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 will 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.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.