So, UKIP has won outright the recent European elections, and surged in the local elections to an unprecedented level of representation. But what should we make of this?
I for one see it as deeply concerning. Less so, actually, for the potential threat to our membership of the EU. Whilst I consider withdrawal from the EU would be disastrous economically, I understand it’s a debate we need to have. The EU, maybe, has over-extended itself, and for sure people (in many EU countries) don’t like this. It’s arguable the EU should pare down its responsibilities, be more efficient, and slow its march toward a political union. But a UK withdrawal, from the EU? Not if you ask me.
But it’s the racist tone of UKIP and other Euro-sceptic parties that worries me the most. It worries, and amazes, me that Teflon Farage, protected by his ubiquitous pint in hand, can make blatantly racist comments – “you know the difference between living next-door to Romanians and Germans”, for example – and get away with it. This is the 21st century, for goodness sake! And as if we needed proof that his followers aren’t interested in the real facts behind the immigration debate, the man broadcasting to them has a German wife and suspiciously Frenchified surname (in fact, a distant relative was born on the French/German border in the seventeenth century, and Farage’s German ancestors immigrated to UK in the second half of the nineteenth century). The point is, his supporters hear what they want to hear (and what he tells them). It’s classic dog whistle politics/populism.
Clearly, not all UKIP voters are racists, but equally clearly a number are (“bongo bongo land”, and all the rest of it). And, by the way, where d’you think the collapsed BNP vote has gone: into thin air? But most importantly of all, their leader sets the tone. You can look up any number of racist and xenophobic quotes by Farage. He scaremongers about the numbers of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants likely to enter UK (wrongly, it transpires), and stereotypes them and other EU immigrants as criminals and spongers (despite their great contribution to our economy). It goes well beyond a reasoned and informed debate about the pros and cons of EU membership.
My view is the UKIP bandwagon will, eventually, break down – I call their success a protest vote ++ – but in the meantime we must treat it seriously and sensibly, particularly because of its racist overtones. Finally, just as it hits them in the face, the mainstream political parties are taking it seriously – but not behaving sensibly. Shamefully, they’re running scared, and – surprise surprise – playing politics, desperate not to offend such a large swathe of potential voters. They’ve cynically watched as Nick Clegg crashed and burnt in the recent elections for making reasoned comments about the EU/immigration based on true facts. I find it pitiful, particularly in the case of Miliband, who betrays his own more recent immigrant past.
And let’s be very clear indeed: this is a dangerous game to play. For if we really did withdraw from the EU, our economy would suffer big time, and such economic hardship would encourage the racism we see now as on the increase. Quite apart from the boost it’d get from the drawbridge having been pulled up. Little Englanders would have a field-day.
So, I’ve decided that I, for one, shall speak out against UKIP, and its extremist tendencies, at every opportunity. I’m now following New Europeans (www.neweuropeans.net) and signing their online petitions. I’m writing this blog. And I’m even laughing extra hard – which isn’t difficult because it’s hilarious – at comedian Stewart Lee’s brilliant dismantling of the UKIP mentality.
But more seriously, let’s acknowledge and face down the threat from UKIP and fellow extremist parties throughout Europe. A poll just published shows more people in UK (one third) consider themselves racist than in the last 30 years. That may not perturb you, but it does me. UKIP if you want to, but I’m staying awake and vigilant to this increasing menace.