European Parliament elections and UKIP

23 May

Yesterday when there was a vote for the elections to the European parliament. It is a strange way to hold an election. A party puts forward up to seven candidates and a voter can select one party by putting a single cross against the name of that party. So, in this region, seven MEPs are selected by the proportion of votes cast for the parties. This has led to a plethora of parties standing for election. Yesterday there were eleven parties represented. There were the usual suspects, Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Greens and British National Party. Besides these there were six “parties” with a single objective, to pull the UK out of the European Union. Which means that the majority of the parties were campaigning on a single issue. And none of these six parties have any detailed plans for what they would do if they ever achieved a measure of power. The quotation marks around the term Party were because some of these are purely notional and will disappear without trace when the results show they have next to no support. Only one of these parties has a measure of popular support, and that is the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). This is in part due to the wall-to-wall publicity for the party that has been going on these several months. Most of this publicity, the vast majority , has been for the party leader, Nigel Farage. He is put forward as a social salon bar debater, a maverick who is untainted by the dirt of the other parties. This spin is widely believed. So when the media and the established parties start to question Farage’s history and beliefs they are seen as throwing dirt and trying to keep the common man down by UKIP supporters.

An interview on LBC exposed all kinds of nasty truths about Farage’s history and beliefs. It demonstrated unequivocally that Farage is a racist. Proved. Not open to argument and no excuses. A later interview with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC was far more gentlemanly but no less effective. All the “facts and figures” used by UKIP were shown to be selective, fallacious or downright lies. But none of this matters when the bulk of UKIP supporters believe none of it. And why should they if it is all a conspiracy by the establishment against the maverick newcomer? My experience is that I have yet to find a political conspiracy which holds water. Conspiracies make good fiction but lousy fact. Farage has regular columns in two national newspapers, was educated at an expensive private school and worked in the financial sector as a commodity broker. He is much more a figure of the establishment than he is an outsider.

The British, especially the English, have a sceptical view of most calls to nationalism. As Samuel Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. It is too easy to wave the flag when you have no other point to make. It is too easy to blame the knavish foreigners of doing old England down, while ignoring the true causes of our problems. Like all plain and simple explanations it is almost completely wrong. The truth in such issues is rarely plain and never simple. But it is such an attractive call in times of economic hardship and widespread discontentment with the status quo that many scoundrels have made the clarion call and many have answered the call.

The politics of prejudice is always dangerous. History provides us with many examples of minority groups being singled out for abuse and mob action, and none of it is defensible. When the genie of hate is let out of the bottle it is very difficult to put it back. To blame immigrants, the EU and foreigners in general for all that is wrong is the first rung on the ladder of extremism.

Next year there will be a General Election. Many people are predicting that the next government will be a coalition of Conservatives and UKIP, or wishing it so. I pray it does not happen. History shows that extreme right wing parties should never be given even a small share of power. Look what happened in Germany in the 1930s.

Meanwhile, back to yesterday’s election. Many people who generally do not vote came out to support UKIP. There is a very low turnout for European elections and these new voters represent a significant proportion of the vote. The problem is that the real power lies not with the European Parliament but with the Council of Ministers. At best UKIP will be a minority party within the UK group. Even allying with other extreme right wing parties from other nations (they do that already), they will have little influence. At the very best they can make themselves disagreeable and obstructive. They might be voted in, but they can do almost nothing to achieve their ends and are unlikely to represent their constituents in any meaningful way. When this becomes apparent to the voters the reaction can go in one of several ways. Apathy and disgust is the most likely one. Others are even less desirable.

The sheer number of monomaniacal parties standing in the election show that the movement is already splitting into factions. This may well be the high water of support for UKIP. If they achieve any form of success they will become the establishment and will become open to even more scrutiny. UKIP have many secrets to hide and many deeply unpleasant members. There are racists, xenophobes, homophobes and sexists among their membership, and in significant numbers. Their declared policies, almost universally unknown to their supporters, would be very unpopular with most people when examined closely, even among the majority of their supporters. The popular press and media takes a delight in knocking down those that rise too far. Nigel Farage is overdue his comeuppance, and not in the heavyweight newspapers, but in the gossip and scandal sheets. It will happen, and soon.

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