Once upon a time, UKIP were a joke party; derided as racist and given very little thought when it came to election. Now, however, they are gaining support and are looking increasingly likely to top polls in May's European election. They may not yet have any MPs in the House of Commons, but with more and more people becoming frustrated with our current immigration system, there is a real danger that that could change. And yes, I mean "danger."
UKIP are not a party for the people. I understand political frustration. There are marvellous benefits to living in the UK, but our country hasn't been fantastically run in recent years, to put it mildly. So it's easy to see why people, sick of the Tories, disenchanted with Labour and no longer trusting the Lib Dems, might think "ha, I'll vote UKIP. That'll show 'em." But that protest vote, which was once merely that, is now becoming a genuine tick in the box for a party who have been embroiled in more accusations of racism, misogyny and homophobia than any other in recent years.
When people think of UKIP, the word "racist" crops up a lot. Whether it's their supporters insisting that the party is not racist, or their detractors arguing the opposite, there is no getting away from the issue. This is because, whatever Nigel Farage wants to claim, the party is known for one "policy" and that is its stance on immigration/our membership of the EU.
The party's website claims that "anyone in the EU can come to the UK and...claim welfare." In fact, it's a bit trickier than that. Here's a quick screen grab from the Citizen's Advice Bureau's website:
If you're having trouble reading that, I can tell you it says that if you're from a country in the European Economic Area and you move to the UK to work, having never worked here before, you will not be able to claim income support, income-based jobseekers allowance, child benefit, housing benefit or council tax reduction. There are also currently plans afoot to ensure that as of July, any immigrants to the UK will have to prove that they've lived here for at least three months before they can apply to claim child benefit at all. So... No, UKIP. It's simply not the case that anyone can come to the UK and claim welfare. To say as much plays upon the fears many people have regarding immigration.
Do we need tighter controls on our borders? Quite probably, yes. I passionately believe in helping those who come to this country for asylum, but I also am aware that we can't have an open-door policy to absolutely everyone who wants to move to the UK; we're a small island, after all. But what UKIP have done is feed upon the concerns people already have about immigration, in order to sway those people into voting for them. That's in spite of having precious few other policies and a rather skewed version of the facts when it comes to this policy, as the above screen-shot proves.
And that's not the only warped version of the truth UKIP has been harping on about, when it comes to the EU. Just last month, The Sun newspaper had to print a correction, having published a letter from UKIP, stating that thousands of UK MOT test-centres were being threatened with closure due to EU proposals which would force motorists whose cars failed their tests to go to a different garage for repairs. Following publication, the paper were forced to print an apology, after it turned out that "no such EU proposals exist."
Indeed, UKIP's obsession with the need for the UK to leave the European Union has led to them rather childishly voting against almost all proposed laws from Brussels. Whilst I believe that - most of the time - a country is best governed by laws made by those living in the country itself, several of the laws UKIP have voted against prove that they are not considering the people living here, nor are they considering basic decency or compassion. For example, in the past few months, UKIP have voted against:
- A resolution to combat the illegal ivory trade, to work towards wild elephants no longer being at risk of poaching.
- Updated rules on cab design and safety, enabling lorry drivers to spot cyclists and pedestrians more easily.
- Higher level of protection for people who buy package holidays.
- New legislation to prevent money laundering.
- Greater public access to EU documents.
So, if we know that UKIP stand against the EU and immigration, what do they stand for?
Well, according to their website, they would like the scrap the 2008 Climate Change Act. You know, the act that aims to avoid dangerous climate change and hopes to cut carbon emission by 80% by the year 2050. Because hey, who cares what happens to the planet, eh?
Almost every other policy on their website - and there are very few - is linked to their desire for the UK to leave the EU. In other words, they are a one-policy-party, with almost nothing to say beyond "EU BAD. UKIP GOOD." Even their local election manifesto is littered with references to "unlimited numbers of people" coming to the UK from Europe and putting a squeeze on local services as a result.
And for all their "we're not racist!" protestations, in the face of comments about "Bongo Bongo Land" or telling Lenny Henry to move "to a black country," it's in UKIP's refusal to campaign on any other issue that the really worrying question of whether or not the party is racist is brought into harsh light. For example, they feel the need to tell us on their website that "28,000 Romanians are held for crimes in London." It won't shock you to learn that this was also a statement gleefully reported by The Daily Mail. However, it may surprise you to learn that the Metropolitan Police - stunned and disappointed by the way the information in their recent presentation on fighting crime in London had been manipulated and distorted - contacted the Romanian Embassy to apologise after reading the Mail's report. You see, in reality, only 13 in every 1000 Romanians living in London are arrested for crimes in the city. In case you're wondering, the figure for British people is 26 in every 1000. Twice as many. Indeed, the Home Secretary has confirmed that crime from foreign nationals is in line with their representation in the population. ie, there is no Romanian crime spree. It's just more scaremongering from UKIP and this, even without the revolting comments from their supporters and party members, is why people refer to the party as racist. Because they're manipulating facts in order to scare people into being more concerned about immigration than about anything else. And to do that? They need to make the immigrants "the baddies."
The party also claim to care about the environment and our loss of green spaces (ironic, seeing as they want to scrap the Climate Change Act), which they also attribute to... You guessed it, immigration. And yet, whilst housing for those who move to this country from the EU and beyond does factor in the need to build more homes, so does the fact that there are many schemes being put in place in order to try to help people buy their first home (touchy subject for me, seeing as I still can't afford to even rent by myself, but hey ho). According to a report in November 2013, the UK is well over halfway towards meeting its target of 170,000 new affordable homes - to enable British citizens to get onto the property ladder - by 2015. We are a growing population and by that I don't mean due to immigration; people are living longer and having big families. There need to be homes for those people to live in and of course, new housing developments mean jobs for builders, plumbers and electricians in the area. Yes, we should be concerned about the loss of green spaces, but that UKIP can take a genuine concern such as this and attribute it solely to immigration is deeply distressing and shows little beyond a totally blinkered attitude. Again, it's "EU BAD. UKIP GOOD."
Yes, UKIP say some good things on their website (I know, I was shocked too), such as a declaration to save our public libraries and to upgrade public transport and maintain British highways, but there's no explanation of how they intend to do this, beyond their claims that being members of the EU costs us "£55million a day" and of course, that's a cut they're desperate to make (conveniently ignoring the fact that the £55million may be the "fee" we pay for being members of the EU, but we get over £20million back in rebate which is distributed to various sectors, including the agricultural sector, meaning that we wouldn't suddenly be "£55million a day" richer if we left, however hard UKIP try to convince us that we will.
Essentially, UKIP have very few real policies beyond wanting to leave the EU and any suggestions of policies they may have are almost exclusively centred around using money from our potential EU exit, rather than looking at real ways to change things in this country, should the people of the UK decide not to leave the EU. Because after all, if we ever do leave Europe, it should be as a result of a national referendum in which the people have their say, not as a result of UKIP enforcing it on us, regardless of whether we've voted for them or not. Their website doesn't say they'll hold a referendum should they become elected. It simply says "we'll leave the EU."
Wanting some control over immigration in this country isn't racist in itself. Manipulating data and distorting the facts in order to suit your anti-immigration agenda is. Yes, there are things wrong in this country. No, they are not all down to immigration. As I said earlier, we do need to have a sensible discussion on immigration and our membership of the EU, but that needs to be done without UKIP sensationalising the subject. We need facts, not propaganda.
No other political party feels the need to refer to itself as "non-racist." UKIP does. Consider why. One of the party's latest posters reads: "Twenty six million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose job are they after?" The picture onto which this words are embossed is of a hand, pointing out at the reader. The British reader. So, no racist scare-mongering there...
UKIP are affiliated with a group called Europe of Freedom and Democracy. The EFD may have a charming sounding name, but they are a far-right organisation, whose members described Anders Breivik (the Norwegian mass murderer who blamed feminism and multiculturalism for the breakdown of society) as a man whose "ideas are in defence of Western civilisation" and a man with "excellent ideas." Whilst Nigel Farage threatened to cut ties with the EFD unless an apology was issued, no apology was forthcoming. Instead, one of the members who'd spoken positively about Breivik's anti-multicultural ideals went on a rant, saying "long live the whites of Europe." Nigel Farage did not cut ties with the EFD when no apology was given. He is co-president of the group.
UKIP, particularly with their insistence on voting "no" on perfectly reasonable proposed laws to help make life easier and safer, simply because those laws come from Brussels, are not a party who care for the people of this nation, regardless of the flowery words in their campaign material. They are twisting one very divisive issue and using it to their own ends. And every now and then, the mask of "respectability" slips and one of the party's members says something that shows the unpleasantness at the heart of the party. Even their campaign material hints strongly at scaremongering and racism:
Although this section of UKIP's manifesto has been removed thanks to the bad publicity it generated, note the final part: UKIP will end support for multiculturalism.
Let's get personal before I end this rant. My grandfather came to this country as an immigrant. He was Greek Cypriot. He worked hard, paid taxes, married a British woman and was very much a British citizen. But he was proud of his roots. Now, two generations on, I am proud to be a quarter Greek Cypriot. It is our family traditions - our differences - that make us so unique as a nation. Yes, there is a British identity, if you want to stick to a stereotype. But we are a multicultural society, made up of people who, on the whole, are accepting of those who are different and enjoy learning from them and adopting aspects of their lifestyles. We are a modern society, in which all cultures and religions are given the space to thrive; not at the detriment of any of us, regardless of what the right-wing press would have you believe. One, common British culture? Does anyone else think that sounds like something from 1984?!
UKIP, particularly with their insistence on voting "no" on perfectly reasonable proposed laws to help make life easier and safer, simply because those laws come from Brussels, are not a party who care for the people of this nation, regardless of the flowery words in their campaign material. They are twisting one very divisive issue and using it to their own ends. And every now and then, the mask of "respectability" slips and one of the party's members says something that shows the unpleasantness at the heart of the party.
UKIP are a one policy party. They have precious little to say, beyond "close the borders." Well, no. They do have a few things to say. Such as...
"Muslims are breeding ten times faster than us. I don't know at what point they'll reach such a number we are no longer able to resist their demands."
UKIP peer, Lord Pearson.
"The apologists for Islam are really very similar to Holocaust deniers."
Oxford Council Candidate, Julia Gasper.
"No employer with a brain in the right place would employ a young, single, free woman."
Godfrey Bloom, MEP.
"(we need) Compulsory abortion when the foetus is recognised as having Down's, Spina Bifida or similar syndrome which, if it is born, could render the child a burden on the state."
Council candidate Geoffrey Clark.
"As for the links between homosexuality and paedophilia, there is so much evidence that even a full-length book could hardly do justice to the subject."
Oxford Council Candidate, Julia Gasper.
"Eastenders is so unrealistic. A Paki family planning to actually go home..."
Maggie Chapman, agent for UKIP candidate Peter Hollings.
They have a lot more to say besides, but to be honest, writing this stuff is making me feel rather sick. Whatever protestations UKIP may make, I believe there is a rotten core at the heart of the party and their ability to turn every issue around and make it about immigration - with "foreigners" the "baddies" of course - does nothing to change my point of view.
I will of course be using my vote when it comes to both the next local elections and the national ones. But I will never tick the box for Farage's party. I'd rather not vote at all than vote for a toxic, nasty party like UKIP.