To dismiss UKIP as racist is to mischaracterize not just the party, but Britons as a whole.
The titular question was asked of Fair Observer, so Fair Observer asked me, at which point I realized how little the public knows about the real policies offered by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), other than cheap accusations of “racism.”
Google reports that the two most common searches related to UKIP include: “Are UKIP racist?” and “Why should I not vote for UKIP?” Yet Britons use Google to search for UKIP’s policies more than any other British party’s.
Clearly, people in Britain are not being informed adequately by the traditional news media. UKIP complains about bias at the BBC and Channel 4 — the Office of Communication (OFCOM) is investigating the latter.
Meanwhile, other parties are guilty of prejudicial reductionism of UKIP to “racism,” as epitomized by a recent talk from the Labour Party’s Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, about “a virus of racism which runs through that party.”
Many new political parties have emerged in recent decades, of which only UKIP can be described as right of center with representatives in parliament. The other party that matches this description — the Conservative Party — was the most popular in the last national election in 2010, but it is still regarded as unfashionable in popular culture, while all the other political parties in Parliament are left of center. Many “anti-fascist” groups have united against UKIP by, ironically, interfering in the democratic process — sometimes violently — leaving UKIP to ask police for help to protect its right of assembly.
UKIP’s claim to go where the major parties fear to tread has substance and must help to explain its rapid gains in popularity over recent years with increasingly disaffected voters. Policy Chief Suzanne Evans markets UKIP as a more ambitious party: “Ours is an amazing country, but it could be better still.”
UKIP is politically important: It has two Members of Parliament (MPs), three of the House of Lords, 23 of the European Parliament (making it the largest British party there), and more than 45,000 registered members.
UKIP already has political influence. It takes credit for the Conservative Party’s risky pledge for a referendum on membership of the European Union (EU). UKIP could attract enough votes to deny victory to the Tories on May 7, and it is being touted as a potential coalition partner with the Conservatives.
To ignore UKIP’s policies is to ignore an influential and potentially majoritarian part of British politics.
The UKIP manifesto’s explicit appeal is majoritarian. The party’s leader, Nigel Farage, writes that UKIP was born from “a feeling that successive governments were no longer representing the will of the people.” He differentiates UKIP from the other parties’ “arbitrary, over-ambitious targets and pledges to some special interest group here or there.”
He expresses its core principle as “believing in our country.” UKIP’s other main principles seem to be legalism, sovereignty and fiscal responsibility.
Fiscal Policies and Employment
UKIP cannot be stereotyped as fiscally conservative. While promising more fiscal responsibility than most other parties, it would invest more in health, education, housing and defense.
UKIP also cannot be stereotyped as pro-business. While it would cut business rates for small businesses, it would restore corporation tax and tax sovereignty for all companies with any operations in Britain. It would abolish inheritance tax, but raise the personal allowance. It would return billions of pounds per year by abolishing the European part of value-added tax and Britain’s contributions to the EU.
UKIP’s manifesto states that it “believes the key to creating a successful, dynamic economy and a fair society lies in harnessing the ingenuity, resourcefulness and appetite for hard work of the British people.” UKIP would allow employers to discriminate in favor of Britons. It expects wages to grow with restrictions on immigration.
It also expects employment to grow with its financial and legal support for small businesses and British agriculture and fishing (partly by leaving the European Common Agricultural Policy). Like the Conservative Party, it would not restrict zero-hour contracts, since they “suit many people.”
Entitlements, Health Care, Education and Family
UKIP would invest more in policing benefit fraud, restrict child benefit to two children for new claimants, stop migrants from receiving welfare until five years of residency, and stop payments to parents for children who do not live in Britain — an incredible liberty that almost nobody knew about until the government announced its own outrage in 2009.
While promising more fiscal responsibility, UKIP has joined the irresponsible competition between all the other parties about how much more they would invest in health care and social care. All the parties promise to invest more — they just dispute how much.
Investment is an input — as in the 1970s, Britain has slipped into a simplistic fashion for measuring value only by inputs, not the desirable outputs (more preventative care than reactive care, lower disease rates, lower accident rates, lower malpractice rates). Britons have become dramatically less healthy and more complaint-prone in the last two decades, despite increasing inputs. Moreover, as a recent Parliamentary Committee found, the complaints system is practically unaccountable.
UKIP is the only party to promise to abolish at least some of the disgraced regulators and inspectors (such as the Care Quality Commission) in favor of county health boards, which would have statutory and democratic accountability; the board members would be elected, unlike the current quasi nongovernmental organizations (QUANGOs), which are practically unaccountable to Parliament, and certainly not to the electorate.
Most economic historians agree that Britain’s greatness was built on liberal, secular, meritorious education. British education has declined into publicly-funded but agenda-ridden local management. Publicly-funded but privately-run “faith schools” have been exploited by explicitly conservative religious sects; “free schools” have been taken over by ethnic self-segregationists. Both faith and free schools are threats to social equality and integration. Moreover, even the secular educational institutions remain under the decentralized leadership of complacent levelers, so no child is left behind — and so no child gets ahead.
UKIP promises that the education inspectorate (OFSTED) would look for more real educational value and crack down on anti-social extremism.
Unlike the other manifestos, UKIP’s policy explicitly supports tiered schooling to allow for different merits and technical or vocational foci, including more merit-based selective-entry high schools (“grammar schools”).
In higher education, UKIP promises to waive tuition fees for students of the hard sciences and applied sciences.
UKIP’s commitment to leave the EU has the fiscal benefit of removing Britain’s obligation to pay the same tuition fees and loans to non-British European students, of whom only around 10% ever repay their loans. All foreigners would pay their own way at the same international rates that non-EU residents currently pay.
British family law and social workers, in practice, are sexist, with mothers disproportionately granted child custody and alimony, even if they earn more money than their ex-husbands — or marry again, or frustrate their ex-husbands’ rights of access. A common law of equality for mothers and fathers was tabled only in 2012, after more than 30 years of campaigning, yet the practices remain sexist. (If you are female and subject to Islamic law, then the sexism is against you.)
UKIP promises mothers and fathers equal shares in child residency, and it promises grandparents rights of visitation — an increasingly important issue as more grandparents become the primary child carers, except where a family court rules against them in order to protect the child. It promises to expand nurseries and school-age childcare too.
Law Enforcement and Immigration
Most of the parties are committed to more accountability and to review crimes and criminal sentences in general, but none matches UKIP’s opposition to the sovereignty of European law, which allows UKIP to promise to keep criminals out of Britain and to deport them, without running afoul of the European human rights system.
UKIP commands the issue of immigration, while other parties avoid it with platitudes about the value of diversity, entrepreneurship and cheap labor.
These platitudes ignore the higher social and health costs of immigrants over established residents, in a country already short of housing, education places and hospital beds.
Immigration into Britain is unsustainable and not clearly of net benefit (except to the unskilled service industries). At least 7 million immigrants arrived during the Labour governments of 1997-2010, due to careless acquiescence in practically borderless European expansion, which inevitably puts most of the burden on the states with the most generous public services and compliant borders. Another 2 million have arrived since 2010. In the year to September 2014, 624,000 immigrants arrived, most of them poor and unskilled, while emigration of Britain’s wealthiest and most educated accelerated, for a new record of 298,000 net immigrants in that year — about the population of Swansea or more than the population of a median British city.
UKIP directly confronts this irrational imbalance by promising a five-year moratorium on unskilled immigrants, while introducing a scheme for awarding immigration status to the most valuable immigrants (a “points-based system”), and a renegotiated relationship with the European Union — to the benefit of immigrants from outside the EU.
But like the other manifestos, UKIP’s stupidly fails to offer a policy for reducing emigration of Britain’s most valuable citizens.
The other parties have no credible plan to reduce immigration, because none is committed to renegotiating Britain’s legal obligations to the EU, without which no British government would have any leverage on the vast majority of immigration, as the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has proven since 2010.
UKIP’s policy on immigration is the strongest of all the British political parties, and it is easiest for critics to dismiss as racist, but then most Britons would be racist, since a growing majority have favored reducing immigration since the 1960s; the majority is now about three-quarters of Britons. Accusations of Islamophobia ignore the majority belief that an increase in the Muslim population would weaken Britain’s national identity.
Most concerns about immigration are far too nuanced to be dismissed as racist. When people complain about immigration, they may not oppose immigration in general, or a particular race or religion, but just the pace of immigration and its unbalanced impact on local demographics. By 2012, 13% of British residents were born outside of Britain, and more than half of Londoners were not “white British.”
Prejudices Are Largely Outside UKIP
I could not find any racism in UKIP’s policies. I did find racism spoken by prior members, but continuing accusations of racism seem to be overplayed by political opponents. In any case, to characterize a party by its outcasts would leave us to condemn the Liberal Democrat Party as “a homophobic, lying, Muslim-bashing, bomb-planting, child-abusing party.”
UKIP’s story tells us more about mainstream political intolerance than about UKIP’s own prejudices.
UKIP is a minor party that has grown to prominence democratically, without the Labour Party’s exploitation of ethnic and religious block voting in the Midlands, the similar hypocrisy of the Respect Party, or the criminally corrupt exploitation of fellow ethnic minorities and Muslims by the “independent” mayor of Tower Hamlets.
UKIP represents majoritarian concerns about immigration, and it promises potentially majoritarian policies in many domains other than immigration. To dismiss UKIP as racist is to mischaracterize not just the party, but Britons as a whole.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.