Friday, 24 January 2014

UKIP - the Tea Party of the 51st State

Forecast of Drivel Ahead - Farage has disowned his own party's manifesto
The United Kingdom Independence Party cites withdrawal from the European Union as its signature policy. Puffed up by a right-wing media, it has ridden on the back of xenophobic myths ranging from invisible hordes of Bulgarians battering down the doors of the Arrivals hall in Heathrow to invented tales of conspiratorial Brussels bureaucrats forcing Britons to eat nothing but straight bananas (though no one seems to ask where these are to be found either).

UKIP preys on worries about the poverty and social problems afflicting millions of Britons using manufactured fears about migrants and the EU while covering up the real causes - an ever greater hording of wealth by a tiny, rich elite; the widespread incidence of tax avoidance and evasion by large corporations; and the now near complete privatisation (or at least private contracting out) of our key public services.

But in fact, UKIP have a wide range of policies and stances that do not bear scrutiny set against the "party of the people" tone its leader Nigel "Blokey" Farage seeks to espouse. He is Everyman, supposedly, with his pint in one hand and fag in the other. He rarely promotes the fact that he made his money as a stockbroker (as did his errant friend and former colleague Godfrey Bloom, MEP), nor that he used to be an active member of what was at the time a fairly pro-European Tory Party.

Yet more than his past, which could be forgiven if he had genuinely changed his tune, Farage is haunted by his party itself, even although the party very much is him.

We have heard enough of late of bizarre but frankly quite trivial outbursts from strange UKIP members. The most prominent was Godfrey Bloom with his references to "bongo-bongo-land", sluts and bashing a journalist on the head with his agenda papers; then there was the town councillor who suggested the recent floods were God's vengeance for legalising gay marriage; and the county councillor who used Facebook to ask "Is tuna a real fish like ones that swim in water?"

"Trivial" not in the sense that these events and the attitudes they display are trivial, but rather in the sense that they pale in the face of much more troubling aspects of UKIP, its official policies and its supposedly sensible leader's own views.

Consider these issues, generally overlooked by the media:

- Godfrey Bloom, when a UKIP MEP, appeared in a video praising the French secret services for planting bombs on board the Greenpeace ship "Rainbow Warrior" which caused an explosion and killed a photographer. You can see him in action by clicking here.

- in 2006, the European Parliament voted by 545 votes to a mere 13 in favour of calling on all member states of the EU to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women, treat rape within marriage as a crime and to ban and prosecute all instances of female genital mutilation. Who would oppose such a sensible, ethical motion? Well, UKIP did. All 7 of its MEPs who voted, including Nigel Farage, voted against supporting such steps to protect women. Doubtless they would claim it was to do with asserting British independence - but what comes first: making a political point or protecting vulnerable women and girls from violence?

- UKIP supposedly stands for the UNITED KINGDOM. But there is little resonance beyond England. Farage complained about being heckled by an admittedly loud and probably counter-productive demonstration when he tried to hold a press conference in an Edinburgh pub (to launch a by-election campaign some miles away in Aberdeen - possibly he didn't have a satnav that covered so far north?). But he might have reflected that the Scottish people who turned out to greet him may have felt slightly aggrieved by the leader of his party's tiny Scottish wing, Lord Monckton, who had described his compatriots as "subsidy junkies", playing on the wildly inaccurate theme that Scotland receives more public expenditure than it pays in tax.

And then just this week, having claimed that he was getting rid of five unnamed "barmy" MEPs (over a third of  his group in the European Parliament), Farage went off the policy rails himself, finally unmasking his inner Tea Party libertarian self.

First, in a speech to his former colleagues in the City of London stockbroking fraternity, he railed against laws curtailing sex discrimination: he insisted that women face no discrimination at all in the City workplace, though he then contradicted himself by saying that women who take maternity leave are by default worth less than men to their employers.

And now, he wants to legalise handguns - pistols - which were banned in 1996 after Thomas Hamilton used them to kill 16 primary school children in Dunblane in Scotland. Nigel feels the ban is "ludicrous" - perhaps he will launch his campaign to change the law in a pub in the town; I will be happy to buy him a map so he can get to the right place to justify his call.

But third and perhaps most telling of all, Nigel Farage has denounced the manifesto he and UKIP fought the 2010 General Election on as "486 pages of drivel" which he had never got round to reading and which he has now disowned.

And no wonder; this was a manifesto that promoted a "flat tax rate" - massive tax cuts for millionaires and substantial increases for everyone else; it opposed any regulation of banks in spite of the wave of bad practice and corruption revealed by the 2008/9 crisis; and it even planned to introduce compulsory dress codes in theatres.

Drivel indeed - but let's get this right: although he was not leader at the General Election, Farage was leader until a short time before, stood as UKIP's most prominent candidate and resumed the leadership a short time later. And for all that time up until today, this allegedly Honest Man of British politics, this straight guy who says it how it is, was standing on a platform of drivel, promoting policies he had never even read. Really? This is the man who plans to restore trust in politics?

Unbelievably, he has now said UKIP won't have any new policies this side of the General Election. So we will be being asked to vote for a party with no policies - apart perhaps from whatever Nigel can scribble onto the back of his fag packet while he queues for his next pint. What are we left with? An ability to say whatever UKIP want to say at the time, but watch out for a change next week? Or, more worrying, a licence to play up any and every prejudice without any accountability? It is rank populism - like the US Tea Party.

If we do ever leave the EU, if Farage has his way, the chances are we would be quickly incorporated into the orbit of the libertarian wing of the USA, a sort of offshore 51st State of America, open for international big business and complete with our own huddled masses to fill the sweatshops. Stockbrokers' stock would rise accordingly.

All thanks to Nigel.

What a bloke. And what a joke. But who's laughing?

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