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Responses to Anne Marie Waters’ UKIP leadership bid

Anne Marie Waters started her activist career firmly on the left.  She worked closely with Maryam Namazie, and campaigned to be adopted as a Labour candidate in Brighton.  Then, in 2013, she resigned from her position as Co-Spokesperson of One Law for All and by 2014 had joined UKIP.

I’m in sympathy with much of what Maryam Namazie has to say here. However, as she indicates, sometimes the political differences in play can be hard to tease out.  In his own hostile response to her Labour candidacy bid, Andy Newman failed to clearly distinguish between legitimate secular concerns and bigotry.  For example his chosen illustration suggested that One Law For All involvement was, in itself, a dealbreaker. Perhaps partly because of this kind of scattergun attack, some left/liberal commentators took Waters’ side, seeing her failure in Brighton as a symptom of the left’s failure to deal with Islamism.

Here Namazie makes too sharp a distinction between anti-Islam(ism) activism from the liberal/ left (and indeed the centre right) and the  far right.

I oppose Sharia in Britain and everywhere because universal rights, secularism, women’s rights and equality mean something to me. The EDL and Tommy Robinson oppose it because they want to defend their “homeland” (which I am reminded is a human right recognised by the UN) from “the changes and dangers brought to it by mass influxes of people from cultures they don’t understand or recognise.”

The binary is a bit fuzzier than Namazie implies. I certainly don’t agree with Waters, but I believe concerns about secularism and women’s rights are key drivers behind her activism.  However one can acknowledge that and still deplore the direction her concerns have taken.  I posted back in 2013 about just one problem (having ventured a criticism of her stance on Islam as a footnote to this post) and since then she has teamed up with Tommy Robinson as well as the truly egregious Paul Weston to form the British version of Pegida – Weston wants to see Muslims banned from public office. She is also the founder of Sharia Watch whose activities have been the focus for several critical posts here.

Waters’ own manifesto is less extreme than Weston’s – but includes several uncompromising measures such as ‘internment of known jihadis’.  (It’s not clear how the term ‘jihadis’ would be defined’). Here’s part of the proposed policy on immigration:

Examine the culture and values of the home nation of potential immigrants to ensure that they will be compatible with those of the majority of the British public. Immigration from societies that have opposing values to ours, will not be permitted

Even looking at this issue through a very anti-Islamist, or simply anti-Islam, lens, this seems an unreasonable position.  Where would this leave dissenting Muslims, not to mention ex-Muslims and religious minorities?

I’m not sure whether Waters has toned down her own views to be more palatable to UKIP, but in some respects her manifesto is less extreme than, say, Geert Wilders’.  (He wanted to close all mosques and ban the Qur’an). However it’s still not going down well with many more mainstream UKIP voices – some MEPs have threatened to quit the party if her bid is successful.

There’s an amusing symmetry between what’s happening in UKIP and the situation in Waters’ previous preferred party of choice.  Waters, like those on the Labour left, says she wants ordinary members to have more say in how their party is run, and, again like the Labour left, has sparked accusations of entryism. Here’s a passage from her manifesto:

As far as UKIP is concerned, the party too has to embrace change. One of the biggest issues with UKIP is the wide gulf between the leadership and the grass roots. As far as I’m aware, there is no process, consistently practiced, that allows grassroots party members to express their views and to influence policy decisions.

Local and constituency branches should debate and vote on major UKIP policy, too. If members are expected to put in the hours of work it takes to campaign for a party at election time, then they should have a say in what they are campaigning for. I would put in a place a process that directly allows UKIP’s grassroots to have a say at the top – I would close the gap between the leadership and the very backbone of the party.

Unsurprisingly, liberal and left voices oppose her candidacy.  But Guido Fawkes also seems worried.  Whereas most of her critics focus on Waters’ anti-Islam stance, Fawkes (with an eye to his readership I assume) thinks the most damaging thing he can say about her is that she is actually – quite left wing.

His accusation of incoherence is exaggerated.  There have been plenty of groups over the last century who combined populist ideas from left and right.  Just thinking about the current European far right, Marine Le Pen has some fairly left wing policies on bread and butter matters despite promoting socially conservative views on issues such as gay marriage.  By contrast Geert Wilders is more socially liberal (Muslims aside).  And UKIP itself has oscillated a good deal – sometimes presenting itself as very libertarian and small state, at other times putting forward policies to the left of the Conservatives.

There are perhaps three different scales in play here – nationalist/globalist and socially conservative/socially liberal as well as traditional economic left/right.  (That may partly account for the counterintuitive voter intersection between UKIP and Labour and between Mélenchon and Le Pen).

It will be interesting to see how Anne Marie Waters’ candidacy will fare. She was dropped by the NEC as a parliamentary candidate, and will have to be cleared by the NEC before her bid is formally approved.  However booking odds place her as second favourite to win, behind Peter Whittle.