Saturday, 31 May 2014

UKIP is not Racist.

UKIP is not racist.
You might be surprised to see me writing that but actually I believe it to be true. I said is rather than are on purpose - we have seen that, despite their vetting procedure, a number of UKIP candidates have voiced racist views. You only need to go to Twitter to see what the views of Farage’s People’s Army actually are. UKIP is aware of this, and though in the past they deliberately courted the BNP vote, they have made concerted efforts to distance themselves from open racism and have taken efforts to eliminate these sections within the party.

Not Racism - Cynical Populism
The first thing that leads me to this conclusion is research into the history of the party. I thoroughly recommend Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Robert Ford & M.J.Goodwin, Routledge, 2014). What follows is mostly from there. The book is also recommended by figures within UKIP – but I suspect they haven’t read it!

When the party was founded it was little more than a one issue pressure group, with the ultimate end of getting the UK out of the EU. If elected to office, they intended to immediately stand down and dissolve the party once their goal was achieved, and they had no intention of standing against euro-sceptic Tories.

However as the party gained in popularity the original idealism and even the ideology was put aside. The Kilroy era showed that with money, publicity and drive (not forgetting Farage too at this point) it was possible for them to advance from the fringe into the mainstream, take and hold office. And for this, they needed policies to get more votes and widen their target demographic. Nuttall had the idea of going after the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of disaffected traditional Labour supporters and blue-collar workers, and targeting the fears over immigration in particular.

In elections after 2000 Tories and BNP both chose immigration as one of their targets, though both coming from ideological standpoints, and with the Tories, it was just one amongst a raft of domestic policies they were campaigning on. The only ideology that governed UKIP however was populism – their sole reason for selecting this target was to cynically exploit the issue in order to get votes. This is why in particular the myth they created and fed had no basis in reality – they played directly to the audience, with a massive poster campaign directly into their target areas.

Analysis of the 2013 council elections revealed that the greatest upswing of UKIP support was coming from the deprived, working class and poorly qualified people. It made sense then to make this demographic the target and immigration the single issue for the 2014 campaign.

And it seemed to pay off. UKIP managed to capture virtually all of the BNP vote, ending them as a political party. And whilst they were virtually wiped out of every major city in the UK, they gained councillors and MEPs in traditional Labour heartlands. But Ford and Goodwin argue that contrary to the popular conception, UKIP wasn’t ‘widening their support base, but deepening it.’

UKIP Supporters – the Grey Revolution
UKIP supporters are mostly male (57%), white (99.6%), over 55 (57%), working class (42% - compared to 35% for Labour!), and left school at 16 or younger (only 24% went on to further/higher education – compare that to the Greens at 60%).

From the Guardian, UKIP supporters have the least interest in other countries and cultures, don’t regularly try food from other cultures and don’t use social media.

It is in fact entirely accurate to depict UKIP as a throwback party, looking back nostalgically to a time of traditional values and homogeneity, of establishment and pride in Britain. This of course is a sepia-tinged fantasy that actually never existed. But UKIP is fixed in time to before we joined the EU in 1973 – so of course most of the support is going to come from people who can actually remember it. But they are remembering the fantasy – not the strikes, the height of the Troubles, the Cod War, and then later the Three-Day Week, power cuts, bread rationing, unemployment hitting 1m for the first time since the 1930s…

Targeting Romanians
As I pointed out in an earlier post, the manifesto deliberately misquotes a FOI report from the Met about numbers of arrests of foreign nationals, Farage’s open letter of excuses after his disastrous LBC interview makes the same errors. When challenged on these inaccuracies, Farage said he merely ‘simplified’ the report. I’ll let you judge that for yourself.

It’s not just that the report was distorted, it’s the way it was distorted. The figures all go back to the five years prior to 2012, yet the manifesto stated, ’28,000 Romanians are held for crimes in London.’

It concentrates on Romanians and says that they come second for the levels of serious crime – they don’t, they come third. And the biggest group by far with more than twice the number of arrests for serious crime are the Polish (11,103); Jamaica comes second (5,635); Romania a close third (5,393). If this was about racism, then why pick on the third group on the list, why not the Poles and Jamaicans?

The reason why Farage picked on Romanians and Bulgarians is that these nations became eligible for Free Movement this year, and Farage wanted to demonstrate that whilst these countries had been admitted to the EU, they weren’t ready, and they could now flood into the UK. UKIP had already put all their money on this actually happening, to supply them with hard data they would need to justify their campaign of fear.

From the figures released before the election we now know they didn’t come, and in fact, fewer Romanians and Bulgarians came here than before the ‘borders were opened’. The arrest rate for these nationalities has also significantly dropped. But UKIP had already sent the manifesto to the printers – they were committed. And the facts don’t matter – the myth had been fixed in the consciousness of the voters. Now UKIP can set the agenda – Labour and the Tories will not challenge the myth, but will dance to UKIP’s tune.

UKIP may not be ideologically racist – as its only ideology is populism and the pursuit of power for its own sake – but the membership and candidature is undeniably extreme right-wing, and the ultimate result of exploiting fears about immigration and targeting a particular group for blame and derision is racism.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Great UKIP Victory…according to the BBC.

Last Thursday elections were held in some local authorities in the UK. Labour won an additional 339 seats, meaning they now hold more seats than all other parties and independents combined. The Conservatives lost 172 seats, the Libdems 254, so whilst some councils went to No Overall Control, Labour gained control of an additional 8 councils including Cambridge, in a landslide. 

UKIP, whose chances had been bolstered by a multi-million pound advertising campaign and media ubiquity of its Leader Nigel Farage, lost incumbents all over the country, being virtually wiped out in every major city including London, where all UKIP councillors were shown the door. Nevertheless they gained 128 seats, which represents a drop in their share of the vote of 6% when compared to the same time last year. 

But this isn’t the story being reported by some of the newspapers – some who have declared political affiliations and also probably went to print before all the results were in. But the BBC, supposed to be free from political bias and having the advantage of 24 hour rolling news gathering and production, ran the story that this displayed an enormous victory for UKIP, a ‘political earthquake’, ‘real four party politics’ – even going so far as asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer, live on air in the Today Programme on Radio 4, whether the Tories would now be approaching UKIP for a coalition deal in next year’s general election. 

Whether Farage could be Deputy PM. As a serious question.

This is a party with no MPs, who lost almost every seat they stood for, declining in vote share, winning just over 4% of seats. 

The day before the BBC were pushing their particular version of reality, in statements like this one –
The Tories lose 12 councils while Labour added just 5, but UKIP won an additional 128 seats.

The BBC switched the metric half way through – that is not balanced reporting. The same statement should read:
The Tories lose 12 councils while Labour added just 5, but UKIP gained none.
The Tories lost 172 seats, Libdems 254, mostly to Labour who gained 334 seats nationwide. UKIP also gained 128, indicative of a Tory protest vote in the regions.

The ‘landslide’ and ‘revolution’ stories continue – yet with 4.4% of seats, UKIP hasn’t won as many as the BNP did in 2009 – 6.2%. Yet I don’t recall John Humphrys asking whether Nick Griffin should be deputy PM.

It is difficult to see what the BBC editorial agenda is with this. Recently it seems that they have been regarding politics more as Light Entertainment than Current Affairs. The Marr Show is some kind of cross between the BBC News breakfast programme and the old Pebble Mill at One. Question Time invites more cheeky chappies, personalities, comedians and polemicists than academics or politicians, Farage appearing on that programme more than most, going almost back-to-back with appearances on Have I Got News for You. Andrew Neill’s programmes are peppered with cartoon graphics, clever quips and 5 min talking head shorts by celebs.

Perhaps in this media world where ideology has given way to populism; policy to personality; fear over facts – ratings have become the most important factor for a BBC desperately in danger of losing both its credibility and its charter.

(Thanks to @SimonGosden and @fleetstreetfox  - other refs. see Guardian and BBC websites)

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Is UKIP racist? You decide!

There has been quite a to-do lately, what with a senior UKIP insider resigning due to, in her opinion, the party embracing a terrifying form of populist racism.

Then yesterday, the Party Leader, Nigel Farage may have let the mask slip in an interview on the wireless, making statements which he subsequently tried to justify.

This blog was originally going to draw your attention to the UKIP 2014 Local Manifesto, but it turns out that Mr. Farage used the same 'evidence' in his defence.

I will present you with the original source of this evidence and invite you to make up your own mind.

It is not for me to tell you what to think.

I would however like you to read.

On the basis of that, formulate an informed opinion.

Exhibit A: The UKIP Manifesto
I would like to draw the attention of the jury to this in particular, on page 2.

"28,000 Romanians are held for crimes in London."
"Romanians come second on the list of foreign nationals arrested by police for serious crimes."

 Exhibit B: Metropolitan Police Freedom of Information (FOI) Request
In particular, the first three pages explaining the parameters of the request, and the limitations of the data that has been supplied to answer it.



and here:

In summary, though the request was number of nationals, the report supplies the number of arrests of foreign nationals in the entire UK during a five year period. Individuals may be arrested several times for different reasons as a result of one event. There is also no indication here of repeat arrests of the same individual. 

In other words, approx. 28,000 arrests (not charges, not held) of Romanians (not individuals) were made over a five year period (are held?) in the whole of the UK (not London).

Secondly, "Romanians come second on the list of foreign nationals arrested by police for serious crimes."

Actually, they don't. Again, number of arrests not nationals:

1. Poland      11,103
2. Jamaica      5,635
3. Romania     5,393

I would also point out that the reasons for selecting such a dataset seem a little odd - these numbers are meaningless without including the total number of arrests, including British nationals.

In particular, the definition of Race under the act:

I have presented the evidence. 

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury,  I now invite you to retire and consider your verdict. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

You are not allowed to read this blog

I've written about different things and different people, but surprisingly for a blog (which, let's face it, is pretty much the archetype of vanity publishing) I've never written anything about me.

Until now.

Yesterday afternoon as I was debating whether to continue watching some lame James Caan movie about midget submarines, I was disturbed by a police officer peering through my lounge window. I do live on the ground floor, so not as surprising as you may have imagined. I went to the door and there were two constables there. The first thing they said was that there was nothing to be worried about, they just wanted to come in for a chat. Not something that has ever happened to me before, but I showed them in and sat them on the sofa.

They wondered if I was the Michael Abberton on Twitter and I said yes. Then they said this was in relation to a complaint that had been made by a certain political party in relation to tweets I had published about them and one tweet in particular which talked about ten reasons to vote for them. The PC wanted to know if I had made that poster. I explained that I hadn't but it had been doing the rounds on Twitter for a while, and so I had decided to see if these claims could be verified.

In doing this I set myself strict rules - nothing second hand, nothing from a newspaper, everything from an official party source as much as possible. Some I could find no basis for, and I highlighted these in bold. The only thing I quoted which did not come from an official party source was the parliamentary voting record. I explained all this to the police in some detail - also that on several occasions I had simply sent people the link to the official party manifesto.

The police explained that I hadn't broken any law - there was no charge to answer and it really wasn't a police matter. 

They asked me to 'take it down' but I said I couldn't do that as it had already been retweeted and appropriated, copied, many times and I no longer had any control of it (I had to explain to one of the officers what Twitter was and how it worked). They said that they couldn't force me to take it down anyway.

I asked if I could tweet about the visit. The straight answer was 'no', as this might appear prejudicial in light of the upcoming election and the police must appear to remain neutral. But they couldn't stop me from doing so, as I had Freedom of Speech. Incredulously, I said, "...but you must realise how this looks!" One shrugged, the other looked embarrassed.

As they were getting up to leave I asked for clarification - was this in relation to possible copyright infringement - and they were very clear on that point. It wasn't, and they didn't see how it could be. And even if it were, again it would not be a police but a civil matter.

I'd like to be absolutely clear - the police officers were extremely professional and polite and I couldn't fault their behaviour in any way. But it wasn't until after they left that I questioned why they had visited me in the first place. A complaint had been made but with no legal basis. Not a police matter. So why did they come to my home in the middle of a Saturday afternoon? Also, seeing as my profile doesn't have my location - how did they know my address, or even the town I live in?

About fifteen minutes after they left I received a threatening tweet from a party member I had had an exchange with earlier in the day. Though appearing to be no more than a party supporter, he seemed to know that the police had been involved. I copied the tweet and sent it to the police.

I contacted some people I'd had exchanges with involving this party. One of them put me in touch with a solicitor and a journalist and advised that I contact my MP, which I've done. And whilst acknowledging the fact that the police had no right to censure my posts, in order to show goodwill I removed all instances of the poster where I'd sent it @someone, and have not tweeted about the visit or about that political party since.

Nevertheless, the story has gotten out and it seems people do feel (rightly) outraged by it.

If I had been abusive in any way, if I had been dishonest in any respect or if any of the sources had been fake rather than official party links, I could in some way understand it. But all I had done is promote the party policy using links to their own sources - no editorialising, no commenting. And in fairness highlighted those allegations I could find no evidence for. One of the sources was their current manifesto!

Why would a political party, so close to an election, seek to stop people finding out what their policies are or their past voting record? And is it not a matter for concern that a political party would seek to silence dissent and debate in such a manner?