in those two sentences above we can find the crux of our "Tea Party problem" (and theirs, too). The problem is that no charismatic progressive leader has emerged to channel the dissatisfaction into productive goals and behaviors.

    In the recent past, our government has seemingly become more and more focused on the interests of "the economy" (as measured by GDP), and less on other economic issues such as unemployment. Even the Fed, which should be the protector of "the economy," has taken control of inflation as its primary objective and growth of the Dow Jones Average as its secondary objective. And in the view of Everyman (which certainly includes a disproportionate number of middle aged whites) that focus has occupied both political parties.

    So Everyman has come to the opinion "a pox on both their houses." And the personification of that opinion is found in politicians like Rand Paul and Paul Ryan (and even the late Saint Ronald of Reagan), who tell us "the government is the enemy. We need to starve the government into submission so we can once again be in control of our own lives."

    What we need, I think, is a Teddy Roosevelt. A charismatic populist who could shout loudly and frequently the great old slogan of the General Electric Company: "In America, progress is our most important product." For two generations we have been sold the idea of "trickle down" — if we take care of business, we'll all be better off by reaping the benefits of improved business. We need somebody with a pulpit, a grand vision, and the energy to keep telling us "those other two atrophied parties are both focused on watching out for business. My plan, and my party, are going to watch out for us citizens, and our country's business will be better off because of it."

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