UKIP won only their second seat in the House of Commons on Thursday in the eagerly anticipated dreaded Rochester & Strood by-election. With Nigel Farage’s party polling at approximately 15%, there is a genuine fear that the purple party can win a healthy number of seats next May. The prominence of ‘acceptable’ xenophobia seems to be rising with UKIP incessantly upping the ante of their anti-EU agenda and to great effect.
With the ascension of UKIP has come an ugly change to the two larger parties. In a frankly thinly veiled effort to win back support, both Labour and the Conservatives have championed a new approach to immigration policy in order to soothe the concerns of the electorate and tempt defected voters back on side. This week, Labour pledged to increase the deferral on immigrants claiming benefits for up to two years whilst the Conservatives have been branded ‘BNP-lite’. In essence, Nigel Farage may finally have a point, it appears Miliband and Cameron are hiding in the shadows from UKIP, but who exactly is speaking out for the 85% that aren’t worried by nefarious immigration scapegoating and the endless propaganda that aims to portray the EU in the same light as Emperor Palpatine’s galactic empire?
Last week, BBC’s Question Time took the bold approach of affording yet more time to discussing the issues of the ‘UKIP-ification of Lab-Con’, the NHS and UKIP themselves. One of the panellists, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown declared that no party had stood up to UKIP, which simply isn’t true. One party had stood up to UKIP a long time ago, but that party is still in the electorate’s bad books over a tuition fees clanger in 2010. The Liberal Democrats are not suddenly shouting anti-immigration and anti-EU rhetoric from the rooftops in the face of UKIP’s rise. In fact, the party has stuck to its principles, ironically given the party’s recent reputation for doing the opposite. Only Nick Clegg challenged Nigel Farage to a debate on the EU and immigration, Ed Milliband weaseled out of one as recently as a week ago. The Liberal Democrats were the only party of ‘in’ during May’s European elections, a bold strategy given the relentless tide of Europhobia in the right-wing press. Just what is this obsession with immigrants anyway? Studies have shown that immigration benefits the crown jewel of British politics, the National Health Service and has contributed £25billion to the British tax fund in recent years. Why are we talking about this so much when benefit thieves are more likely to be British, just as the tax evaders who are bigger burdens on the nation’s economy. Why are we not discussing this in as great a depth?
Too, the Lib Dems are having to battle a dogged tide of populism heading in to next May’s General Election. Given the tuition fee debacle, the party’s unrivalled efforts to challenge UKIP’s deceitful campaigning has largely fallen on deaf ears. Of course, nowadays we’re all expected to humour and indeed hate the Liberal Democrats, having failed to deliver the abolition of tuition fees and then raising them in line with the Conservatives ideals instead. Truthfully, that decision was a major blow to the party’s plans in governments, whilst it allowed them to deliver other policies such as equal marriage and a higher income tax threshold, it did alienate student voters – and understandably so. Of course, the reason the policy couldn’t be enacted was the stubborn opposition from the Tories and Labour, meaning only a majority for the Lib Dems in May would have been enough to realise the policy. Of course, the Lib Dems have made the issue of repayment far easier than under Labour, who bizarrely seem to be winning support from students themselves. As it were, the policy was undeliverable and Nick Clegg was forced to apologise for a policy he would have only been able to implement with 326 seats – but the party are still being battered in the polls, largely because of this slight misbehaviour. Did the Conservatives apologise for U-turns of reorganisation of the NHS or cuts to public spending? Have Labour apologised for abandoning ‘moral politics’ and launching a new initiative against migrants? So then, why are views like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s in that we ‘don’t trust the Lib Dems’ but trust Labour and the Tories so common? Is it really fair that the Lib Dems have taken such a hammering compared to the rest of the ‘establishment’? Will the Greens face the some blockade of disdain when they find that free higher education is undeliverable for the mean time too? The answer to the last two is probably not.
The widespread concern for UKIP’s place in the General Election next year is fair and founded. Nigel Farage’s ‘army’ is increasingly sounding like the self-professed ‘racist’ British National Party – in fact, a clip of Chris Huhne’s reaction to Nick Griffin’s policy on Question Time, a few years ago seems to mirror many of UKIP’s stances now. Their dubious morals are constantly under scrutiny and in truth detailing the never-ending list of the party’s gaffes would be tiring and depressing, especially as it never seems to dampen support. It’s time we as a righteous, moralistic electorate put UKIP to the sword like the Liberal Democrats have been for months. As Brian Paddick put it on Twitter; if you hate what UKIP and now Labour and the Conservatives stand for, then it’s time to reconsider voting Liberal Democrat.