Relativism: A Standard Tactic For Every Party, The *Only* Tactic For The UK Independence Party
October 15, 2014
by Martin Odoni
‘Relativism’, much of the time, is an ironic name, because relativist arguments are often employed in ways that are irrelevant. It appears that since before clear records began, political figures have used relativism arguments to justify their own conduct.
Well, to be honest, we probably all do it to some degree, and we were probably very prone to it when we were in school – getting told off by a teacher for hitting a classmate, say, and trying to change the subject by saying, “Not fair, Johnny Bashforth hit me the other week and you never told him off!” Yes, it probably is unfair, but at the same time that has nothing to do with you deciding to hit someone else altogether.
A lot of this really should be left behind in the playground, as all that should really matter is knowing when we have done the wrong thing, instead of making an issue about others being as bad as we are. There are many parts of ‘grown-up’ society where the same behaviour continues to manifest itself though, and nowhere more so than in politics. Many a politician will respond to being confronted about an action or quotation attributed to them that is embarrassing, or foolish, or downright corrupt with a pointed finger directed towards a member of a rival party, citing a vaguely similar quotation or action of doubtful relevance.
Not just action, but cross-examination of policy will often be treated to the same ‘aggressive evasion’. Diversions used by any party will frequently begin, “Oh yes, well look at [such-and-such-a-party], did you hear what they said the other day?” Or, if it is the incumbent Government, “Oh yes, well look at the previous administration, see what a mess they made of the economy/health service/education/industrial sector” (delete as appropriate).
It is a more or less day-to-day occurrence.
So let us now congratulate the UK Independence Party on its most remarkable achievement to date. No, I am not referring to their victory in the Clacton-On-Sea By-Election (which may have been UKIP’s first ever seat in Parliament, but in the final analysis it was just a case of an incumbent retaining his seat). Instead, more remarkable by far, is that over the last year or so, UKIP has managed to increase the rate at which diversionary finger-pointing is employed in political discourse. I doubt it was intended, but that is some accomplishment, given that the phenomenon already appeared to have maxed-out.
Since UKIP’s recent emergence as a ‘significant’ presence at Westminster (if we are to assume that a party with a single Member of Parliament, and which has never had control of a single council anywhere in the country in its entire history, can be called ‘significant’), countering an accusation with grumbles about how badly other parties behave has proven to be, not just a standard tactic, but pretty much the only tactic that the party can employ with any consistency.
I mentioned a few days ago the live interview of Nigel Farage by James O’Brien on LBC Radio back in May. One observation that O’Brien rightly made during that crossing-of-swords was that Farage, when faced with the extremists and foolish throwbacks who are prevalent in his party, will usually insist that there are people like that in every party.
Now Farage is not exactly wrong when he says that – it is quite true that all the mainstream parties have, shall we say, the odd ‘nutty flavouring’ here and there, especially the Conservative Party. But there are a few points that he needs to face up to; –
Firstly, Farage cannot pretend one minute that UKIP is an ‘alternative’ to the mainstream parties, and then say the next that his party simply has the same types of idiots in it that all the others do. Either the party is different from the others or it is not, it cannot be both.
Secondly, Farage has to acknowledge that the rate of silly/incendiary extremist behaviour coming out of UKIP is a lot higher than from other parties. The total number may not be higher – of that I am not sure – but Farage has to consider scale. UKIP’s membership is tiny compared to those of the Tories or Labour, and yet the number of silly incidents coming out of UKIP is at least in the same ballpark as those of bigger parties. The rate of ridiculous ideas and ugly behaviour in UKIP e.g. ‘homosexuality causing floods‘, ‘gay marriage is grotesque and shouldn’t be allowed, but UKIP members breaking the law by apparently hiring prostitutes is a private matter‘, starving hundreds of helpless animals to death etc is startlingly high.
(NB: I do not personally give a damn whether Roger Helmer uses prostitutes or merely has a regular massage, so long as he accepts that it is none of his business whether people of the same sex are allowed to marry. He seems to think otherwise, therefore I have decided that I am entitled to shake my head at his ‘private life’.)
Thirdly, Farage needs to face the reality that there is a flip-side to over-exposure, and his visit to LBC Radio was his worst encounter with that. Now, UKIP has benefited from wildly excessive, utterly disproportional, and overly-sympathetic and uncritical coverage in the national media over the last six or so years, most particularly on the BBC. (As is often pointed out by exasperated British commentators across the internet, Nigel Farage almost has his own permanent seat on BBC Question Time.) The party has had a tiny support base right up until the early months of the current Parliament, and for much of its twenty-one years, it has been easily dwarfed by the likes of the Green Party and the Scottish National Party. However, the Greens and the SNP each get a tiny fraction of the coverage that UKIP has received, and when they do get coverage in the mainstream media, it is far more likely to be cross-examined and heavily-challenged than anything UKIP says or does.
The one downside there is to receiving massive over-coverage like this is that opponents to your policies are likely to try a great deal harder to discredit you. This is essentially what James O’Brien was doing in May; he, and others who agree with him, had seen that a lot of people had become taken in by UKIP’s very false ‘the-party-of-everyman’ image, and wanted to draw attention to what the party is really about. (Let us also not forget that Farage himself had gone to LBC by his own choice, without apparently being invited. It would seem that the over-exposure he already had in the media was not enough for him, but the more interviews a politician does, the more danger there is of eventually getting a ’15-Rounds-With-Wladimir Klitschko’-style interrogation.)
But most of all, leading back to the point we opened with, Farage never really explains, when saying “You think we’re bad? Look at that lot…” why it is particularly relevant. Sure, there are Labour politicians I would never want to vote for, there are Lib-Dem politicians I would never want to vote for (at least after last time – there, I admit it, I voted for the wrong party in 2010), and of course I can hardly think of a Tory politician since the start of the Twentieth Century that I would want to vote for. But here is the thing Farage does not seem to get; most of us already knew that. His finger-pointing is not nearly as enlightening as he seems to imagine it is, because we already knew that there are politicians of all shades that we would rather keep a distance from if possible. What we do not know is why that means we should vote for UKIP instead of them. Especially in light of Farage’s protestations that having idiots in the ranks makes UKIP no different from the other parties. That is just an admission that his party really is no different at all.
Farage raged repeatedly at O’Brien that he wants a debate on immigration, and instead “everyone wants to talk about the idiots in UKIP.” But the first thing he needs to do if he wants solely to have an immigration debate is to establish precisely why those idiots are a less important topic. As highlighted above, the proportion of fools in UKIP is disturbingly high, which means that for the party to get a substantial presence in the House Of Commons would mean at least some of these fools getting in and having a direct role in the Government of the country. The electorate is entitled to know about that, they are entitled to be aware of who the fools are, and what they stand for – especially when the party keeps claiming that these members are ‘different’ and an ‘alternative’ to the mainstream. Farage is not doing a very good job of proving that.
The reverse, you might argue, is also true; when other parties have members who have silly or extremist views, the electorate is equally entitled to know. Well yes, of course. But that is not really a matter for Farage to bring up at the precise time he is being confronted with the realities of his own party. As UKIP’s supposed ‘leader’, the improper behaviour within his own ranks is his responsibility to address when it is brought to his notice. That is not the moment to start bleating about a Tory candidate supposedly being an ex-member of the British National Party. It appears to be true, but that is the responsibility of David Cameron.
The sad fact is though that Farage’s slightly childish example seems to rub off on UKIP’s supporters. Or perhaps it is what draws them to him in the first place. One way or the other, we see the same behaviour repeatedly from UKIP voters, especially when they insist on getting their ha’penny’s-worth in on left-wing blogs.
As an example of this, there is a commenter on the blogosphere who goes by the name of ‘Guy’ – no idea if that is his real name – and he appears to be a very precious supporter of UKIP. (He might not be as he is not explicit about it, but he does seem to speak up in nervous defence of UKIP at the slightest sign of criticism, in a way he does not when any other party is criticised.)
Recently, Mike Sivier, who runs the Vox Political blog, posted a screencap I had sent him, showing one of ‘those’ remarks that only UKIP supporters ever seem daft enough to make. Well, perhaps BNP or English Defence League supporters too, but I digress. Guy, very much not for the first time, decided to post an objection in that typical, humourless way that is again very common among UKIP supporters. Here is what he said; –
You are suggesting that Carswell had an option as to what he might do;. He didn’t – the whips saw to that. So are you saying that all political parties in Westminster have a 2 tier mode of operation; national subjects: do as we tell you; local problems: do as you want? Never seen any evidence of that. I have a tory MP who has done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING other than what his head office tells him. He won’t even sign a petition which seeks to ensure more protection for vulnerable children. The man’s an ass. Carswell however has been brave and has gone against the whips; he’s changed sides and ASKED the voters if they approve of what he’s done in switching. They do approve and good for them. Your article is pettifogging nonsense and if you can’t see that our country is being assailed by the enemy within (look at the Times this morning)who seek to close down you and others like you, and me, with my “free speech”, then you’re not the man I thought you were. As UKIP are fruit cakes and nutters why oh why do you spend so much time criticising them? The Tories are the ones you should be shouting at or we get another 5 years of crap on our heads. Probably worse than the 5 we’re currently suffering. But you, like a whip, will win the day because you claim to have found a fool in the UKIP fan base. Some victory. We applaud you from the bottom of our hearts. Another victory for the working class. (Emphasis mine.)
Now, most of the stuff Guy asserts about Douglas Carswell’s defection is assumption-based but might be sustainable. However, in the highlighted text, he starts bemoaning the menace of the Tories. Now his criticisms of them are fairly accurate – their plans are indeed a threat to free speech and much else besides – but once again, he comes across as a UKIP supporter trying to change the subject. The screencap was not about Tory policy, it was about a former Tory who defected to UKIP.
Just nipping off-topic for a moment, Guy is ignorant if he imagines that Mr Sivier does not criticise the Tories regularly on his blog. In reality, I would estimate over half of the posts he publishes cross-examine and criticise Conservative policy in considerable damning detail – he does comfortably more than his share of “shouting at” the Tories. Guy is also ignorant if he imagines that one fool in UKIP’s ‘fan base’ (strange term to use, but in fact, probably accurate – they are like sports fans, not political supporters) is all we have found. We see these same behaviours all the time in disturbing numbers of UKIP’s supporters, as does Thomas G. Clark on the Another Angry Voice Facebook page.
Guy came back again a bit later and posted the following, baffling attempt at a rejoinder; –
Your correspondent doesn’t mention that website where the confirmed sexual preferences of Labour party members is displayed for all too [sic] see. Their preferences are not nice. We can all pick holes in other party’s [sic] members or voters – it’s a game that truly does no one any good. Does it? Can you confirm that the Clacton voter to whom you refer was not, previously, a committed socialist (disillusioned like so many) or a past, regular Labour voter?
I have read and re-read this swipe (?) nearly a dozen times now, and I am still struggling to work out what Guy thought he would achieve by saying it. It has absolutely nothing to do with the subject under discussion at all. Once again, it seems to be just a desperate finger-point of precisely the type that Farage uses every time he is interviewed by anyone asking him about the ‘idiots in UKIP’ – anything to change the subject.
What exactly have the sexual tastes of Labour Party members got to do with the stupidity of a UKIP supporter who votes for a candidate he/she expressly wants to see the back of? I am certainly not saying that it is unimportant if Labour members are, for instance, active child-abusers, but once again, the subject has been raised out-of-nowhere, presumably in the hope it will provide something that UKIP supporters feel less awkward talking about. It is also, again going slightly off-topic here, wildly speculative to suggest that the voter in question was once a socialist/Labour supporter. There is nothing whatever to indicate any such thing, it is just the wildest, emptiest guess, which once more hints at Guy being a bit desperate for something to divert the discussion elsewhere. But even if the voter were once a Labour voter, so what? He or she has still become a UKIP supporter for a really unintelligent reason, and that was what was under discussion – the fact that people who turn to UKIP often display, to put it politely, less-than-impressive intelligence.
(Just to make clear, by the way, as Guy seems to be quietly implying otherwise, I do not in fact vote for the Labour Party, and never have done. I have no ulterior motive to brush any issues among Labour members under the carpet, even if I could. It is just, while the possible matter of sexual misconduct is a serious subject, that does not mean that the dangers inherent in the rise of a radical-right-wing party like UKIP should therefore go unmentioned.)
This pattern, this mixture of paranoia, humourlessness, evasiveness, desperate finger-pointing, and, yes we shall use the word, stupidity, is very, very commonplace among UKIP supporters. Objecting to it being pointed out on the basis of it ‘alienating’ UKIP supporters is nonsense – they have presumably already been alienated in the first place – but when they are saying and doing foolish things, it needs to be pointed out to them. And given how rudely and aggressively many UKIP supporters tend to take issue with people who say things they disagree with, they can hardly complain when the people they have insulted take the opportunity to mock them back.
What I would suggest that the people who wish to defend UKIP supporters from accusations of stupidity and mindless paranoia try is something that UKIP supporters themselves never seem to bother with; they could try offering up some evidence. By that, I mean, do not just demand that there be no accusations of stupidity, actually offer up some evidence that there really is some creditable intelligence among the UKIP support base. Demonstrate to us genuine examples that there are plenty of people in, or voting for, UKIP who are a lot more intelligent than the very loud ‘minority’ who keep setting themselves up to look stupid in front of the whole country – remember ‘Jack’?
There is always copious evidence of UKIP supporters behaving like whining fools, just have another look at Thomas Clark’s page, linked to above. There is seldom any real evidence that I can see circulating of them behaving intelligently, shrewdly, or with consistency.
If that is because an ‘intelligent majority’ in the party are too quiet, then maybe it is time they spoke up a bit more than people like ‘Jack’ or ‘Guy’?
EDIT TO ADD: –
And here’s another example. A pro-UKIP group was recently set up on Facebook called “Exposing anti-UKIP groups for the liars and nutters they truly are” (although in practise, the group seems caught up in an exclusive ‘war-of-the-sexes’ with Women Against UKIP rather than on a mission against wider opposition). The administrator running the group uses the same strategy – or at least thinks he does – of saying, “Someone else is just as bad” in response to an accusation, rather than attempting to refute it. He then goes on to display a total unawareness of UKIP’s outlook, or whose support it includes.
We have yet another online ‘activist’ trying to mobilise voices in defence of the UK Independence Party without appearing even to know who its allies are. It is only through consistent ignorance of what UKIP is really about that anyone will support them at all.
Thanks to Callum Moss of the UKIP Exposed: A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing page on Facebook, for this screencap.