Facing up to UKIP
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th May, 2013
The strong showing by the United Kingdom Independence Party in this week’s county council elections and recent parliamentary by-elections has been causing shudders in Britain’s other political parties and strengthens the hand of right-wing Conservative MPs who have been urging David Cameron to drift towards the UKIP agenda in an effort to stop the haemorrhage of traditional Tory voters. I trust we will not hear any such nonsense from Liberal Democrat parliamentarians. Even though sizable numbers of traditional LibDem voters also probably opted for UKIP this time I believe that was mainly as a form of protest. All three main political parties are suffering from voter disaffection and in particular the LibDems, as unfortunately many people in the UK don’t understand Coalition politics and the fact that as a junior partner in government the Liberal Democrats have only a certain degree of clout. But the really important thing, I believe, is that the Liberal Democrats must be bold enough to confront UKIP’s two main policy planks — anti-immigration and anti-EU — and tackle them head-on. I deliberately put immigration first, despite the fact that withdrawal from the EU is UKIP’s most well-known USP, as I believe the scare-mongering by UKIP regarding immigrants was more effective in garnering votes for the party than Nigel Farage’s attempts to ridicule Brussels. Opinion polls consistently show that for the vast majority of British voters Europe is way down their list of political priorities. But Farage and his colleagues have been steering the anti-immigrant bandwagon in a way that used to be more the role of the BNP and National Front. Farage’s repeated warning about the UK “opening its doors” to 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians from 1 January not only ignore such realities as the fact that the more favoured destinations of Romanians who do want to emigrate are Italy and France, and for many Bulgarians Germany is seen as more desirable because of low housing costs and a growing economy but also propagate the distinctly racist implication that all Romanians — and particularly Roma — are criminals. The LibDems — who currently have a working group looking at immigration and related issues — need to stress how much the British economy has benefited from immigration (which of course has to be controlled but not in an arbitrary fashion). Moreover, with regard to the EU the Liberal Democrats need to be brave enough to stand up and proclaim why leaving the EU would be disastrous for Britain. Certainly some reforms of the EU are needed, but you do not reform an organisation by leaving it. The European debate has been hijacked by UKIP and it is urgent that the alternative case is put strongly — by the LibDems.