Watching Question Time last week (22 May) I was particularly intrigued by the first question posed by a member of the audience which has been the topic of heated
Watching Question Time last week (22 May) I was particularly intrigued by the first question posed by a member of the audience which has been the topic of heated political debate at university (and many other places) recently.
In particular, the increasing support for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) was the source of much discussion and the BBC has likened their rise in popularity to a political earthquake. There is little doubt that they are emerging as a national political force to be reckoned with and they are challenging the support for the usual three parties.
However, UKIP are not without their controversies, highlighted in the press and bought up on Question Time last week, there are legitimate worries that UKIP is perhaps a little too far right on the political spectrum for everybody to be completely comfortable with.
It seems to be because of numerous allegations of racism, sexism and homophobia, which are, in the words of UKIP Deputy Chairman Neil Hamilton, “dangerous words to fling around.”
Are UKIP racist?
To answer the question as to whether increasing support for UKIP suggests underlying racism, we need to first address whether UKIP is a racist party. Neil Hamilton makes it clear that the party is not racist, but what else would you expect?
As Jack Monroe eloquently puts it: no party will come out and declare themselves as racist, one would have committed political suicide. A racist party would hide under the guise of nationalism and Britishness.
The worry that UKIP is racist has been fuelled by the fact that many supporters are themselves racist, homophobic and/or sexist. Now-former funder Demetri Marchessini did huge damage to UKIP’s reputation when he said he doesn’t believe a wife can be raped by her husband, and that gay men experience only lust, not love.
What a charming fellow. Whilst not a UKIP member, he was their 6th largest individual donor in 2013 (according to The Guardian).
However, it doesn’t follow that all supporters are racists, homophobes and/or sexists. The unfortunate reality is that there has been a conflation of the issue of immigration and of race.
Tristam Hunt and Chris Grayling hit the nail on the head when they said that supporters are voting UKIP because the talk of immigration policies speaks to broader issues due to the implications immigration has on health, schooling, housing and the like.
Low levels of immigration need to be ensured purely for practical reasons. It’s a shame these wise words weren’t shared with Labour when they went with the open door policy on immigration.
With problems in terms of schooling and housing affecting many people, UKIP are playing on people’s concerns about immigration, which has caused their popularity. Their supporters are not comfortable, however, about being called fearful over these issues, put forward by an audience member.
A better word seems to be disenchanted. After a disastrous open door policy in terms of immigration by Labour, the disenchantment of the public has led to supporting UKIP due to their hard line approach to immigration, which is not provided elsewhere.
The other parties need get talking about immigration and UKIP needs to dial it down, no wonder so many people think UKIP are racist, every time they come up it’s because they seem to talk of nothing other than immigration.
Whilst this may not have been intentional it is undoubtedly the way the Party has come across, resulting in supporters flocking who want a harsher immigration controls but also critics who interpret this as a sign of underlying racism.
Racist – yes or no?
The two issues of race and immigration need to be kept separate, but of course that’s not easy when supporters of your hard line immigration policy are revealed to be racist, homophobic and/or sexist. Supporters are still drawn to the party though, and it is this that suggests intrinsic racism.
Kirsty Allsopp perfectly expresses that supporters are turning a blind eye to racist undertones of the party and ignoring people like Marchessini because they agree with UKIP’s immigration policies.
So, what’s the answer? Does UKIP’s increasing popularity mean there is underlying racism in Britain? It seems that the supporters of UKIP feel so strongly about immigration that they are willing to stick their head in the sand when they hear about high profile racist supporters.
Does that meant they are racist? At worst: yes. At best: supporters are so focused on dealing with immigration that they have developed tunnel vision, allowing for racist policies if it means dealing with immigration controls adequately, indirect, somewhat unintentional and almost subconscious racism it seems.
After that debate it’s clear that the real question is: how do I vote for Ms Jack Monroe and Kirsty Allsopp?
What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.
Pic: Jennifer Jane Mills (CC)