Rebecca Coulson is a freelance classical musician and writer, and the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary candidate for the City of Durham.
To bastardise the Cameron joke, mightn’t voting UKIP be a bit a like going to bed with John Redwood and Nick Clegg, and waking up with Enoch Powell?
They’re the party of the cross-spectrum disaffected. The party of the people sick of parties. Clacton shows that times are changing, and Heywood and Middleton, where they threatened left more than right, shows this even more. It’s UKIP nice, Conservative nasty, and everyone else is exhausted. But aren’t we forgetting something? They’re increasingly so skilled at courting the unvoiced, and usurping the Lib Dems’ place as a vacuum for the policy of pipe dreams, that it’s easy to forget what might lie beneath the skewed UKIP grin.
“We must be a party for all Britain and all Britons, first and second generation as much as every other…”, emphasised the triumphant Douglas Carswell. A new clean position which he was keen to present, because wasn’t there a time, a really quite recent time, when UKIP was, to most, more watered-down BNP than soft furnishings and anti-politics? When its European front was more necessary than sufficient, and its scandals filled the pages more than its politics. Now, is the arras, behind which they charm the Tories and flirt with Labour, really so thick that this no longer prevails?
It would be too simple at this point to trot out all the atrocious things various UKIP representatives have said over the years. A neat row of nasty little boxes labelled xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and anti-semitism, with Nigel Farage, David Silvester, Godfrey Bloom, and Jane Collins popping out of each respectively.
So, let’s talk policies instead. Immigration seems like a good place to start, being the only issue about which that poor LBC caller could remember his party having one. And those people on the doorstep who say they’re thinking about voting UKIP, are so often also the ones who claim that immigration is their greatest concern. Even (or particularly) if they live somewhere relatively unaffected by it. Farage famously wants to ‘control the quantity and quality of people who come into’ the UK. And we could now, of course, discuss his recently disclosed views on those suffering from HIV – something which must make the new Dauphin, Carswell, pretty uncomfortable, considering the work his father did combatting the disease in Uganda.
Surely it would be fairer to have a look online, though, and find the official UKIP word on all this. Whilst I’ve never been a regular visitor to their website, a peek makes me pretty sure that someone’s been in with an eraser. The ‘anti-racist’ welcome has been replaced by ‘unashamedly patriotic’; their old obsession with ‘anti-multiculturalism’ seems similarly no longer extant. Indeed, although some of the overtones remain, much of the policy section is but higgledy-piggledy. The desire for immigrants to ‘financially support themselves and their dependents for five years’ before ‘taking from the pot’, bizarrely, not only demands for private health insurance and housing, but also education.
But should we really just rely upon what their website currently states? Mustn’t it also be about what they say and do? And have said and done. And what the people who vote for them think they represent. Is UKIP worried that a recent YouGov poll showed that 55 per cent of Britons think it the party most likely to have racist candidates? And what about its European alliances? Five months ago, when it did well in the EU and local elections, this final question resounded. As indeed did that of its place in the cross-continental rise of nationalism. In May there were, of course, Europe-wide results with which to analogise, and UKIP has, since then, confused the matter by cutting its ties with most of the malevolent parties (such as Lega Nord) which formed the EFD, to set up its offshoot EFDD with some comparably worrying others (such as the Sweden Democrats). But where’s the current reiteration of these questions?
Maybe we should touch on Europe now we’re here. After all, before they holed up in home affairs, this was supposedly UKIP’s single-issue raison d’etre. Britain’s relationship with the EU frets most of us, but a quick glance at a country like Hungary shows how dangerous parties with extreme nationalist teleologies can be. And, in our increasingly alarming world of amoral terrorism, the retention of fraternity between sensible nations is essential. This is why it’s important to distinguish between the frightening ideological nationalism which so successfully preys upon disenchanted electorates, and that which allows self-governance without the need for splendid isolation.
For me, this second form of nationalism is necessary and admirable for two reasons. Firstly, it sanctions sovereignty within a country’s borders, and a rule of law based on a system of value and tradition built up over time. Secondly, it enables the democratic choice of a national government, whose political and economic policies have been outlined by an election’s winning contender(s).
The inherent problem in pan-federalism, is that both of these assets risk dilution by a higher supremacy. And this is not what we signed up for in Europe. The unity sought amongst its countries following World War Two was never intended to infringe upon the sovereignty of nations, but rather to ascertain peace (and later encourage trade) between them. And that’s the kind of eurosceptic and europhile that I am – the kind wanting both national sovereignty and international accord.
And this, more than the attainable promise of a referendum, is why I think the Conservative Party is right about Europe, and UKIP is wrong. Real renegotiation, rather than immediate withdrawal, is vital. This is exemplified by the recent furore over the (non-EU-run) ECHR – and the double meaning of its acronym’s second letter. What we need is to be able to ensure supremacy over the (progressively powerful) Court, whilst, if at all possible, retaining membership of the (honorable) Convention.
UKIP isn’t just about Europe any more, though. Yes, we must think hard about why so many politically-disaffected Britons feel it offers something different. But just because a party is in the midst of an identity crisis and clean-up operation, doesn’t mean we should forget evidence of its deeper offence. Regardless of the pollsters’ hype, it remains unlikely it will gain more than a handful of MPs at the next election, and, in many ways, a kingmaker’s realm is simply imaginary. But might the current popularity of UKIP signal or condone something truly insidious?
Is its form of nationalism frightening? Is its xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and anti-semitism limited to just a few renegade members? Wanting its supporters’ votes mustn’t stop us asking these questions.