Forgive me here, this may get a little navel gazey for some of you, maybe it’s this whole Mayan thing, but I get the feeling I can smell change in the air. Proper change rather than Brownian, Cameroid, Blairite, Obamamamamaish change. Don’t expect a crashing change, but I detect a definite shift in feeling. It isn’t necessarily opinion yet, but an almost tangible. . . something.
What am I blithering on about? I’ll start with a topic close to home; that being the continued coverage of the UKIP members fostering story. This story seems to have taken on a life of its own.
Last night in the car I had Radio 5 on. Yes, I know. Sitting in the chair was Andy Crane. That’s right, that one, of Ed the Duck fame. That in itself was bizarre, listening to some guy I used to see sat in the ‘broom cupboard’ as a kid hosting a very earnest discussion on fostering policy.
Anyway, the guests on this show were Roger Helmer, the UKIP MEP and some bloke who’s name I don’t recall, a campaigner type for fostering, a black guy who himself went through the system as a lad. Both were strongly of the opinion that the decision to take the three kids out of what appears to a stable and loving home was a spectacularly bad one. It was no surprise to hear Roger Helmer espouse that view, but I was mildly surprised to listen to the guy who I thought had been brought in to represent the standard anti-UKIP BBC stance to agree. I was expecting something along the lines of, ‘it isn’t great, but they were UKIP members’, so yes, there was mild surprise.
What I then heard nearly caused me to lose control of the car. Sunny Hundal spoke. ‘Here we go’, I thought to myself. He too said that the decision was wrong, in this case, and then went on to infer that UKIP were a bit racist and not to be trusted and wouldn’t the world be nicer if they just went away? The second half was predictable enough, but for Sunny to say the decision was wrong was really startling.
Meanwhile, in Rotherham, UKIP have revealed that a good number of people have walked into the party’s campaign office for the forthcoming by-election and signed up. Without doubt the justifiable outrage of the foster parents has given UKIP a great deal of free publicity. Looking at it cynically, it has afforded UKIP a wave that could be ridden to raise their profile, not just in Rotherham, but also in Croydon North. Croydon North being particularly interesting, as the team built to contest that by-election fits an ethnically diverse profile that one would not normally associate with UKIP, and has allowed the party to display a quality and depth that people did not appreciate with them. In a seat with a wide ethnic mix like Croydon, it is useful not only to demonstrate that UKIP is not a racist party in ideology, but can and will reflect the constituency it seeks to represent without a top down or heavy handed selection/shortlisting policy.
This is a very good thing for UKIP as it will help it move away from the image of being a second clubhouse for corduroy wearing golf bores. I think UKIP have ridden the wave fairly well, they’ve certainly mobilised the big players, but I think it could have been done better, I don’t think the immigration message has come over as well as it could have done, I think Roger Helmer on Radio 5 allowed himself to be led a little, and whilst the party’s bullish tone is often gratifying, I think on this occasion a softer tone was needed, more fireside chat than kerbside soapbox. At least I would have pointed out that ‘Eastern European’ is no more a race than ‘Western European’. Just as the British, Iberians and Vikings are different ethnic and cultural groups, so are the Poles, Bulgars and Slavs. Sometimes ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ isn’t completely helpful, it is easy to level accusations of racism against Eastern Europeans, but surely the logic would extend to the same accusation of racism against the Swedes and Austrians.
It’s a lazy accusation, and one that really doesn’t hold water, I think I’d have taken the tack of attacking the accusation as much as defending the policy of a nationally set immigration policy. There is also an aspect of our Western European colleagues not taking as much advantage of our benefits, etc, as our Eastern European. Surely, if we point out that Eastern Europeans aren’t a homogenous mass, we demonstrate that this is a policy grounded in economic necessity rather than racial preference.
I digress. I’ve been asking myself the question why these people in Rotherham have been signing up. Is it because UKIP have just come to their attention? If that is the case, it still doesn’t explain why. Perhaps these people were considering joining in the past, but were concerned that the party was a bit racist. But if that is the case, why join when a fresh accusation of racism has been made? Surely this is only going to make the waverer waver more?
Here’s an interesting theory. Is it because people have started to have enough? Have people had enough of being told that just questioning the status quo is sufficient to be labelled as a racist, as a swivel eyed nutter, let alone actually stating an opinion contrary to it? A few years ago I thought this was going to be a recruiting sergeant for the BNP, you tell me I’m a racist, therefore I must be, thus I shall vote for the racist party. However since the furore surrounding the election of BNP MEP’s, they’ve almost vanished off the radar. Meanwhile UKIP continue to grow, despite being subject to softer, yet similar, accusations.
I think I may have misjudged the situation. Is UKIP’s current rise in popularity down to, not only dissatisfaction with the big three, but also a tiredness of being constantly badgered and hectored? Not only are we all racist, or in danger of becoming racist through our thoughts or deeds, but we all smoke too much, drink too much, eat too much, drive too much, use too much water, use too much electricity, spend too much time watching TV, and so forth.
UKIP don’t continually badger people, they don’t tell people how they should live their lives. They haven’t had MPs fiddling their expenses, they haven’t been renting homes to each other, they haven’t been taking bungs to support one initiative or the other, they haven’t picked on different sections of society, penalising them with more tax, or not taking enough tax. That has to make them an attractive prospect. It doesn’t mean that UKIP MP’s wouldn’t do the above, I would hope they wouldn’t, but there’s no assurance of that.
However at the moment, they are demonstrably different. In that respect they represent what the LibDems used to, an entity that is completely different to the parties that do hold power. Something the LibDems have lost, indeed something they gave away with almost indecent haste. I wonder how many people will turn out to vote UKIP at the next GE who voted LibDem in the last purely because they weren’t tainted with power?
I think the LibDems had a real chance to progress, but squandered it. They have shown themselves to be just as big a nannying control freak as the Tories and Labour. Perhaps the LibDems didn’t have the ideological support from the public they thought they did. Perhaps UKIP don’t either, but they’ve not done any harm yet. Perhaps all people want is to be left the hell alone. And perhaps politicians of any stripe, even UKIP, are unable to do so, for fear that they make themselves irrelevant.
The immediate future will, I think, prove to be very interesting. And UKIP have a very clear decision to make about what they want to be. They claim (rightly so in my opinion) to be more than a single issue party, and they would do well to promote their ‘otherness’ in this current maelstrom of press coverage, but it will be a difficult trick to pull off, especially for a party that is effectively semi-pro.
They must also be careful not to fall into the trap set by Michael Fabricant over talk of some sort of pact between the Tories and UKIP. Offering UKIP an incitement to stand down in the face of a ‘cast-iron’ or ‘written in blood’ undertaking to hold an in/out referendum doesn’t wash. Firstly, it wouldn’t make me vote Tory for more than election certainly, and even then I would be very hesitant. Secondly, if the Tories want, really want, an in/out referendum, then they should call one because it is what they want and what they believe is right, not to safeguard what they consider is ‘their’ share of the turnout.
I think the number of voters UKIP are attracting from the Tories is being over-estimated, and the party would be foolish to neglect those of us who came from elsewhere, those of us who wish to vote for any alternative with reasonable prospects and those of us who are waiting to be engaged with.
If Tory voters and members are that passionate about a referendum and a more libertarian view, let them come to UKIP. UKIP doesn’t need to be dancing with this prick-tease of a devil.