In my blog of November 30 last (Immigration: Ignorance and Ignominy) I bemoaned the fact not so much that Svengali UKIP leader Nigel Farage had brought immigration into the political debate, but that he’d taken such an intolerant view of it. Foreigners – for this man of Huguenot origin married to a German – appear to be the cause of all the world’s ills. And enough Little Englanders have been agreeing with him for the UKIP star to have risen in the polls. How would this play out in the 2015 General Election campaign?
The answer – so it seems – is not as menacingly as one might have feared. By his own admission Farage has had a disappointing campaign. His usual smile and zing – whateveryou think of them – have been missing. He blames it on the helicopter crash that so nearly killed him on election day 2010, which he claims has aged him by 20 years.
I’m not so sure. I’ve noticed quite a movement developing on social media – not a moment too soon – to brief against UKIP’s xenophobic rhetoric. The likes of British Influence and Women Defy UKIP. Importantly, in the televised political debates, the other candidates have gone for Farage’s jugular, exposing his prejudice (not just against foreigners, but apparently homosexuals, too). Hats off in particular to the leaders of the minor parties – SNP, Plaid, the Greens, the Libs – who pulled no punches. In contrast, the Tories and Labour were noticeably reluctant to be too critical, no doubt fearful (particularly in the case of Cameron) of losing the Little England vote. Though credit to Miliband who had one nice line: “Nigel – the trouble I have with you is you exploit people’s fears of immigration, rather than address them”.
No – I think Farage and UKIP are beginning to lose the debate on immigration. Not only because of the substantive argument – that immigrants contribute more to the UK economy than they take out. But also because the UKIP position offends the British sense of tolerance and fair play. Plus the TV debates have revealed there are plenty of sensible alternative parties out there to which those disgruntled with the establishment can give their vote. It doesn’t have to be Farage, and his hitherto enticing, monothematic hyperbole.
Not that we’re out of the woods. UKIP continue to poll at around 9% – the third largest party. Mercifully, the voting system should count heavily against them securing more than a handful of MPs to join the 2 Tory MPs who defected to them recently. The big effect, rather – which we shouldn’t under-estimate – is that their influence could prevent the Tories (from whom UKIP will surely steal the lion’s share of its vote) taking power.
That’s a problem – or not – depending on whether you lean to the right or left. But I suppose it’s one up with which we can put. Something up with which we cannot put would be UKIP using this election as a springboard to encroach on power in the 2020 election, or the one after that. In the maelstrom of General Election night, on May 7, when the pundits are analysing every nuance of the results and possible coalitions or deals ahead, I for one will be keeping a close eye on UKIP’s performance.