If UKIP Really Want To Convince Us They’re Not Racists & Fools, This Is What They Should Do
February 20, 2015
by Martin Odoni
Given his decreasingly-effective campaign to prove that his party is not a collection of extremist nutcases, it is quite bizarre that Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party’s most beer-swilling man-of-the-(excessively-rich-)people, has become a semi-regular commenter on Fox News Channel. When it comes to presenting outlandish, paranoid, right-wing accusations as substantive fact, the people running Fox News themselves have nothing to learn from anybody, and so becoming their ‘expert-voice’ on European immigration is perhaps not the most convincing way that Farage could demonstrate moderation.
Just the fact that Sean Hannity once described Farage as a “future Prime Minister” (perhaps half-jokingly, but no more than half) says little for the network’s connection to reality; the leader of a party with UKIP’s degree of supportive over-exposure in the media will have no prospect of being Prime Minister any time soon when, even with that exposure, he still looks unlikely to get total seats in Parliament anywhere near to double-digits, and has a fundamentally divided support-base in any event (see later). But perhaps more pertinently, Fox has a shameless, heavy, and very explicit right-wing standpoint on just about any issue it covers. Even as it dares to call itself ‘Fair & Balanced’, it bitterly insults any leaning it sees as being away-from-the-right, and its first instinct when faced with arguments for social justice is to react with alarmist references to ‘Marxism’ and ‘class warfare‘. Fox has a typical far-right outlook dominated by a desire to find scapegoats for every problem – to find groups of ‘others’ to be regarded as hateful and to blame for the ills of society – to create the illusion of a world where there is not enough to go around, and then to display the scapegoats as being the ones who will have to miss out on a share due to their ‘undesirable’ characteristics.
Now Farage, as most of us know (although clearly not Harry Mason), is as addicted to publicity as a crack-addict is to white powder, so there was little danger of him refusing offers to speak on Fox, but it was not a wise move in the climate of the last couple of years surrounding UKIP. The party leadership has been trying very hard during this time to distance themselves from the air of xenophobia and, frankly, comedic stupidity that has pervaded the party since its earliest days, and that job is quite difficult enough when so many of its members are prone to making crass, opinionated and uninformed public gaffes. But the exercise is defeated altogether when Farage allows himself to be so expressly associated with a poisonous and ultra-conservative hate-receptacle like Fox News.
With all of Farage’s repetitive denials that his party is composed of racists and crackpots, and that the members committing these howlers are the exception and not the rule, the real truth should be very unsettling for the rational minority in his party (I am generously assuming that this rational minority actually exists, despite the ongoing lack of evidence); it is not just that the sheer bewildering number of incidents involving UKIP members (just since the turn of this year!) gives the lie to this claim. It is that by his own actions, Farage is himself reinforcing this impression. He quite cynically tried to take advantage of January’s ‘Charlie Hebdo’ shootings in Paris to spread and increase anti-multiculturalism rhetoric, along with Islamaphobic scare stories, which, even if they were not explicitly racist, can hardly be viewed as the deeds of a party leader who desires racial harmony, social peace, or internationalism.
There is only one way Farage can address this image problem if he is to stand any chance of convincing the majority in the UK that his political orientation is not driven by xenophobia or racism, and I strongly doubt he will ever dare to do it, as it would alienate his core vote without guaranteeing him an adequate rise in support from elsewhere. Even if we were to assume for the moment that Farage is telling the truth when he denies he is a racist or xenophobe, he never quite acknowledges an ugly related fact – that an awful lot of UKIP supporters are both.
So while Farage is unhappy to be accused of racism, he seems relaxed about accepting support from racists. Nick Griffin, the failed leader of the British National Party, last autumn declared that he was switching his allegiance to UKIP. Griffin is another to have claimed in his time that he is no racist, but I can state from personal experience that he is. (See below*.) What was Farage’s response when he heard that Griffin was now backing him? Well, he largely sounded uninterested, dismissive perhaps, writing off the declaration as ‘desperate-for-publicity’. (Er, a bit rich?) What Farage was not noticeably doing was declining the vote. He did not say, “I’d really be happier if Mr Griffin, and any others of his ilk, would vote for somebody else.” I would have been genuinely impressed if he had said that. But not only has he not really said it to Griffin, he never seems to say it to any of the racist fringe in the UK.
The problem for Farage is that until he does say it, the whiff of suspicion surrounding his own attitudes will remain. So he has to go as far as to tell the racial politicos not to vote for him. It is not enough just to shout “We’re not racist!” over and over. We have seen all that before: The BNP tried bellowing it for years and it got them nowhere, because it was only a single step away from racism, not a rejection of racism. Farage has to say more than that. He has to say, “I am not a racist, and I do not want support from racists.” Indeed, all parties should say that from time-to-time, but, fairly or unfairly, it is imperative that Farage says it, and pretty frequently.
That is the price Farage must pay for having a policy platform that is so heavily focused on Euro-skepticism and restricted immigration; even if, as he claims, the policies are not racist in intent, they are still very much in the territory of the racist, and therefore they are always likely to attract xenophobic support. Farage cannot on the one hand carry on cashing in on that hate fringe, while at the same time demand not to be associated with it. He has to be explicit and specific, and instruct the people in that fringe to take their activism and their votes to another party.
As I say, it may sound unfair to make that demand of Farage more than of other party leaders, but his policy platform is of exactly the type that will appeal to the sorts of people he claims he is not, and what quite a number of people in his party have shown themselves to be. UKIP has already become strongly identified with such attitudes, whether Farage shares them or not, and if he wants the link severed, he has to sever it himself, proactively and unambiguously. He has to reject racism, and that can only be achieved by rejecting any amount of support it offers him.
As I say, I doubt Farage will dare to do it. It will cost him more support than it is likely to win him; anyone impressed by it is likely to vote for the Conservative Party instead (not that they are exactly racism-free themselves), while the easily-angered racist fringe will become disillusioned very quickly and desert in droves. But therein lies a contradiction Farage has yet to reconcile. His support base was built on racism and xenophobia in the first place, and has only grown due to large numbers of newcomers who know almost nothing about UKIP, but just like the ‘cool-sounding’ idea of voting for a new party. (Yes, Harry, we are still talking about people like you here. Anyone who claims that UKIP is not controlled by bankers does not know anything about Nigel Farage.) Many of UKIP’s new supporters, I am fairly sure, are genuinely anti-racist and just do not realise how much the party is dominated by colour-feeling and xenophobia. Sooner or later, Farage will have to make an uncomfortable choice; in order to please the old, he will have to offend the new, or to please the new, he will have to alienate the old.
Hence why, as I said above, Farage has no serious hope of ever being Prime Minister; his support base is too divided. All he can hope in the long-term is to become the leader of a party with clearly-defined ideas and identity that it currently lacks, but all the while realising that when that happens, he will lose a huge slice of support from somewhere.
* I encountered Nick Griffin back in the summer of 2011. As an adopted-native of Salford, I live close to one of the major ‘hot-spots’ of the (largely-exaggerated-in-the-media) riots that spread across the country in August that year – ‘Salford Shopping City’ AKA ‘The Salford Precinct’. The weekend immediately after the unrest, BNP activists – ever the opportunists – arrived in Salford in their dozens and started trying to recruit as many locals as they could. Griffin himself was at Eccles Cross, just a short walk down the hill from where I live, and he was offering handshakes to passers-by before giving them the usual horlicks about how his party was there ‘to listen’ to the frustrations of disaffected local people. He approached me just as I was walking up the hill towards home, his hand proffered. I glanced at it and told him, perfectly accurately, “I’m Jewish.” Griffin’s face fell into a rictus of distaste, and he turned to look for someone else to pester.
Not racist? Yeah, Nick. Right.