On the face of it, the last two weeks haven’t been the greatest advertisement for the Ukip anti-European/anti-political establishment ‘insurgency’. First the ‘British builder’ in a Ukip party political broadcast candidate turned out to be a white Zimbabwean – sorry ‘Rhodesian’ – immigrant named Andre Lampitt. In the broadcast builder Lampitt described how it had been a ‘real struggle’ to feed his family because of the ‘lads from Eastern Europe.’
But then ‘Rhodesian’ Lampitt spoilt all the fun with a succession of tweets defending slavery, describing Islam as a ‘pathetic Satanic religion’, and Nigerians as ‘generally bad people.’ No sooner was Lampitt banned by a ‘very angry’ Farage than another candidate pops up comparing Islam to Nazism and telling Lenry Henry to live abroad if he ‘wants a lot of blacks around’.
That same week it was revealed that the ‘British construction actor’ begging in the streets used in the Ukip election poster was in fact an Irish actor; that a vox pop ‘voter from Devon’ who declared that UKip was ‘the only party listening to what people want’ was in fact Nigel Farage’s assistant and events manager.
And then there was the former Tory councillor for Leicestershire David Parsons, who was forced to resign from the council in 2012 after an expenses fraud, announcing his intention to stand as a Ukip candidate in the general election because ‘ At a time when so many of us are struggling to make ends meet, we are left to the whims and fancies of a Tory/Liberal coalition, both locally and nationally.’
This is knockabout farce of a high order, which caused Parsons’ Tory opponent to ‘fall about laughing’ when he heard who would be standing against him. Meanwhile anti-establishment leader Nigel Farage, that down-to-earth ordinary bloke who is really just like you and me and wants to purge Westminster may have spent £60,000 in office expenses on himself and his party – pretty much like the European ‘fat cats’ depicted in Ukip’s election poster in fact.
In Ukip’s view all these revelations are ‘smears’. Others might see them as symptoms of a party that is rotten and phony to its very core, that is perpetrating an astonishingly brazen con-trick on the nation’s embittered and credulous voters, and which attracts racists, bigots and xenophobes not in spite of its policies but because of them.
That such a party should still be riding high in the polls despite all this is – or should be – deeply disturbing. According to a Guardian editorial over the weekend, ‘people are attracted to Ukip for reasons that have to be listened to and engaged with, not merely disapproved of.‘ The newspaper predicts that ‘reason will out. But only if the reasons why people are attracted to Ukip and disenchanted with established parties are addressed more honestly and humbly.’
The Guardian’s Suzanne Moore also sees Ukip as a product of ‘the real Little England, the one that seeks to represent ordinary people without ever talking to them. ‘ The suggestion that Ukip is the product of a political class that has failed to ‘listen’ is true up to a point. As far as the 2008 financial crisis is concerned, all three parties have shown themselves far more concerned with listening to those who are more powerful than they are than to those who are less so, and with designing policies to suit their interests.
But this ‘listening’ narrative does not explain Ukip’s appeal. You can be disenchanted and disgusted with the political class without turning to a party that deals in lies, prejudices and anti-foreigner fantasies, such as the outrageous claim in its electoral propaganda that 26 million Europeans are coming to take British jobs.
You can analyse that statement from every conceivable angle. You can stretch out on the ground, climb onto a high building or view it from a helicopter, but it will never stop being an absolute unmitigated whopper, and more than that, a lie deliberately designed to whip up fear, resentment, hatred and prejudice.
Or take the depiction of the ‘ British construction worker’ dispossessed by EU labour. In fact for the last few years there has been a shortage of skilled labour in the construction industry – a shortage which many firms have filled with European workers in order to keep track up with renewed demand. Last November, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) was predicting a looming skills crisis because of the impending retirement of 400,000 UK construction workers within the next decade.
According to a recent survey by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, 41 percent of respondents have been having difficulty finding skilled workers, with bricklayers in specially short supply.
There is a debate to be had here about training program provision and apprenticeships to be sure. But the essential, unavoidable fact is that the construction industry could not survive without foreign labour, and that UKip is either lying or completely ignorant – on this, and on so many issues.
And the fact that such a blatantly false and xenophobic program should appeal to so many voters is not merely the consequence of a failure to ‘listen’ by an ‘out of touch’ political class. If so many people are prepared to vote according to prejudice, that is because too many politicians have also pandered to these prejudices, whether it was Gordon Brown’s ‘British jobs for British workers’ or the rampant anti-Romanian and Bulgarian sentiment encouraged by the government throughout the whole of last year.
In fact practically the only issue in which all three parties ‘listen’ to voters, is immigration. That is why they have fallen over themselves – particularly Labour and the Conservatives – for more than a decade in an attempt to demonstrate how ‘tough’ they are on immigration and asylum. And this willingness to some extent is a response to a constant torrent of stories denigrating migrants and asylum seekers emanating from some three quarters of the British press, from which truth and accuracy has been too often absent.
As John Grayson argues in an essential article for the Institute of Race Relations, Ukip are the product of a long process of media legitimization that has moved racism and xenophobia to the centre of British politics. No wonder Nick Griffin plaintively laments ‘ If you look at UKIP they are using all our rhetoric, they are using our slogans, they are recycling our posters and people like it.’
He’s right. And it would be better to recognize that fact and respond accordingly, rather than whitter on about the failure of politicians to listen to the ‘concerns’ which have created a political monster that threatens to suck British politics even deeper into the sewers.