Disclaimer: This article briefly touches on several important topics recently under discussion; they all have a common theme and I wanted to incorporate them in one place. I may not have been able to sew them coherently together via a common thread, and for that I apologise.
As I write Twitter is still full of discussion about the UK Independence Party (UKIP) following the latest fiasco to befall Rotherham Borough Council, where a couple have had foster children removed from their care due to their UKIP membership. The focus of this debate is mainly around the reason quoted for removal of the children in their care, the BBC reporting: “Rotherham Borough Council said the children were “not indigenous white British” and that it had concerns about UKIP’s stance on immigration”. Joyce Thacker, of Rotherham Borough Council, stated during interview that they had considered UKIP’s “clear statement on ending multiculturalism”. This controversial action has initiated the usual statements about ‘political correctness gone mad’ and accusations of apparent Stalinism in Rotherham Council. More interestingly it has provoked plenty of debate about whether UKIP is now a mainstream party, its position as ‘radical right’ or ‘far right’, and whether its anti-EU and immigration stance is racist.
The main criticism by Rotherham’s staff appears to be that as the carers are members of UKIP, and as UKIP wants to end “the active promotion of multiculturalism” then they shouldn’t be able to foster children from non-indigenous cultures. This raises the spectre of multiculturalism which was for many years UK government policy but any mainstream criticism of has been branded racist by its advocates. It should be noted that this criticism has been of multiculturalism as described in its normative use, not its descriptive use (see this Wikipedia article for further information). Despite the taunts of racism from its advocates against its critics, multiculturalism as a policy of social change has in recent years been widely criticised following ‘7/7’ (I hate that borrowed Americanism); in fact Trevor Philips, who has widely questioned multiculturalism, wrote criticising the ghettos it created in a Guardian piece as early as 2004, over a year prior to the 7th of July terrorist attacks. Philips was Labour-appointed Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, as it was at the time, now the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). To criticise multiculturalism as a policy, as UKIP has, is not necessarily criticism of a multi-racial Britain, nor its inhabitants; to deliberately interpret it thus is the old-fashioned name-calling of the left: the attempt to classify anyone who disagrees with you as racist or fascist and therefore disenfranchise them from the debate.
Ed West writes eloquently here on the use of accusations of racism and the debate around multiculturalism, though I disagree with his last sentence. The Lords’ report he cites doesn’t appear to say, as he claims, migration’s “economic benefits are virtually non-existent”, but rather “found no systematic empirical evidence to suggest that net immigration creates significant dynamic benefits for the resident population in the UK”. It does go on to say “this does not necessarily mean that such effects do not exist but that there is currently no systematic evidence for them”. Not finding evidence and suggesting further academic research is not the same as saying those benefits don’t exist.
Libertarianism and UKIP: strange bedfellows.
Reading UKIP’s 2010 manifesto is a confusing journey for a someone expecting a libertarian agenda. There is a strange mix of a few libertarian-lite policies, such as education and health vouchers, hidden within many old-fashioned authoritarian conservative policies, such as pro-monarchy, pro-establishmentarianism, scrapping the Human Rights Act, ‘three-strikes’ sentencing and repealing the Climate Change Act. And as recent as November 2012 UKIP has criticised the government’s intention to legalise SSM.
I know many fellow libertarians with whom I converse have joined UKIP as they see no way forward for libertarianism in the antediluvian Tory party. Personally I don’t see how libertarians can support UKIP, a party fundamentally against free migration, against Same-Sex Marriage (‘SSM’) and that disagrees with taking personal responsibility for climate change. In my opinion Liberty cannot be won by joining in with party politics, as feasting at the trough of taxes only corrupts its participants. I prefer the Hayek approach of influencing debate and policy, via bodies such as the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) or the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), but I know many disagree that this can achieve the results we libertarians want.
UKIP: Is it ‘Far Right’?
As someone who despises the laziness of the ancien left-right nomenclature I don’t really want to delve into whether UKIP are ‘far right’: this labelling is trite. However, if one assumes that by ‘far right’ the accuser means racist, homophobic, etc., then much of the evidence I see is that UKIP members are not far right, as they certainly don’t appear racist (even Nigel Farage, who I’ve openly debated about his so-called ‘libertarianism’ on Twitter, is married to a German) or homophobic. Obviously this doesn’t mean that a percentage of its supporters aren’t racist, and drawn to vote for the party by its anti-immigration policies, but racists are attracted to vote for many parties, is it right to criticise the party for that?
The report “Strategic Eurosceptics and Polite Xenophobes : Support for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the 2009 European Parliament Elections” attempts to identify UKIP with potential racist views of its voters. This research immediately demonstrates its philosophical starting point in its title and as it lists some relevant keywords as: “Euroscepticism, extreme right”. The most interesting aspect of the research is that the BNP support contains significantly the lowest percentage of the ‘professional/managerial’ social class, identifying it clearly with the assumed Labour-voting ‘working class’, whereas UKIP’s percentage of this class is similar to Labour’s; both are behind Conservative and LibDem percentages of this class. Therefore one conclusion that can be drawn, though not mentioned in the report, is that Labour have lost more traditional voters to the BNP. Did anyone criticise Labour for the racists previously within its ranks? This may explain Labour’s increasing movement away from multiculturalism and talk about controlled immigration. No doubt Labour has had crisis meetings over the recent weekend, following the Rotherham story breaking, as Ed Miliband has been quick to criticise the Labour-run council in the week leading up to elections there.
Whilst I disagree strongly with many of UKIP’s policies, and its far-fetched claim to be a libertarian party, I do recognise that there’s little evidence that it’s a bunch of racist loons that many portray. Yes, it may appeal to some very unsavoury characters with views that I would find reprehensible, but then that’s the same for all the UK political parties. To accuse it of being a racist party, as the carers in Rotherham claim to have been told, is plainly wrong; to challenge multiculturalism is simply not racist. To be threatened with accusations of racism when wanting to rationally discuss the effects of immigration is Stalinism at its purist: discredit the enemy to purge them from mainstream political debate. Thankfully we have moved on from this in recent years, not least from the efforts of Trevor Philips to open up the debate. It’s a shame that this new enlightenment hasn’t infiltrated as far as the bureaucrats of Rotherham.
Note to my critics: I do not support UKIP, nor any political party.