SO, the political earthquake has started. OK, if you look at the actual results then it looks like a healthy move in the right direction for the Labour Party and a pretty damning judgement of the Conservative/Liberal coalition. However, if you take a closer look at the overall gains, then surely the first tremors of an earthquake have hit.
UKIP have hugely increased their representation in local government across the country and now refer to themselves as ‘big players’ in British politics. It is only my opinion, but it is worrying that so many Thurrock wards have fallen to them. I have said before that our borough tends to be a good indicator of national feelings and trends and the May 22nd votes did nothing to change my view. They are now big players in Thurrock and, consequently, big players on the national stage.
There has been much debate over the last 24 hours or so since the results came trickling in and I have found more concern in the reaction or justification of supporters rather than the presence of UKIP themselves. The party claim to be of the people and dangle a very jingoistic carrot. “We want our country back,” claims leader, Nigel Farage.
He stops short of explaining what this country is, exactly, and where it has supposedly gone but, instead, allows a build-up of anger and distrust to develop. Promise the public their very own country against a perceived back-drop of out-of-control immigration and suspicion that foreign nationals are solely to blame for a nation’s plight then there will inevitably be a swell of mislead nationalistic nostalgia.
A five minute flick through the party’s Facebook page confirms that supporters do indeed ‘want our country back’, and they want it returned from the immigrants who have allegedly taken their jobs, taken their hospital bed and are about to impose themselves on their idyllic, British way of life.
So, this country ‘we want back’, where is it and what is it like? I expect that it lies back in time, somewhere between the pomp and ceremony with which we remember Victorian Britain and the warming afterglow of Britian immediately following the war. Ahh, Britain, Britain, Britain; where each man is equal, so long as he is, indeed British. Britain, which rules a vast Empire in which it has occupied foreign lands and imposed its own will, forcibly, on which the sun never sets, where the clack of leather on willow can be heard, both on the village green and the fields of the sub-continent. Britain, where you can leave your door open and no-one will ever burgle your house, because the British would never do such a thing. Britain; where women are objects, servants and barely ranking above children and pets in the grand scheme of things.
It would be inconvenient at this point to state that the gap between rich and poor in this British idyll was so jarring that while the same class of people who now want their country back where literally dying of starvation and disease in city slums. These people had no say and no right and so, the main parties who have apparently failed us must have done something right given that we now have the NHS which is open to all and education which, for now at least, Mr Gove, is equal and open to all.
Perhaps we want a return to post war Britain, where rationing continued, we could still play cricket and still no-one burgled your house; this Britain which once fell for the idea that spaghetti grew on trees and would never dream of trying any of that foreign muck for fear that it was made of poison, rodent meat or would upset the constitution. We would all simply dine on meat and two veg, with gravy somewhat an exotic treat. A return to this Britain, where it was OK for people to advertise their spare room with signs stating a preference of clientele: ‘No dogs, no blacks, no Irish,’ is, perhaps, the Britain supporters are after.
Again, a flick through comments left on their Facebook page confirms this. Immigrants should be kicked out and all services left purely for the purely British. People state that they are fed up with people of other nationalities coming here and taking jobs, taking money from the state and generally prospering. How many Brits make a go of it abroad, starting from scratch?
Again, being purely British is some feat, given that our island nation is made up of thousands of years of settlement, invasion and even invitation. From the Romans and Normans to members of the Empire’s overseas colonies, our gene pool has expanded and become more diverse and, it has to be said, exciting. We’re all immigrants, somewhere along the line. The pure Brit doesn’t exist. You don’t need to look very much past our own Royal family to see that.
Comments are littered with reference to our ‘green and pleasant land’, and ‘our once great nation’. This is all very well but they are images – jingoistic, romantic paintings of something which never truly existed – an airbrushed, ready for the shelf portrayal of a country. Our ‘once great nation’ subjugated millions and imposed our will, our religion and our laws upon them. This Empire allowed a ‘jobs for the boys’ culture to grow and become, for a while, untouchable. The ordinary man was rarely a part of this. The ordinary man on the street, working hard to provide for his own was not in on this bounty. The ordinary man, who now demands a return to this golden age, was just as bad off and just as ignored.
There is talk of England for the English, Britain for the British. Where do we draw the line then, given the diversity which has enriched our culture? Do we say second, third, fourth generation settlers are OK, or do we go simply on appearance? I suspect the latter and I also suspect that UKIP will quietly garner that sentiment if it returns votes. They will gladly fuel the suspicion and fear of immigrants which is growing rapidly. They themselves lever opinion with a statistic about the number of Romanians currently in London and then state how many are wanted by police. One follower on Facebook suggested that they should be, to paraphrase, ‘rounded up and thrown in jail, or, better still, hung.’
This kind of reaction, I believe, is indicative of a growing and very troubling sentiment based in fear and misunderstanding. This country is made of immigration – that is not a fact you can ignore but it is one which can be celebrated. Immigrants have brought their culture with them and have certainly enriched our culture. Our favourite national dish is a curry which was invented my Asian settlers in the midlands. Foreign influence is vital to the continued development of our music, art and food culture. I have always believed that tolerance is what sets our country apart – the fact that freedom of speech and freedom of religious practice is a basic human right in this country is special and something which should be defended.
Now, I’m not saying that immigration is under control. We all know, and would like, tighter controls on those coming into the country. Perhaps this is all UKIP want, but they do very little to distance themselves from the clearly racist sentiments being poured out by many of their followers and even by some of their very own candidates – the ones who suggest Lenny Henry should ‘emigrate to a black country’ to perform his comedy. The same candidate stated that Islam is like the ‘Third Reich’. Naturally, UKIP leaders stated that they are ‘a non-racist, non-sectarian party whose members are expected to uphold these values.’
They stopped some way short of reprimanding or, indeed, firing the candidate to prove their disgust at this idiocy.
The growing sentiment of anger towards minorities is worrying. Fear that immigrants, usually tarred with the anti-Islam brush are in some way taking over shows a lack of understanding and a lack of tolerance. Indeed, it is ironic, given this country’s history of Empire building in which it forcibly took over foreign lands, that we now cry and scream that foreigners are here and are taking over. In the past few years, also, we have played a powerful role in invading, defeating and replacing governments to suit our own preference. This kind of foreign policy sets us as the bully and the bully always gets a taste of his own medicine.
The party would like to ‘open dialogue’, about scrapping maternity pay. That would be like opening dialogue towards scrapping votes for women or suggesting that, maybe, slavery wasn’t all that bad – a clear and frightening step back in time, perhaps to this British idyll that some are hankering for. Given the number of women openly ranting and spitting racist fury in social media, it would be wise for them look at how success for this party would look for them.
Some say though, that their vote is a protest and that they are showing their lack of faith in the three mainstream parties. I understand this sentiment entirely. The frustration being caused by the coalition and the challenging Labour Party and their perceived inability to speak of what they intend to actually do, rather than try to defame each other is tiresome. They behave like petty kids in a playground dispute over who is going to get the last bag of Monster Munch. I wait for the day when Ed Miliband tells David Cameron that his dad is way bigger than Cameron’s dad and would certainly knock him out.
Apathy is rife among voters, as was proved by the turnout. People are disaffected by the current regime and even former Labour ministers are claiming that Mr Miliband lacks the immediate appeal that voters are looking for. It is certain that Labour needs to up its game in order to secure victory in an election and they would do well to ignore sniping at the coalition and focus on making policy clear. While the three main parties bicker and taunt, support for UKIP will grow.
For now, we will sit and wait and see how this UKIP earthquake plays out. Whether the power houses of the two main parties will truly fall is yet to be seen – we will know next year of course and from here, the real campaigning will surely start.