Could UKIP's rise herald a new chapter in Russian-British relations?

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist based in Russia.
Could UKIP's rise herald a new chapter in Russian-British relations?
Another month, another by-election success for the UK Independence Party. Mark Reckless’ victory last Friday in Rochester and Strood - by almost 3,000 votes - followed Douglas Carswell’s in October.

Carswell took 59.7% of the vote in Clacton, with the ruling Conservatives a distant 2nd with 24.6%.

UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage now says “all bets are off - the whole thing is up in the air.” He’s referring to next year’s general election, due to be held in May. Whether, UKIP are involved in forming the next government or not, even if their support turns out to be a flash in the pan, British politics has been changed utterly.

Since 1918, when the previously popular Liberal party split in two, the UK has operated a 2 and a half party system. The Conservatives and Labour have swapped roles in government and the ‘niche’ Liberals have played the role of the spare wheel. Ironically, the last time this status quo was threatened was in 1931, during the last recession to cause equivalent alarm as the 2008 Global Economic Crisis.

That interruption was caused by splits. Support for UKIP, sometimes perceived as a splinter from the Tory party, is more nuanced than that simplistic notion and they’ve succeeded, somewhat, in being a “catch all” grouping. Farage’s genius has been to appear common and in touch, by contrast with stuffy Westminster “lifers.” Furthermore, it seems the UKIP leader’s manner is genuine, not contrived.

In a Britain smothered by liberalism and politically correct diktat, where the 2 1/2 parties are more or less identical, here’s a politician that bucks the trend. When Farage is pictured drinking a pint and smoking a cigarette, it doesn't appear to be staged - it seems he actually enjoys a beer and a fag. This runs contrary to the slick PR and heavy spin of modern establishment leaders.

This month, UKIP’s opinion poll figures nationally have ranged anywhere between 11% and 23%, with 16% being the average. By contrast, just two years ago they were attracting about 6%. In Westminster’s first-past-the-post electoral system, 6% is nothing, 11% is a mild danger but 23% could win you more than 60 seats. For the record, 16% could snatch between 30-40 constituencies. Anything over 23%, such are the vagaries of the system, the sky’s the limit.

UK Independence Party (UKIP) MP Mark Reckless leaves the Houses of Parliament in London on November 21, 2014 (AFP Photo / Justin Tallis)

UKIP's disruption

All available information suggests that UKIP are not a passing fad but their impact on London’s policy will be immense. The Conservatives are running scared, following defections of sitting MP’s with more rumored to be poised to follow. UKIP have also spooked David Cameron into toughening his stand on EU policy and given succor to the party’s anti-Brussels wing.

Labour is hemorrhaging working class, leftist, voters with a nationalist streak and the Liberals are in free-fall. Farage’s disruptive party could be about to have a profound effect on the EU’s third biggest economy and second largest military power.

So what do UKIP want? They are not socialists and they are also not the far-right. Cleverly, they’ve positioned themselves as the “everyman” grouping. Patriotic, they believe in free trade, lower taxes and personal freedoms. They also want to withdraw from the EU. In their wildly disparate cake, there’s a slice that suits anyone element of a large cross-section of British society, particularly in England.

While UKIP believe the state has become too big, a classic Conservative position, they also support zero taxes on low wages, a Labour viewpoint. Another “socialist” belief is more investment in social housing and further support for the NHS. However, UKIP also claims to be tough on crime - that involves wearing the Tories’ clothes. Furthermore, they pledge to remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights - a heavily anti-Liberal viewpoint.

Russia and Farage

How does UKIP’s rise affect UK-Russia relations now and in the future, should it be sustained?

Farage has openly admitted his admiration for Vladimir Putin, stating that Russia’s President was the world leader he “most admired” and praising Putin’s handling of the Syria situation.

He also supports the Kremlin’s position on Ukraine, blaming the EU for the crisis. Farage demanded the West stop antagonizing “the Russian bear” by poking him “with a stick”, and insisted President Putin is “on our side” in the global war against jihadist extremism.

Farage’s world view - classic European conservatism - is the antithesis of neoliberalism and a standpoint Putin thoroughly shares. However, lest anyone accuse Farage of being too cozy with Moscow, many of UKIP’s policies are bad news for Putin - particularly their support for fracking. The party believes that Britain must exploit all its shale resources to guarantee energy independence.

If Farage, somehow, came to power the effect on - notoriously - tetchy bilateral interaction between London and Moscow would be huge. For the first time since WW2, Russia and Britain could conceivably become allies. This wouldn’t be as strange as it sounds. Russia and the UK have something extremely important in common in the European sense. While both are, technically, part of the continent, they feel only “slightly European.”

This sensation is caused by geographical distance from the heartlands of east and central Europe and from having been great empires. When you are used to calling the shots, it’s hard to take orders from others. Especially from Germany, a country both the UK and Russia (as the USSR) defeated in WW2. This is not meant to cause offence to Germans; it’s a statement of fact on opinions inside the two nations.

Even if UKIP don’t last the distance and their involvement in the next Westminster parliament is negligible, they have forced the issue of Britain’s EU engagement into the open. David Cameron is committed to an “in-or-out” referendum if he is re-elected and it’s conceivable that “out” could be the verdict.

UK Independence Party (UKIP) party leader Nigel Farage speaks to a journalist in Rochester, Kent on November 21, 2014 (AFP Photo)

The UK that came in from the cold

In such a scenario, there are possibilities for Russian-British rapprochement on many levels. Finding themselves cast off from Brussels, the UK will need new friends and, as evidenced by the living habits of the wealthy, Russians do seem attracted to London.

There’s another eventuality that could play out here. A UK exit from the EU could mean a dilution of the famed Trans-Atlantic alliance between Washington and London. The US has already made it clear that it’d prefer Britain to stay with Brussels.

Should the UK leave, Washington will likely attempt to further solidify its relationship with Germany, which would then be the completely undisputed leader of Europe, if it isn’t already. With Britain out in the cold, this would present a massive opportunity for Moscow and also a humongous challenge. If Farage is in power, it could be simple enough. Without him, Russia would need a serious charm offensive in the UK.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.