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

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