There is an unspoken gagging order on those of us who are not bewitched by Ukip: never say their supporters are ‘racist’. We are expected instead to repeat some mantras about the failures of the political classes and to understand why so many turn to Farage. Well I don’t care for gags and this unconvincing script. Ours is still an open society. We must not be censored or pressed into a chorus of approval for what is the British version of the US Tea Party.
What happened last week was not an ‘earthquake’. But commentators and politicians are overreacting and behaving as if it was. The Tories are leaping like frightened foxes even more to the right and Labour is trying to do the same. Demented Tories attack the Human Rights Act and Labour produces a flurry of punitive, incoherent policies targeting migrants. Can they not see how they humiliate themselves and fail the requirements of high office? Are they mice or men?
Neither party can ever be reactionary or intolerant enough for those who have moved on to Ukip. Douglas Carswell, the Tory who defected, won a bye election for Ukip in his constituency. He is popular and trusted by his constituents and so he was re-elected by those who voted for him previously. He also, unsurprisingly drew some Ukip votes. Since then, pollsters have been jumping up and down with various forecasts: the party would win between 12 and 25 seats. Out of over 650. Sorry, I am not losing sleep over this.
In Heywood and Middleton, Labour’s Liz McInnes won the seat, but by a smaller majority than was won by the late Jim Dobbin. This is more serious. But, what has followed is part farce, part political suicide. Instead of speaking up for decent, fair values and the thousands who still voted for their party, Milliband is being forced into turning against migrants and into making promises that will make Labour seem weak, lost, insincere, inauthentic and pathetic. It needs to find strength and be more assertive. Who wants to vote for a scared party?
This is the time for the leading parties to fight back, to expose the real messages and prejudices behind the veil of respectability worn by Farage, darling of the media. The biggest worry is not that this ‘Tea Party’ has got so far so fast, but that they are not challenged any more. In fact they set the political agenda. It is possible, and necessary to argue robustly in defence of hard working migrants, and the EU and offer decent measures to address the real pain and feelings of dislocation suffered by millions. I have never heard a single mainstream politician ask;’ How would we feel if Spain- still in recession- picked incessantly on British settlers and built political capital on this ‘problem’? Indigenous Britons who feel their lives are hopeless need to be told Ukip has no welfare policies. Instead it wants low taxes and an even more cutthroat jungle where the fittest survive.
Blaming the outsider when times are hard is a common human response. But good leaders step in to temper those resentments and hatreds. And good citizens avoid these easy fallbacks. Look around you and you see British people who are at ease with diversity, getting on with people from all backgrounds. They must be ashamed of the way Ukip has been allowed to dominate our public spaces and debates. On Saturday when I was on going home on the tube, two couples, separately came up to me to say they thought migrants had made Britain a much better place to live than it once was. They were white, middle-aged and looked as if they might have come for a day trip from Surrey or the Cotswolds. They will never know how their words comforted me after the week we’ve had.
A good number of Ukip voters think the lager and ciggie man will get them out of Europe and push off bloomin foreigners from these isles. Imagine that day! No more Poles building and cleaning for us! Coronation Street without black or Asian people! Baristas all ‘real’ Brits, not those offensively hard working Indians or Spaniards! That Indian and Chinese takeaway run by good working class white stock! Dream on. Will they pack migrants into trains and send them off to nowhere? Repatriation has, after all, been discussed previously by founders.
When the BNP’s Nick Griffin failed to get back into the European parliament this May, he said ‘ They have voted for Ukip’s racist policies instead’. This party has allied itself with far right parties in the EU. Alan Sked, a founding member, who quit, has often spoken of these links and the dark soul of this party. Carswell and other defectors are now in with this lot, stained by Ukip’s xenophobia which will not wash off. The black and Asian members of this party are similarly misguided and disgraceful.
So I say to the main parties, don’t roll over. Cowardice is for losers. This political malignancy can only be defeated by the politics of conviction. Most Britons have not fallen for Farage. They matter too.
The Independent, 13th October 2014