Two days ago, I received an interesting, unexpected telephone call from a friend, who told me he had just been interviewed by a reporter asking him what he thought of the new UKIP posters, ahead of May’s local and European elections, who no doubt were eyeing the big prize – to do well in next year’s General Election.
While I was aware that elections were looming, I did not know of this launch and needed this wakeup call, especially as I am one of those who are disillusioned with all of the main political parties:
- Conservatives, by their sheer arrogance in ignoring 600000 signatures of those opposed to gay marriage and ignoring a further 2million opposed to the destruction of human embryos, and their callousness and lack of understanding to consign large sections of the more vulnerable members of our population to destitution as a result of their policies.
- Labour, through their mismanagement of their economy by spending money we don’t have on things, an ideology and a way of life we don’t need. As much as, and this most will no doubt agree, education is important, for example; despite the huge extra money given to schools and school related projects we end up with children less educated than before.
- Liberal Democrats, due to their dearth of ideas. Their first conference after the last general election reminded me of Nero fiddling as Rome burnt. All sorts of trivia were discussed, some of which were steps in the wrong direction anyway, whereas there was little by way of substantial suggestions, or interest even, as to how we are to get out of the inherited economic mess.
Please excuse the rant but the reason I do so is to highlight why the UKIP story ought to matter to us all. Having decided that I can’t in all conscience vote for any of the main parties, unless there were some outstanding qualities in a particular candidate that was asking for my vote, naturally I need to look at the alternatives, UKIP being one, and as things stand the only one, made especially attractive for me because I happen to share a good deal of its euro-skepticism.
While I was speaking to my friend, I was able to call up on my computer screen, images relating to the UKIP poster campaign. My initial reaction was disappointment although, unlike some, I don’t believe the posters were racist. Many of the statements had a strong element of truth, for example: allowing more European immigrants into the country will threaten the jobs of those already in this country, and the EU is having a greater than desirable say in our laws and way of life. But the tone and tenor were wrong, tantamount to being hateful and scaremongering, and the focus on Europe and immigration suggests that many other important issues are going to be seen to be of secondary importance. Before we turn to these more important issues, I would like to reflect a bit on the two issues UKIP have raised in their posters, both of which I agree are important, although not necessarily for the reasons many people might think.
Being part of Europe, not just geographically but by sharing resources, plans, policies etc., would on the face of it make sense. The argument that the UK (although there is a question mark over the future place of Scotland, something I will consider in a future post) would be better off in the EU than out of it, and it would be better to improve things from within than without, is an attractive one. Detractors, such as UKIP, would point out that UK sovereignty is being undermined given, for example, most of our laws these days are made by the EU (faceless bureaucrats) over which we have little control. Ever since the butter mountain scandal in the early days, followed by a whole load of disagreeable impositions ever since then, there has been disquiet by many. Sadly, despite claims to the contrary, the arguments for and against EU membership, and possible alternatives, have not been sufficiently aired.
Returning to immigration, on balance we do have too many foreigners coming into the UK and the national infrastructure cannot cope and traditional British values are being undermined. At least that is what many a typical “man in the street” might say. My disquiet with the UKIP posters regarding this matter is that it tries to appeal to this mob mentality without seeking balance. Let me say firstly, the UK has in the past been guilty of letting in too many migrant workers, although some of that is part of the deal of being a member of the EU. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, surprisingly to some, recently made an important point that we need to distinguish economic migrants from those who aren’t.
Let me first declare an interest. A lot of my past community activism has been working with various black and minority ethnic (BME) groups. Many, who do come to the UK, settle and integrate well, but many don’t and for a whole variety of reasons. While I well understand the “looking after our own first” and “don’t allow foreigners to jump the queue” arguments, I don’t believe a Christian country (which our Prime Minister claims we are) should consign any foreigner to destitution. Yet that is what I am finding. My recent work among the night shelters convinced me that there were a significant number of EU migrants who have been unable to find work and are now suffering destitution because they were unable to claim benefits etc. But my bigger passion concerns the non-EU immigrants that can neither claim benefit or work, typically the several hundred thousand that are asylum seekers, some failed because of systemic failures and some waiting a very long time because the system cannot cope. The Immigration Bill, about to be enacted, supported by all the main parties, seeks to close all avenues for such people to operate illegally, but does nothing to tackle the destitution that is all too evident. I get the strong impression that UKIP anti immigrant rhetoric has only made matters worse, simply because the main parties are trying to outdo UKIP by appearing tough on immigration and failing to argue their case well enough.
So back to the more important issues – in my view, it is about the type of country we want Great Britain to be, a need to uphold the Judaeo-Christian heritage that helped make it great in the first place, a realistic and compassionate response to tackling the economic crisis, a vision for the future, etc. Because none of the parties have convinced me on this matter, I remain in a certain limbo. My own Christian upbringing taught me that this is the way it has always been and I would do better not to get involved in politics. While looking after my family, preaching the gospel and showing compassion to the poor are my priorities, I cannot ignore politics because politics is one way to get things done that has a bearing on people’s welfare. The challenge and hope, of course, is that there will be people of the William Wilberforce calibre, who not only helped abolish slavery but promoted much else that benefited others, to be raised to office and who will do what needs to be done. This is what I will be looking out for as we face forthcoming elections.