Dog whistling

It is not exactly news to state that you encounter more people stating their intentions to vote UKIP than was the case a year ago. They are in significant enough numbers to be noticeable, but still some way from being a majority. My sampling is limited, but I do speak to lots of people. Whether my views are truly scientific even I have my doubts. But, I reckon my take on what Southenders are thinking will be as good as anybody’s. Thus, I can state that UKIP is now named as the party of choice in far greater numbers than I have ever encountered before. They are still some way behind Labour, and some of this will be down to the reluctance of those being enquired of to tell a Labour politician disappointing news. So, perhaps we can ignore the relative strengths of support between Labour and UKIP in the experience of this democratic socialist. What is significant is the strength of support of UKIP in comparison to other parties. My gut feeling is that it is nip and tuck between them and the Conservatives, and that most now declaring themselves for UKIP come, in the main, from two sources: hacked off Tories and abstainers (those who rarely, if ever, vote). (Those declaring allegiance to the Liberal Democrats or the Greens are so far and few between that I have to suppress my surprise at this revelation from the voter.)

Invariably immigration is the reason given for the switch to UKIP, although the EU is also mentioned. Immigration has become the touchstone for UKIP, and their decision to hang their whole May campaign on this issue has obviously borne fruit. UKIP were ably aided and abetted by the hysterical sections of the print media, whose pursuit of a good headline often defies sanity.

“Too many immigrants” is often verbalised, although it is not always easy to understand what precisely is meant by this. Is it the latest arrivals, or just anyone who is not describable as indigenous? Sometimes I am told that “I am just saying what everyone else is thinking”; quite how this assertion can be made (and it is made in all seriousness) defies my understanding. It does appear that UKIP have legitimised intolerance.

Not one UKIP supporter mentioned their education policy or their policy on jobs and employment, or indeed anything other than an aversion to foreigners, whether represented by the European Union or Europeans over here.

“I’m not racist but …” is invariably the preface for a racist remark. One person, who used this preface, then went on to tell me the white people should not marry those with black faces. This was an isolated, if extreme, example, but it is indicative of the permission that UKIP’s higher profile has given to commentary that I thought died out in the 1970s.

Whilst everyone is entitled to their views it does appear that austerity has seen toleration in decline.

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4 Responses to Dog whistling

  1. AndyB says:

    Thank you for that post Julian – eloquently expresses some of my frustrations with politics at the moment and why I am put off returning to an active involvement. After a few years of doing nothing, the open racism that I heard on polling day while telling from a few people coming to vote was truly shocking. It is exceptionally difficult to challenge as it is often race based despite being expressed as ‘anti immigrant’. Asking the hypothetical question about who is the preferred neighbour – an Aussie family who arrived in the country yesterday or a British Pakistani muslim family who have lived in the country 50 years would show that the issue is often not with immigration in a strict sense! Having recently lived in outer West London in an area on the front line of ‘beds in sheds’ the reality of immigrant life for many (particularly young Eastern Europeans) seems far from luxurious. Often sharing 2 or 3 to a room to get up at 5am to do hard manual minimum wage jobs is not a lifestyle that many native Britons aspire to.

    I can understand why the UKIP narrative is attractive. It seems to be along the lines of ‘if there are no immigrants you would pay no bedroom tax/get your kids in popular school/reduce high rate income tax’ delete as appropriate for virtually any issue or concern you can name. The latest version that I recently saw from UKIP in Yorkshire but not yet in Southend was the £18 per household per week ‘cashback’ if all foreign aid was abolished. However how UKIP will deliver some of the wishes that I heard from their voters in May such as ‘not hearing foreign languages on Southend High Street’ or ‘sending Muslims back to where they came from’ remains to be seen.

    Visiting the in laws in West Yorkshire recently was interesting as exactly the same views were commonly expressed there as in Southend – this time in an ex mining town that has probably been Labour for 100 years. Certainly when I grew up there, often no local election took place in some wards as the Labour candidates were returned unopposed – almost the exact opposite to the political history of Southend. The common thread of course is that they are heavily white areas close to areas of high immigrant populations (Bradford/Leeds and East London respectively). Solutions are not easy – the effect of immigration on wages is a serious concern but very difficult to address in a world that wants cheap products and the squeeze on business costs that follows.

  2. AndyB: If you are frustrated with politics then this is precisely the right time to get involved. Doing nothing changes nothing. I am always polite to those with views that I disagree with, but I also challenge their assumptions. We also have to understand where these intolerant views are coming from. Rarely do I meet an out-and-out racist, most choosing UKIP are just frustrated. It is my job, I believe, to articulate a path to clearing those frustrations – whether that be in the promise of more affordable housing, or indeed changes to the benefits system and immigration policy. If we are better off in Europe (and I happen to think that we) then this must also be argued for.

  3. Vee says:

    The way in which UKIP seems to have made a wide range of racist views acceptable is deeply worrying. For voters there is always the chance to challenge these views, but this doesn’t stop them filtering down to children. I and my 9 year old daughter are increasingly encountering children stating inflamed bigotry as fact – or just using language and expressing opinion I thought was long dead.

    But my dilemma is – what can/should we practically be doing? I can’t see those active groups I belonged to in the 1990’s visibly campaigning against the negative assumptions on the ‘immigration issue’ used by all parties nationally – are they still there, am I just being blind?

  4. Vee: I would suggest the Labour Party is the best vehicle for tackling UKIP. You may also be interested in this – http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/ukip/

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