WASHINGTON – Last week at a small private event in Washington, D.C., a chance encounter occurred between Nigel Farage, a member of European Parliament and the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), and Alabama’s own Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Farage acknowledged Sessions’ work, for which he said much like his own efforts in the United Kingdom and the rest of the European continent, had upset the applecart in Washington, D.C.
The two of them have had a parallel track in that their politics aren’t rooted in a popular ideology to further their political gain. But instead, they have seen the sentiment of their respective countries shifting increasingly to their long-held political beliefs.
UKIP was formed in 1993 as a protest to the UK’s entry into the European Union. Farage was one of the founding members and for years, his effort played an inconsequential role in British politics.
But in recent years, UKIP, while still very much opposed to EU membership, has broadened its platform to argue for lower taxation, smaller government and to oppose the push for multiculturalism that some say is causing the nation to lose elements of its thousand-plus-year-old identity.
It was the local elections of May of last year that UKIP emerged as a serious political threat. The party took a whopping 23 percent of the vote in the local elections, only 2 points behind UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party.
The reason for the rise of UKIP some say had been because Cameron had advocated positions that have traditionally been championed by left-wing elements in Britain, including the Labour Party and the liberal Democrats. Cameron embraced the United Kingdom’s nationalized healthcare system and became a proponent of gay marriage. He even took the extraordinary step of changing his Tory Party’s emblem from the flame of liberty to a tree meant to symbolize environment consciousness.
That’s a lot like what is going on here at home. Although not as overt as Cameron and his Conservative Party have been, some Republicans – including the party’s leaders – have softened on traditionally held policy stances.
The most notable of those has been on immigration.
On that issue, Democrats have been more liberal on who to allow into the United States, which suits their political interests to do so. But now Republicans are coming around to the Democratic Party’s position seemingly because it suits big business’ interests by providing lower costs on labor and could widen profit margins with cost savings.
But it neglects what is in the interest of the average American. Those lower labor costs will mean a reduction in wages and that’s been Sessions’ chief argument on immigration policy from the get-go.
That has made Alabama’s junior senator a respected figure in conservative circles. While much of his own party has evolved on immigration, Sessions has stuck to his argument that any widespread move to make it easier for non-U.S. citizens to come to this country isn’t necessarily as good for the national economy as purported.
Farage’s opposition to the push for a unified Europe is much like Sessions’ fight because it will devalue the British worker. Labor from poorer countries in the EU will be able to move freely across international borders without the hassle of immigration laws and regulations. That means the British subject could have his livelihood undermined by an Eastern European immigrating to Britain willing to work for a significantly less pay.
But these ideas aren’t new ones. They instead have been incorporated into a brand of populism that is growing in Western countries as the interests of the so-called global economy are overtaking those of the individual in those countries.
It’s not just economics, but that sentiment is also showing up at the cultural level.
People in some Western countries are being forced to forego some of their own traditions to avoid offending the Muslim immigrant community that has taken up roots in their country. Same as here in the United States, where the Spanish language is becoming more and more part of everyday American culture.
Those may seem like little things but they add up. And when you have cultural and economic positions becoming in line with each another, movements like what the Tea Party in the United States started out as five-and-a-half years ago and UKIP over the last two years gain strength with politicians like Nigel Farage and Jeff Sessions becoming popular central figures.
The morale of this story is that conservatives, especially in Alabama, are not alone.
In some ways, it’s easy to get discouraged by national politics – especially in Alabama and the rest of the South when the rational politics seem to be out of line from what everyone in the rest of the country is thinking. It’s a refreshing change of pace, however, to see a related sentiment that is similar to what his held by a majority in Alabama to be catching on 4,500 miles away on the other side of the pond.