Sunday, 27 April 2014

Labour/Tory fears of alienating working class voters has allowed Ukip’s poison to go unchallenged.

How many racists does it take to make a political party? One? Five? Fifty? Whatever the number, Ukip will hope it’s a big one.
Not a week goes by it seems without another Ukip candidate/official/elected representative making headlines for spouting bile. The media has sharpened its lens as we approach the European elections.

Who exactly are these people that so many intend to vote for? Enough votes to threaten Labour for top spot.

The anti-racist pressure group Hope not Hate have spent time providing some answers with a bulging dossier on its ‘Purple Rain’ blog. That should keep you busy for a few hours.

Next time Nigel Farage or one of his spokesmen tries to deflect attention away from these supposedly ‘isolated’ cases, remember this blog and its damning evidence.

Much of the talk this week has centred over whether it’s fair to brand Ukip’s latest election posters racist, xenophobic or mere scaremongering. Or possibly a bit of all three. Whichever label you settle on, it’s become patently obvious that the EU is just a distraction for Ukip’s main message: anti immigrant and anti immigration.

Ukip will claim that Britain can only control its borders by exiting the EU, but really it’s the immigration issue that gets its motley crew and supporters most agitated. How else to explain why it puts immigration at the very heart of its euro-scepticism?

Farage may talk of trade deals not suffering or foreign businesses still investing, but it’s anti-immigrant discourse that takes centre stage on the posters and in media briefings.

Its supporters don’t care for the ins and outs of EU membership. They see a party that promises to stop foreigners taking their jobs and undercutting their wages, and that’ll do nicely.

And where is the establishment that Farage rails against in all this? Where are the Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet members to speak out against Ukip’s poison?

For the most part, the main parties have been worryingly silent. Bar the odd comment from a minor Labour figure, the party of the left have been mute.

Labour and the Conservatives are now too scared of alienating working class voters that they daren’t say anything. Too fearful of seeing voters they believe should be theirs continue to snuggle up to cheeky chappy Nige.

On immigration, Labour have spent a lot of time in opposition apologising. Apologising for the scale of immigration under New Labour. Apologising for underestimating the impact immigration has had on settled working class communities. And also apologised for its effects on the wages of low skilled British workers.

Even though, on this last point, they needn’t have apologised, as the evidence points to it being negligible.

In fact, under Ed Miliband, on balance, Labour has got its stance on immigration pretty sound.

The Conservatives have spent much of this parliament fretting about the amount of support they’re leaking to Ukip. They’ve talked a good crackdown on immigration. Made all the right sounding tough noises. Yet they’re still unable to reverse the polling damage. That bit will come next year when it really matters, although the party aren’t willing to acknowledge that just yet.

Bearing all this in mind, from a purely selfish electioneering perspective, you can see why Ukip have been given a free ride. And therefore why it’s been left to a few hardy souls in the media to take on the fight. But this shouldn’t excuse Labour or the Conservatives. And to a much lesser extent the Lib Dems.

With every week that passes, Nick Clegg’s decision to debate Nigel Farage looks even more commendable. Brave, even. Although it shouldn’t require bravery to debate a man whose raison d’etre is gutter politics.

Clegg hasn’t shied away from challenging Ukip. Ed Miliband and David Cameron don’t even know where to start.

It’s Labour’s passivity that should most alarm leftists. This week should have provided the party with more than enough ammunition. Ukip are dripping with controversy. And yet, the party has calculated that fronting up to Farage directly may cost them the very votes they need just to break even. That is, get them where they were in 2010.

What we are left with is the hope that Ukip will provide us with one controversy too many. Enough that the public (not nearly as intolerant and prejudiced as Ukip likes to think it is) will come to their senses and decide enough is enough. They may have tired of the mainstream, but faced with this unpleasant rabble, they’re willing to give them another go.

Something has gone wrong when indiscretions and racist incident after racist incident can keep being brushed off as more evidence of a party’s eccentricities, but nothing worse.

When David Cameron told us (in 2006) that Ukip were a party of ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists,’ little did he know how prophetic this charge would turn out to be. We can now take away the ‘closet’ part.

This first appeared on Speaker's Chair on Sunday 27th April 2014

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Clegg has shown he’s still an asset to the Lib Dems. The party’s supporters should realise that.

Nick Clegg had nothing to lose in his debates with Nigel Farage. His ratings have been dreadful all parliament. Getting into a verbal ding dong with the Ukip leader about the merits of the EU was hardly going to give us the resurrection of Clegg from 2010 .

Instead, this was his chance to speak directly to his own supporters. To that committed but quiet bunch of Europhiles. To show Lib Dem activists that it is possible to govern with the Conservatives and still retain some essence of what it means to be a Liberal.
Let’s be honest, despite its importance, despite the fact that we’re beholden to many of its laws (whatever percentage they may be. We’re still none the wiser), the EU isn’t the kind of topic that gets people stirring. In fact, it’s pretty dull.

And that was part of the problem for Clegg. Extoling its virtues was never really going to cut it with viewers. Not much whooping and cheering to be had about trade agreements and low tariffs with our European neighbours.
Giving unelected bureaucrats and the elite (which of course being the leader of a political party, and an MEP who spends much of this time in Brussels, means Farage most definitely isn’t a member of the aforementioned) a good old fashioned tonking was always going to win most of people over.  

Clegg had the hard part, Farage was given the easy lines. And to be fair, I’m sure Clegg knew this beforehand.
These debates were about the Deputy Prime Minister rising above the bluster, the heavy rhetoric, countering the immigrant bashing hysteria, and the numbers plucked out of the sky.

This was about a Deputy PM behaving as you’d expect a PM’s number two to behave. And to this extent, he passed with flying colours.
Clegg was certainly a lot more confident and polished last week. A little too growly yesterday. When he spoke he did sound at times like the sort of technocrat Farage rails against for a living.

Most importantly, he sounded like he deserved to be where he is right now: Deputy PM and leader of some 57 MPs, yet still able to push through policies that have pleased his supporters.
He alienated a large chunk the moment he agreed to go into coalition. Even more when it became clear he had signed them up to a parliament of spending cuts. But, his party are in power and influencing policy way and above they have a right to given their size. 

Four years on, his position within the party seems more secure than ever. Despite the battering it takes in poll after poll.
Clegg will hope that this represents the start of clawing back some of the deserters. It won’t be an easy process, but as the two TV debates have shown, he won’t shy away from a challenge. The fact he agreed to do them tells you something about the character and resilience of the man.

With no natural successor in the wings, Clegg has shown that he’s still an asset to his party. His party’s supporters would be wise to realise that.
This first appeared on Speaker's Chair on Thursday 3rd April 2014