I’d written a few anti-UKIP messages on social media. You know the sort of thing, “Please vote for anyone but UKIP!”, “Show them we don’t want THEM here” and so did many of my friends. I soon realised that I was preaching to a room full of liberal, socialist converted and they were preaching right back at me. Meanwhile, I felt, the UKIPers and general, non-specific racists were taking their message wider; to potential converts to their cause. I wanted to intervene.
Stage 2 was that both teams started calling each other idiots and, as you might expect, stopped listening to the other side of the argument. That isn’t the best conditions for a useful debate. I thought I’d try to understand what motivated previously apolitical people to suddenly support racist parties. I decided to ask instead of tell.
One evening, I started to look on Twitter for UKIP supporters. I quickly realised they mingled with BNP and EDL, sometimes agreeing, sometimes arguing. They shared some beliefs but clearly didn’t consider themselves to be the same. I also saw quite a lot of support for football and martial arts and I saw a few people being abusive about immigrants, particularly Muslims. This was all mixed up in a wider debate about Islamism. Having made a big fuss about distinguishing between Islam and Islamism a few years ago, the media seemed to have begun to deliberately conflate the two. I guess a group of people to be afraid of and blame will always shift newsprint and radical politics.
Then I saw Anish Patel. What? Why was a guy, probably from a ‘culturally Indian’ background, in amongst these people? It was clear that he was currently under attack from all sides, except for a core group of UKIP supporters. They were calling him “mate” and telling him how important he was to the party. They were encouraging him to be strong and ignore the crap from the racists AND the Lefties. Eh? I saw protests that they were not a racist party. They didn’t want to ban immigration, only to limit it but at the same time broaden it to countries outside Europe. They were as angry at being misrepresented in the media as I was about them being over-represented. Their key policy was to get out of the EU, so that the UK could trade equally with the rest of the world.
When confused, I ask questions. I exchanged a few tweets with Anish. He seemed a nice bloke under a lot of stress. I started to ask about economics and he said he’d introduce me to one of their experts. He said he was tired but would get back to me and he was good to his word. He said his grand-parents came to the UK under a quota system similar to the one UKIP wants to re-introduce.
So it was that I found myself in a Twitter conversation with Anish @AnishUKIP, Nick Dancer @TheNickonomist & Anthony Mills @AnthonyUK95. These two were slightly more prickly but I suspect that they too were having a lot of their time wasted by people who just wanted to argue. A couple of times Nick warned me that he was going to stop speaking to me. Slightly disconcertingly, Nick and Anthony talked about me to each other while I was talking to them, trying to analyse what would persuade me. I think it was accidental but it felt a little intimidating. Nick said he didn’t always like the way the party had been presented. He was interested in economic facts and balancing immigration with the country’s economic need, as Australia and New Zealand do. Anish said UKIP only wants the best people to come here. They want to limit the number of unskilled workers taking jobs from British people. Someone said they supported accepting refugees, which is completely different to economic migration. A few days later, I realised they have a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual group and the highest ratio of women MEPs.
Like every political party, it appears UKIP is a broad church. It has mavericks whose views couldn’t be contained within the Conservative coalition and it attracts followers who dislike foreigners, Muslim culture on British streets and East Europeans finding housing and jobs when British people can’t.
Do I believe UKIP members are all racists, cynically hiding it, even from their own members who come from immigrant families, to provide a smoke screen? I do not.
Has Nigel Farage deliberately failed to make it clear that many of his party are not racist, in order to attract racist votes? I think he probably has.
After analysing UKIP’s policies (only those that we discussed), what do I think core members actually believe?
- That some people are better than others and deserve more, the same as the Conservatives. (UKIPs leader is a Middle Class, public school educated city trader.)
- That some countries are better than others and Britain’s resources were earned by and belong to the current citizens. They want to extend Right Wing inheritance rights to the British nation.
- That Scotland should stay in the Union but Britain should leave Europe because it is heading for inevitable federalism.
- That the British working class is adversely affected by uncontrolled immigration from Europe and needs to be protected. British resources are not to be shared with everyone else from Europe who wants to come here.
- That anyone who wants to come here must first prove they can add value to the rest of us by bringing skills we do not have, unless they are genuine refugees.
- We could do better as an independent trading nation in the world market, unrestricted by the generally socialist and federalising restrictions of the EU.
(You can see why second or third generation immigrant families who feel British, have businesses but have better links to markets outside Europe would find this attractive.) Farage was a metals trader.
- That these policies attract racists but that does not prove that UKIP is a racist party at it’s core. It is clearly nationalist.
- They believe they have been treated very badly by the media and attacked on the basis of beliefs they do not hold.
I’ve tried to represent what was said to me fairly but I find Right Wing politics selfish and elitist so there will be a bias. I don’t buy the story of Farage as ‘a man of the people’ or’ for the peopl’e, defending us against the mean, rich boys from Eton.
I reluctantly accept the need for some immigration controls, so all proposals of a fair system should be considered.
I’m open to persuasion that we should leave Europe. I would like to hear UKIP arguing its case for leaving, against other political parties, rather than defending itself against charges of racism, at least for a while. Perhaps putting more distance between themselves and racists would help to achieve that and letting us see members other than Nigel Farage. I won’t be voting UKIP but I’d like to thank their guys for helping me to understand what they really stood for when no-one else seemed to want me to know. I don’t agree with everything they believe in but I can respect UKIP for saying what they think. The other parties should look at that example. People vote for Nigel Farage because they believe he has integrity; that at least he believes in SOMETHING!