Tuesday, 20 May 2014

UKIP - losers everywhere except in the polls

There is plenty to say about UKIP, and no doubt there will be plenty more after the results of the Euro-elections. For the moment, I am interested in why the onslaught it has suffered has had so small an effect. Even that topic makes this a long post - more after the break.
First, let's recall quite what an onslaught it is.

A quick summary of today's coverage.

"Look across the papers today: Roger Helmer "attacking" a disabled man in Newark is there, complete with pictures in the Mail and Times; David Lammy leading various Labour luminaries in accusing Ukip of racism gets coverage; the Sun reproduces its Two Face Farage image, and carries a story accusing Ukip of "Exploiting our heroes" by using images of war graves on its leaflets (its leader reveals Mr Farage "is no longer talking to us – we're not sure why". Lemme guess…). The FT meanwhile reports on a Scotsman poll that suggests the Yes vote would benefit if England votes for Ukip. Best line though is from David Cameron himself, who has told the Mail that Ukip's candidates and donors hold "appalling" views and are "frankly unpleasant"."
Peter Oborne puts it this way:

"No political party in modern history – not even Neil Kinnock’s Labour in 1987 – has come under such sustained attack and misrepresentation. Mr Kinnock at least had The Guardian and the Daily Mirror; Mr Farage cannot boast a single national title, and several papers are running vendettas against him. Mr Kinnock was treated reasonably fairly by the broadcast media. This is not the case with Mr Farage: consider the lacerating contempt shown towards him by Channel 4 News and its chief presenter, Jon Snow. Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, has also abandoned his usual fairness when dealing with the party.

Consider the way Mr Robinson covered Ukip’s campaign launch three weeks ago. He did not seriously attempt to address its policies, as might have been expected. Instead, he tackled Mr Farage about the fact that he employed his German wife as his secretary. This was surely a story that Mr Robinson could and would have left to a junior reporter if he had been dealing with any other party.

It is instructive to compare Ukip to the Social Democratic Party, the last new force to challenge mainstream political control. The SDP could rely on support from the media – much of it fanatical. The BBC provided the platform (the Dimbleby Lecture) for the speech by Roy Jenkins that signalled the launch of the new party, with most of its top brass present. Ukip, by contrast, has risen despite the media.
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Douglas Murray expands:

"For months now the neat drip-feeding of anti-UKIP stories from Conservative Campaign Headquarters direct to the UK press has done everything possible to depict UKIP as a racist, xenophobic, bigoted party.

This has been significantly ratcheted up ahead of Thursday’s vote. Today’s pages include the Times repeating a story from last year in the hope of successful guilt-by-association. The story is that Geert Wilders (the ‘Dutch Xenophobe’ as the Times headlines him) would like Nigel Farage to join him and Marine Le Pen in an anti-EU Brussels voting bloc. What neither the Times nor any other newspaper wishes to give Farage any credit for is that he refuses to join that bloc precisely because of the presence in it of a party like the Front Nationale. And yet the press continues to attempt to portray Farage as leading a British National Front.

The depths to which this has sunk are pretty spectacular. For instance it now appears that the British media are perfectly content with vilifying and taunting Farage for having a German wife, because they believe they are doing so in a ‘liberal’ cause. At some point in recent days it seems to have become accepted wisdom that if you are married to a German then you should believe in an utterly unrestricted open door immigration policy. It also appears that to distinguish between different types of immigrant (as Canada and Australia do, to give just two examples) is to be deemed irredeemably ‘racist’.

But the lowest attack of all is now in, and it is of course the story that this was always building towards. And so it has come to pass that the papers are now repeating another story, and finally saying openly what they have wanted to say all these weeks: that Nigel Farage once used the ‘n’-word. Such is the story in today’s Mail. The source is Alan Sked, who fell out with Farage two decades ago. Sked not only claims that Farage used the ‘n’-word but also wanted former National Front members to stand for UKIP.
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That's newspapers from the right and the left, working-class and middle-class, foreign-owned or domestically-owned. Plus the BBC. Consider the category of organisations that are treated so aggressively: Al Qaeda; cowboy builders; loan sharks; nurses who steal from people in nursing homes. Let's remember that UKIP is a political party founded by a Professor at the LSE who studied at Merton College, Oxford (i.e. Alan Sked) - it's in pretty odd company.

And the onslaught doesn't stop at the mainstream media. You've probably spotted negative stuff on your Facebook feeds and so on about UKIP. All right-thinking people can get a warm feeling from spreading stories about the worst of UKIP's low-level members in the same way that they spread funny cat videos. Even Buzzfeed, the home of "30 Very British Problems", has lots of anti-UKIP pages. e.g, here's one, and this one is a quiz asking you to guess whether policies are UKIP's or Monster Raving Loony Party ones.

So the mainstream media don't like UKIP one bit, and on social media they are pretty much ranked alongside Boko Haram.

So why has this attack not reduced UKIP to single figures in the Euro-opinion polls? Why is UKIP, treated like the BNP by the media, not being treated like the BNP by the voters? 

Well, people aren't stupid. They can see that the attacks are not all fair. Let's go back to the example of a voting bloc with the FN: here is some analysis from the Economist showing how often populist and nationalist parties in the European Parliament vote together. UKIP most of the time does not vote the same way as the FN. Most of the time - in all the matters that come up for a vote in the European Parliament. The same lac of correlation in voting is true of UKIP and all the other such parties (except for the Dutch PVV). Actions speak louder than words, surely? As Murray points out, shouldn't UKIP get credit for refusing to join the likes of the FN?

Murray's article goes on to make some more good points:

"If the British press could display some independence of mind for even a moment, it might recognise that the success of UKIP is not some terrible stain on British political moderation but rather a triumphant demonstration of it. While the continent is busily throwing up some genuinely unpleasant far-left and far-right anti-EU parties, the only serious political manifestation of this political revolt in Britain is a generally pleasant, decent and broadly libertarian party. But this apparently will not do. Not just because most of the British media has weirdly decided to dance to the tune of UKIP’s political opponents, but because (thankfully for all of us) the media’s need for Nazis and racists in modern Britain vastly exceeds the very limited actual supply.
Fortunately, I suspect the public can see what most of the press cannot. Most people continue to realise that Nigel Farage is not Adolf Hitler, that some idiot council-candidate whose said something rude about gays does not presage some anti-gay pogrom, and that our country has serious challenges of sovereignty and border control to deal with, which the main parties have to date shown themselves utterly incapable of addressing.
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That is to say, no matter how often we are told that UKIP is the same as the BNP, it is abundantly clear that it isn't.

Finally, what about all the bad apples dredged up by everyone from Conservative Central Office to Buzzfeed? I suspect everyone is aware that politics attracts abnormal people and people are not surprised that UKIP has its fair share (or even more than it's fair share) of bad apples. For the sake of comparison, here is a link to a compilation of bad apples in the other parties too. Do you think the Green Party is dangerous because one council member was an arsonist? What about the LibDem councillor convicted of racially aggravated assault? 

UKIP may not be a serious party - but that's another matter. It's enough that it's a serious protest vote.

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