Disillusionment is so often cited as the reason people vote for extremists, the underpinning reason why X or Y is happening in British politics. And it’s mostly gibberish. It’s a nonsense told both by those who wish to vote for extremes, and by those attempting to justify why others might vote for those extremes. The reality is, it’s barely ever the case.
I feel like we’re in a pretty scary place. When it comes to politics, there’s obviously a tendency for hyperbole, exaggerating one’s claims to suit one’s political agenda. But for someone with left-wing beliefs, their understanding of how to treat others best represented by socialism, the United Kingdom is currently a frightening political landscape.
People are voting UKIP/BNP/English Democracts, etc, etc, we’re told, because they’re disillusioned with the main parties and want to see things shaken up. This is plain, absolute rubbish. It doesn’t make sense in any way, and the media’s frequent declaration that this is the case is both intellectual snobbery, and woeful naivety.
The obvious reality is, a large contingent of people voting for extremes, for racist and homophobic parties like UKIP, BNP, etc, do so because they are racist and homophobic. Pretending this isn’t the case is endemic in the reporting of our politics, perhaps from a fear of appearing “biased”, perhaps from a fear of alienating the racist and homophobic contingent of their audience. Very few people tend to wear the mantle of “racist” with pride, hence that most oxymoronic of aphorisms, “I’m not racist, but…” The inevitable continuation of something either grotesquely or insidiously racist rather confirms the contrary, but for some reason our press has opted to acculturate itself to the opening gambit. Essentially, the coverage of UKIP in the recent elections has been, “UKIP isn’t racist, but…” The reality of course being: UKIP is racist, and lots of people who agree with their racist views have voted for them accordingly.
Being disillusioned with politics because it’s not racist enough would perhaps be a more honest use of the d-word, but of course it’s never represented this way. Instead we’re given diatribes about corruption, expenses scandals, broken promises, and the elite political class ignoring the needs of the regular working man. That’s all true of course! We currently have a Conservative government that is making copious rotten hay while the Sun doesn’t shine, leaping on the economic crisis as an opportunity to further its ideological goals of the destruction of welfare, the dismantling and privatisation of the NHS, and the easing of taxes for the rich. Eton/Oxbridge educated rich kids reshaping the country into something that supports themselves further. So in steps good ol’ Nigel Farage, pint-smoking, cigarette swilling man-of-the-people, not a part of all that lot, eh?
Farage, whose father was a stockbroker, was educated at private boys’ school Dulwich College. He went on to become an investment banker and commodities trader, working for companies deeply embedded in the corruption of the economic crisis such as Refco, while each of the four companies for which he worked was at some point embroiled in financial scandal.
Since becoming an MEP he’s been linked to expense scandals , employs his own wife as a secretary (his German wife, no less, giving her a job that could have gone to a British national), and earns a considerable salary. His attendance record for votes in the European Parliament is below 50%, in 2013 his attendance being the fifth worst of all 752 MEPs, and the third worst of all UK MEPs. (Two of the four remaining worse attendees are also from UKIP.) Farage was a member of the EU Fisheries Commission, during which he attended one of 42 meetings. In his time as an MEP he has never attempted to amend a piece of legislation, and UKIP by their own policy vote ‘No’ for any vote they do bother to show up for. In doing so, UKIP and Farage have voted against extended paid maternity leave, clamping down on the ivory trade, and efforts to fight organised crime, and abstained on votes to help the victims of the Japanese tsunami. Votes attempting to cap bonuses for bankers, or dramatically reduce European Parliament costs by creating a ‘single seat’, weren’t attended by any UKIP MEPs. Despite their terrible attendance, and unwillingness to engage with the parliament, they – including Farage – still claim the full amount of their allowances.
To be disillusioned by politicians, and thus vote for Farage instead, is an act of gross ignorance. A rich investment banker, privately educated, from a wealthy background, who actively votes against not only the interests of the people he claims to represent, but the policies of the party he leads. Adding on top of this the overt hypocrisy of his employing his German national wife in the UK, raising children who (perfectly reasonably, of course) speak English as a second language, and swilling around in expenses for which he does at most less than half the work, you’re not even touching on the fact that Farage is a Huguenot name, Farage descending from a group of people whose very existence depended on the open immigration policy of England. He is every bit the politician toff, the embodiment of the wild hypocrisy our press so lazily pretends he opposes. People do not vote for him because they’re disillusioned with the other politicians. They vote for him because he represents their hate and bigotry.
Farage is a man who saw the floundering self-destruction of human pustule Nick Griffin and the BNP and thought to himself, “Ah, I see where they’re going wrong!” I don’t believe that Farage is a racist for a second. I don’t believe that Farage would care less if Romanians moved in next door. I highly doubt he believes there’s any “immigration crisis”, since he – like every other politician – knows there isn’t one. Farage is something far more creepy and frightening – he’s a man who’s spotted that he can use racism, fear and bigotry to his advantage. He has realised that there is enough stupidity and spite amongst the British public that he can leverage it for power and money. His own life and behaviour demonstrates there is no ideology behind his actions – instead just a cold, calculated, cynical manipulation of the most vulnerable, or the most unpleasant. He spotted a way to convert ignorance into power. He’s crafted a party that is racist and bigoted, as a means to an end.
The fear of recognising that large numbers of people are ignorant is perhaps the largest inhibitor of our rationalising and responding to Farage and UKIP, and their significant success in the European elections. The press do not go near it, either for fear of insulting their readership or appearing elitist and out of touch. Let alone recognising bigots as bigots. In the build up to the elections, I frequently saw reporters interviewing people on the streets regarding their reasons for voting UKIP, who invariably began with “I’m not racist, but…”, and then went on to say something horrendously ignorant and racist, based in fear and hate. And then rather than reacting to this, or acknowledging it as such, or questioning the claims, reporters would turn back to the camera and say, “And that’s the message we’re hearing on the streets today. Back to you in the studio.” Wildly stupid comments, based on parroting whatever idiocy had been written on the front page of that day’s Daily Express, about how “all the…” people of one nationality or another were stealing our wives, or eating our jobs. Instead, like the businesses they obviously are and need to be, the various press organisations rushed to attempt to accommodate these views, appeal to them, and sell their products.
The reality is, an enormous number of people are ignorant, and more seriously, determinedly unwilling to learn. This fuels bigotry, and bigotry fuels extremism. Tell someone who is willing to consider, research and investigate information that Romanians are stealing their jobs and jobless Bulgarians are living in platinum mansions paid for by their personal tax alone, and they’ll discover neither is true. Tell someone who is wilfully ignorant, or unequipped to learn, and this will rationalise that which they do not like, and develop bigotry.
Why did lots of people vote for UKIP, despite their not representing any of their policies or claims by their actions, and despite their being a party populated by so, so many open and overt bigots? Because lots of people are ignorant and/or bigoted.
Does that mean ignorant people should be condemned as humans? Goodness, what a surprise – no. Does that mean people should be dismissed, hated, discounted? No! It means we can recognise the failings of society and the educational infrastructure, and begin to address the issues. If your roses have greenfly, and you pretend they don’t, the roses get eaten and harmed. These ignorant or bigoted people (possibly including me) are the roses. If we recognise that education is failing people, and that bigoted tropes are endemic in people’s lives, then we can begin to help protect everyone from these infestations, help people to bloom. Pretend otherwise, and society gets blighted. Join the greenflies’ side, and crap, we’re in big, big trouble.
Most frightening of all is that the three major parties are responding by seeing if they can pretend to be more pro-greenfly. The Liberal Democrats are pretending that they were making a pro-Europe, pro-immigration case, but it simply wasn’t true. Every sentence was smothered in caveats about how “We know there is a serious problem, but…”, only making themselves look like they were acknowledging they were failing to address an issue they recognised. The reality is, of course, that all three parties know there are no significant issues with immigration, and all three parties are aware of their dependency on the EU and the utter madness it would be to leave it. Indeed, all three know there is no real problem with “welfare scroungers”, and that the abuse of welfare that does exist has no significant impact on the economy. Right now they are all engaged in various levels of pretending otherwise, because they too recognise the volume of hate and bigotry that’s out there and amongst their own, and how appealing to it can win them votes. Each of these deceits plays neatly into people’s fear and hatred, enabling us all to blame everything on others around us – the (other) unemployed, the (other) bureaucrats, the (other) immigrants. No personal responsibility, and no responsibility in our leadership. It’s all the fault of this other guy. It’s a genius scam, and it’s working terrifyingly well.
And the madness is, here lies the truth of disillusionment. 60-70% of people don’t bother voting. Lots of them will just be lazy. Lots will think politics is for other people, because they have been so poorly educated about politics (the very concept of it was never mentioned to me at any point during my schooling). And lots will be because who the bloody hell will they vote for? Not because politicians are all X, Y or Z, but because there is currently no meaningful left wing representation in the UK. All three major parties are right of centre, and the outliers on the left such as the Greens are a) so small and poorly thought through that they can’t effect change, and b) so riddled with anti-Semitism and so involved with horrific organisations like Stop The War, that they can end up appearing more right wing than the rest. With no feasible representation for anyone who isn’t driven by ignorance or hate, and that’s an awful lot of people!, voting has become damned difficult.
For me, the dilemma of voting last Thursday came down to there being no party that even tries to represent me. I ended up voting for what I considered the least worst in Europe, and then instantly felt awful. There is no party responding to this by arguing in favour of the beauty of a welfare system, in which we support each other in our times of need. Nor by arguing for the joy of immigration, of the UK’s blatant dependence on people from other parts of the world living on this bit of the world, let alone the opportunity and enrichment it provides everyone. Every major party, and most minor parties, are actively arguing against what I believe in. In next year’s general election, there’s no one for me to usefully vote for. I’ll vote Pirate Party if there’s representation in my area, or goodness knows who if not. But whatever it is, it won’t be for a party that will win anything. Which leaves me feeling pretty disillusioned.