The rise of the UK Independence Party has everything to do with misinformation, and very little to do with the realities of everyday life in the UK.
We are often subject to the spectre of the vast “bureaucracy” of the European Commission in Brussels replete with faceless men and women obsessing over the shape of cucumbers and banging on about Health and Safety whilst enslaving Britons via the European Court of Human Rights.
In September 2012 The Times produced a figure of 33,000 employees working in the Commission. This seems a lot until you realise that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs employs 82,000 and the NHS 1.2 million, so considering it’s servicing a continent of 400 million that figure seems entirely reasonable and hardly the “ the dead hand of bureaucracy” as outlined by UKIP leader Nigel Farage in November 2012 during one of his many rants at the European Parliament.
Farage seems to have zero credibility when you do some basic research into his colourful political career. In 2009 he told news reporters in what he thought was an off the record debate that he had claimed a whopping £2 million in expenses over the last ten years since being elected an MEP, this being on top of his £64K basic salary. This seems totally at odds with his stated opinion that the Westminster expenses scandal had exposed the three main Parties as being “greedy”. How any politician can be so naive as to believe that sitting in a room full of journalists can ever be “off the record” stretches belief and shows a stunning lack of judgement.
UKIP, like all so called “protest parties” feeds off myths. Whether it be on Europe, the make up of the UK, or immigration a July 2013 study produced by the British Royal Statistical contained some damning evidence of a massive disconnect between the UK public and some important key facts.
Whilst UKIP itself does not quote dodgy facts, what they do in hone on on the issues where the disconnect is the biggest.
A UKIP councillor summed up in public many of his colleagues private sentiments about Muslims when he described Islam as a, “cancer that needs curing with radiation”. Eric Kitson was forced to resign his seat but he was articulating a myth. The July 2013 survey found that the UK public believes that 24% of their compatriots are Muslims, when the figure is just 5%. on immigration the public think on average it is a staggering five times the actual number.
A cursory look at the Party’s website is instructive. In the summer of 2013 UKIP’s policy page was “under review”. This followed a leaked email that spring which said that running UKIP policy was like, “herding cats”, and that Nigel Farage faced, “a decade of a lack of credible policy unless we buy some in from right leaning think tanks”. Yorkshire and Humberside MEP Godfrey Bloom admitted, ““My experience thus far is that as soon as more than two people get in a room progress completely stops. Even where we have experts of our own, they disagree.” Quite.
The website, however some rather worrying, “statements of principles” which a re worded to tap into myths and basic prejudices.
For example. “UKIP calls for an end to the age of mass, uncontrolled immigration”. Try as we might, and oh how we did in the interests of balance, we can find no evidence that the UK ever had such an “age”. Unless you count the Norman invasion in 1066. Godfrey Bloom was actually there, so maybe that’s how this ludicrous and deeply divisive, BNP like statement made it onto their website.
Then it talks about, “illegal immigrants, the exact number of which is unknown but is probably at least one million and possibly much higher.” These figures are clutched out of the ether and is just the sort of pub statistic quoted on a Friday night in Farage’s eulogised idyll of the Dog and Duck over a pint of real ale. These are dangerous statements. And the problem is that UKIP voters are by and large unaware of such wild talk. Even if they were, it poses a credibility problem if when seeking re election UKIP postulate that nothing has changed, the voter will bracket this with “they are all the same” and not bother casting a ballot.
The next statement is just staggering in it’s ability to compare wildly different continents and countries and is totally divorced from any semblance of clear argument. “Britain is very densely populated. England, where the majority of people live, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world: more densely populated than China, India and Japan. We simply cannot sustain the level of immigration”. Comparing density with those nations is just plain puerile. The actual density shows that only 4% of UK land is built on so UKIP are simply peddling misinformation on a grand scale. Our land problems are to do with narrow ownership which artificially drives up values on which no taxes are levied.
UKIP’s values are bad for politics as, akin to others, they are manipulating facts to create a poison filled narrative. We live in an age where, unsurprisingly fewer and fewer people believe a word that passes a politicians mouth. Tory Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith did a tour of the newsrooms in May 2013 claiming that 8,000 people had been forced off the dole queue by his £26k benefit cap. The Independent newspaper carried the following rebuke, “Andrew Dilnot, the authority’s chairman, protested that the department had not “fully complied” with the code of practice on official statistics and wrote to the minister to seek “further assurance” that statistics would in future be handled correctly.”
This was not Dilnot’s first intervention. In December 2012 Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt fell foul of the UK Statistics Authority. Hunt and Cameron were claiming that real terms NHS spending was up under the Coalition when the facts showed that spending had fallen by £1.6 billion. Andy Burnham had forced Commons Health Select Committee Chair Stephen Dorrell, one of Burnham’s predecessors as Health Secretaey to admit this fact in the chamber during a December 2012 opposition day debate. “On the basis of these figures, we would conclude that expenditure on the NHS in real terms was lower in 2011-12 than it was in 2009-10,” was Dilnot’s conclusion.
UKIP’s final statement once again scrapes the barrel of political discourse; “UKIP would withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Convention on Refugees. This would enable us to deport foreign criminal and terrorist suspects where desirable. UKIP would allow genuine asylum applications in accordance with our international obligations.” So we would end up with a policy written for the UK by “closet racists and bigots” (as Cameron referred to his right wing rivals) based on not very much.
But what UKIP says, depressing as it may be for progressive politicians is important. Firstly because their statements are reflections of misinformation in our society for which politicians and the media must take the blame. This will simply turn voters away from politics as a whole because UKIP’s stated raison d’etre of being straight, honest and unspun is found to be a lie. And secondly Farage has frightened the Tories into a rightwards lurch in order to try and put the pin back in the UKIP grenade which threatens to blow their chances of an overall majority in 2015. Just as it could be argued UKIP fatally damaged the Labour Party in 2010 by being the Party of protest, a similar blow could see the end of Cameron’s leadership of the Tories if no Commons majority is delivered at the next general election.