This post is part of a series where members of staff at The Equality Trust review books that have something interesting to say about inequality. We also now have a new Recommended Books section of the websitewhere you can find a list of the best books to read to learn about inequality.

The Equality Trust has an affiliate link with Blackwell’s bookshop which means that if you purchase a book after clicking through from a link on our website we will receive a small portion of the proceeds.

A review of Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin (Routledge).

This book is not, on the face of it, about inequality but I would argue that it is hard to make sense of its findings without an appreciation of the damage that inequality wreaks on a society. The authors provide compelling evidence of the harm of inequality. Put simply, they demonstrate clearly that material differences create social distances.

The main finding of the book is that there is an increasing number of people in the UK who are, or at least feel, “left behind” as our economy and society evolves. It is these people who have been turning to UKIP. The authors identify those left behind as people who are finding success hard to come by in our economy for various reasons. They may be older people or those who have had fewer years in education or those who have found it hard to update their skills to fit with the modern world of work – or a combination of all these factors.

Whilst there are clearly some supportive of UKIP due to their direct hostility to the EU and immigration, it is also clear that increasing numbers of UKIP supporters are motivated by anguish and anger at feeling left behind, and they believe that UKIP speaks for them. This explains the party’s recent surge in support in areas of the country which have traditionally been off limits to them, such as Labour’s northern heartlands.

The messages that UKIP delivers on immigration, the EU and the liberal, ‘out of touch metropolitan elite’ are getting a particularly warm reception precisely because so many people are struggling to make ends meet at the moment. It is this brute material fact that makes people angry and less tolerant of others, especially those who appear to be doing better than them or are perceived as getting a fairer deal from government than they are. When money is tight it is often difficult to find time and a kind word for family and friends let alone the world beyond your front door. When times are hard, it is tempting to look around for others to blame.

The key chapter of the book for me was chapter 4 on the social roots of UKIP. It begins with the story of John, 64, from Nottingham, a fictional composite character based on the analyses of UKIP voters made by the authors in their extensive fieldwork. John was made redundant at age 50 from after a long and stable career of gentle progression in a manufacturing company. Since redundancy he has had a series of low-paid temporary jobs and is clearly very angry. John notes:

“There was a time when the working man was respected, when politicians listened to us, when if you kept your head down and worked hard they’d make sure you’d get a fair go. Thatcher’s lot believed in that. Labour too, once.That’s all long gone now. Those in Westminster don’t give a toss about us.”

But if all this had not happened to John, if he had been able to stay in decent employment until retirement, would he have been tempted by UKIP’s messages? If he had managed to keep his life on track in the way he wanted, would he have been as angry and disillusioned?  If he had felt that, at the very least, his life was jogging on satisfactorily or improving and that he was doing as well as – or keeping in touch with – most other people, would he have been quite so irked by other issues of the day and the lives of other people, particularly immigrants, in his area? John’s constrained and precarious material circumstances directly affect how he relates to other people and are expressed in his political choices.

As I write this blog, we are a few days away from the Scottish independence referendum and the Yes campaign has apparently seen a big swing in support. A major part of its case is the argument that an independent Scotland will be able to steer a path towards a more equal and fairer society than is currently possible within the UK. Meanwhile, a recent survey shows that one in five Londoners would like the capital to form its own Vatican-style state in the belief that they would then be better off.

Our high level of inequality is acting as a centrifugal force driving not just the rise of UKIP; it is also raising tensions across the country. One only has to look at the US to see where inequality can lead in terms of things falling apart. If we are to avoid a situation where Alderley Edge eventually declares independence from Cheshire, or where Morningside secedes from Edinburgh for that matter, we are going to have to narrow our material differences such that we can more readily recognise each others’ lives and identify with one another more strongly. This way we can disperse the fog of distrust and suspicion that clouds so much of our social discourse and replace it with understanding, sympathy and tolerance. This is the only sure basis for building a cohesive and flourishing society.

This book is detailed and academic in its approach but it is highly readable and accessible even if it does rather over-repeat and hammer home its central message. It should be of interest to all those who want to make sense of what is happening to our political landscape at the present time. It should certainly be required reading for the main party leaders before the 2015 general election.

Bill Kerry, Supporters & Local Groups Manager.

Click here to purchase this book from Blackwells