CROYDON COMMENTARY: This borough, like most of London, generally rejected the “appeal” of Nigel Farage’s UKIP in both the local and the European elections. But DAVID CALLAM thinks not enough is being done by Labour or the Tories to counter Farage’s brand of pub politics
Nigel Farage is not my favourite person.
I would prefer to dismiss him and his politics of fear, but I can’t because his pub philosophy has struck a chord with many of my fellow voters.
In last week’s local elections, UKIP did poorly in the cities compared to the rest of the country, but even in cosmopolitan Croydon, one of London’s most diverse boroughs, it amassed a respectable stack of votes.
Mike Fisher, the leader of Croydon’s defeated Tories, is blaming UKIP for turning him out of office: I think that’s too simplistic, but I understand his bewilderment. In my home ward of Croham, UKIP’s single candidate conjured up many more votes than either the best-placed Liberal Democrat or the most popular Green.
I don’t find UKIP appealing. To me Mr Farage is like Warden Hodges from Dad’s Army: I picture him, tin hat on, dictionary in a bag slung across his shoulder, keeping a lonely vigil on East Croydon station, listening intently for people speaking a language other than English.
It’s easy to poke fun at the Faragists, but for many Croydon people, let alone the good folk of Essex, Nigel is the light at the end of a long tunnel: a party leader who talks plainly; a man with whom you could have a pint and put the world to rights; in stark contrast to posh Etonian David Cameron or metropolitan elitist Ed Miliband.
It’s also easy to accuse UKIP of being racist, but I don’t think it is; certainly not in the way the British National Party’s bully boys are racist. I can’t imagine UKIP harming anyone just because they have a different colour skin, a point evidenced by the black and minority ethnic membership of the party.
But I do think UKIP rhetoric plays on some white people’s deepest fears. All that talk of millions queuing up to enter the country and to undercut the wages of indigenous workers raises some very primeval and tribal fears.
And so far, the major parties have failed to acknowledge those fears, let alone to try to allay them.
Take European Union migration. UKIP presents EU immigrants as people foisted on us by wicked Brussels bureaucrats. And the two major parties don’t have the courage to explain that Conservative and Labour have openly negotiated various treaties on our behalf that guarantee free movement between all member states.
Dave and Ed could argue that such movements are wholly beneficial to everyone and should not be included in migration statistics, reducing immigration figures at a stroke, but the Tory hierarchy is wary of its own Europhobes – MPs such as Peter Bone and William Cash and the like – who are UKIP in all but name, while Labour is frightened of the right-wing press.
Likewise, there are UKIP jibes about the proportion of British laws dictated by the EU: Nigel says its 70 per cent; the actual figure is 7 per cent of primary legislation and a further 14 per cent of secondary regulations. All those changes are also negotiated with British officials and ministers before being agreed, but Dave and Ed don’t mention that either.
And then there’s the money: 90 per cent of our contribution to the EU never leaves the United Kingdom; initiatives are proposed by each member state for programmes agreed communally, but the money goes straight from the Treasury to individual British initiatives, Brussels is not involved. That’s yet another point that Dave and Ed prefer not to mention.
In the face of this deafening silence, people who are frightened of the future turn to an apparently personable bloke who seems to be a straight talker, a safe pair of hands. In the European elections they administer a pasting to the party that dared to stand up for the Union.
All the more reason, you might think, for Dave and Ed to remain schtum: except that saying nothing allows UKIP to go on setting the agenda and that could lead to the kind of democratic disaster now facing the French.
The Farage bubble will burst at some point, possibly as soon as the Newark by-election next week. In the meantime, the half-truths and innuendo, which could do irrevocable damage go unchallenged by either of the men who are most likely to be our next prime minister.
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Coming to Croydon
- Greek Myths: stories and mask-making, May 27
- Weenies meet artist Hale Man, Whitgift centre, May 27-28
- The Information Project Crystal Palace debate, May 28
- Howard Marks: Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe, May 29
- David Lean Cinema: Dallas Buyers Club, May 29
- Tales from Ancient Greece, Upper Norwood Library, May 29
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, May 31
- Junction Road Big Lunch, June 1
- Stitch Pitch quilting workshop, Upper Norwood Library, June 2
- Croydon Tech City “summit”, June 6
- An Improvised Murder, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 7
- Crystal Palace Transition Town annual meeting, June 11
- Lakes Playground Action Group fun day, June 14
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, June 15
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Airport House swing dance free event, June 21
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- Warnings to the Curious, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 27
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- CODA’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at Wandle Park, Jul 30-Aug 2
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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