Wednesday, 21 May 2014

My Day Out at UKIP's 'Non-racist Carnival'

Yesterday, my home town of Croydon was flooded with immigrants. Well, I say 'immigrants' but only in the technical sense that most were not from Croydon. Some came with their purple and yellow rosettes, to proclaim loudly their non-racism. Others came with their furry microphones, notebooks, cameras and furrowed brows, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new messiah of British 'non-racist', right-wing politics, Mr Nigel Farage - whose name sounds suspiciously French but some of whose ancestors hail from 19th century Germany, as does his wife. Alas, the great man never appeared and we were left to wonder if Quentin Letts (of the Daily Mail) would have to interview himself, or if Dan Hodges (of the Telegraph) would be tempted to round up the disgruntled rabble and lead them into the hills to found a religion based around the worship of Tony Blair.

Local UKIP personality, Winston McKenzie

Fortunately, these things did not come to pass. Instead much lively and mostly good-natured debate ensued in the street. The event had been billed as a carnival to show that UKIP was not a racist party but turned into a PR disaster after the steel band refused to play on when the event's association with UKIP was revealed to them. Anti-UKIP activists also showed up to let it be known that they were in no doubt as to UKIP's racist credentials. I too was momentarily tempted to tell the incomers that they were not welcome in Croydon and that they should go back to UKIP-land (or wherever it was they came from) but decided that they might find that rude rather than ironic. So I ended up talking for a while to one of the UKIP faithful, in order to get an insight into what really lies behind their enthusiasm for a brand of politics which others see as racist or even fascist.

The man I spoke to was called 'Rob', I think (apologies if I've got that wrong). Perhaps surprisingly, Rob came across as very reasonable, articulate and mild-mannered; no gibbering, swivel-eyed loon. He was a banker by profession (like Nigel Farage) and came from recent immigrant stock, like many of the other UKIP representatives present. This in itself did not surprise me: being an immigrant oneself does not automatically make you more welcoming towards other immigrants. My own mother was an immigrant to the UK from Hong Kong in the 1960s, although she never considered herself a 'foreigner', having arrived on a British passport from a colonial outpost. She has also voted for UKIP herself, although many other UKIP supporters would undoubtedly call her a 'chink' and regard her as an outsider, no matter how much she railed against immigration. The desire to be accepted can lead to a strange form of self-denial.

Rob was keen to tell me that he wasn't against immigration, per se. He just wanted Britain to take control of its borders back from the EU. What's racist about that? In itself, not much. It's only when you look at the ideological motivation behind that desire that you see a clear racist agenda, in my view. Rob clearly was not a racist, himself. There are, without doubt, many UKIP members and supporters who are not actually racists. UKIP is careful to avoid overt racism in its official statements, so it's possible to claim that it is not, indeed, a 'racist party'. However, it is very obviously a party which attracts racists, homophobes, misogynists and assorted bigots in large numbers. Rob wanted to assure me that there were only a handful of 'nutters' in his party and that there were just as many in other parties. If he were talking about the Tories, then he may have had a point, but it's just inconceivable that senior members of any other major party would be capable of making quite so many outright racist and bigoted statements. Anyone who thinks otherwise should try to compile a similar list from members of the Labour, Lib Dem or Green parties; they wouldn't get very far at all. In fact, in terms of UKIP's stated policies on immigration and the EU, there is almost no difference between them and the BNP, as this video clip, comparing Nigel Farage with Nick Griffin, illustrates.

Official UKIP policy does reveal some startlingly hostile attitudes towards immigration, despite what Rob wants me to believe. For example, UKIP wants to "prioritise social housing for people whose parents and grandparents were born locally." So, you might be British born and bred, with a British passport, but if your parents and grandparents weren't from here then you're just not British enough for UKIP's liking. Does that not strike you as a teeny bit racist? Conveniently, Nigel Farage himself passes this test - but only just. Why stop at access to social housing? If that policy seems reasonable, why not restrict health care, education and other services only to those with parents and grandparents born locally? My mother certainly wouldn't qualify and neither would I (although I'm British born). Neither would many of the UKIP representatives in Croydon yesterday, including - I suspect - Rob.

The hostility doesn't end there, though. Another policy states that "Immigrants must financially support themselves and their dependents for 5 years. This means private health insurance (except emergency medical care), private education and private housing - they should pay into the pot before they take out of it." This blatantly ignores the fact that if an immigrant is working in the UK, then they are paying taxes, so they are 'paying into the pot', as much as anyone else in the UK. Why on earth should they therefore be denied the same rights as other residents, including basic healthcare and education for their children (who may even be born here)? 

Clearly, it's not just an understandable antipathy towards EU bureaucracy that is motivating these UKIP policies and I think it's accurate to call them 'racist'. In case anyone wants to trot out the tired rejoinder that 'nationality / religion / whatever isn't a race', I would ask them to consider that perhaps the Nazis weren't technically racist, seeing as they only really hated Jews, gays, communists, gypsies and the disabled. In fact, there is no scientific definition of 'race'. A race is whatever you perceive it to be. It is simply 'the other'. Defining race in terms of skin colour is just one arbitrary, unscientific way of doing so, among many other equally arbitrary and unscientific ways.

Still, Rob's main concern seems to centre mainly on British sovereignty and freedom from EU interference. So I ask him why UKIP is not campaigning against the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Industry Partnership). He looks blankly at me. He hasn't heard about it. I explain that it is a proposed trade treaty between the EU and the US, which would give multinational corporations the right to sue national governments for legislation which might harm their profits (e.g. health and safety legislation, workers' rights, environmental regulations, tax enforcement etc.). The TTIP would be a total surrender of national sovereignty to big corporate interests but only the Green party was campaigning against it. Rob did seem alarmed and promised to look it up. But his ignorance on the issue was a sure sign that UKIP's professed concern about British sovereignty and national interests was highly selective at best, and little more than a front for xenophobia and racism at worst. Besides, there are other parties who are not especially enthusiastic about the EU and are also offering an in-out referendum, such as the Green party (although the Green party favours negotiating major reform of the EU from within) or the left-wing No2EU party. What attracts people to UKIP in particular is not so much the Euroscepticism but the immigrant-bashing rhetoric and its barely concealed racism. If you're still not convinced, look at this UKIP poster:

UKIP election poster

This is blatantly racist, in my opinion. It doesn't say "2.2 million people in Britain are looking for work, etc ..." but "26 million people in Europe ..." It also fails to mention that you are just as entitled to go looking for work in France, Sweden and Germany if you want to, where pay, working conditions and unemployment benefits are all far higher than in the UK. No, the clear implication is that all those foreigners are coming here to steal your job. It plays on fear of unemployment and a visceral xenophobia. Never mind the fact that even if all immigration were stopped tomorrow, not a single new job would be created, or that immigrants tend to create more jobs than they take and have a positive effect in economic terms.

But what of all those UKIP representatives and supporters who come from immigrant stock? Are they deluded? Consider the case of Ernst Röhm, founder of the Nazi SA (Brownshirt stormtroopers). Röhm was a long time close friend of Adolf Hitler and a well-known homosexual. You could say he was Hitler's 'gay friend' (there were even rumours that he was more than a friend). None of this saved him from being killed in the 'night of the long knives', nor did it prevent the subsequent persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis

Now, I'm not saying that UKIP is a Nazi party. What I am saying is that having gay and black friends (or supporters) does not make you non-racist and non-homophobic. I'm also saying that if you are non-white, an immigrant or any of your immediate ancestors were immigrants, or you're gay, or a woman, or disabled, or non-christian, or truly care about British sovereignty, then your interests are not best served by a party whose ideology is founded on various kinds of bigotry and which attracts large numbers of extreme bigots, including racists, homophobes and misogynists. They may pretend to be your friend today, but they probably will sneer at you behind your back and tomorrow maybe in front of your face. I hope Rob will come to understand that.

If you want to vote for a genuine, non-racist, radical, anti-establishment party which is realistic about the pros and cons of the EU and doesn't take bribes from millionaires and big business, then I would ask you to vote Green this Thursday. At least, don't swallow the UKIP snake-oil.