Over the past few weeks we have seen a ferocious debate about whether the United Kingdom Independence party’s European election campaign is racist. But if the comments that Ukip has made in relation to Romanians, Bulgarians and Albanians had referred to Jamaican, Indians or Pakistani nationals there would be no debate. They would rightly have been condemned out of hand.
People need to ask themselves a simple question. If prejudice against a family from Asia or Africa is unacceptable, why is it acceptable when directed against a family from eastern Europe?
The Migration Matters Trust is launching a new ad this week that holds a mirror up to Nigel Farage’s words and asks readers to look at the evidence of what has been said.
Let us be clear about what we are saying: no one is dismissing Ukip voters as racists. That is not right. Neither are we saying that the party is intrinsically racist in the manner of the British National party. But when the shadow of racism falls across the campaign, it must be addressed.
And this is where too many on the left have been frit.
While the social media rantings of some Ukip candidates have been roundly condemned (as if there could be any other response), the words and actions of Ukip’s leader have often remained strangely above rebuke.
The statements we highlight in the advert are just the tip of the iceberg. Earlier this year there were Nigel Farage’s comments about feeling ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘awkward’ on a train when hearing foreign voices. There was the way he and his senior lieutenants laughed along to a comedian’s jokes about Indian accents and Muslims at a Ukip gala dinner and then there was his defence of this disgusting routine saying ‘enough is enough: let people tell their jokes.’
There are plenty more examples. These are not just accidental slips but a deliberate strategy by Farage and Ukip to stoke the fear of the foreigner and legitimise their litany of division.
This is not just a diagnosis of the left. Last week at prime minister’s questions Conservative member of parliament Tony Baldry asked a telling question:
‘Does my right honorable friend agree that the policies of the UK Independence party are based on fear — fear of the world and fear of foreigners?”
And even Nicholas Soames, co-chair of the Balanced Migration group which believes in ending all net migration to Britain, called Ukip’s poster campaign, ‘divisive, offensive and ignorant.’
Caroline Flint took exactly the right line on Ukip in her recent interview with Progress, striking the right balance between calling out Ukip for their prejudice and emphasising the importance of engaging with voters’ underlying concerns.
The reality is that properly managed migration is tremendously beneficial to Britain. Without the skills brought by migrants, public services such as the NHS would collapse. Without the net contribution of migrants to public finances – equivalent to over 4p on the basic rate of tax – we would be facing an even tougher economic situation. And without the investment of international businesses such as Nissan or Tata, millions of Britons would be unemployed.
As a party we believe in managed migration – it is a cornerstone of our policies on Europe, trade and the economy. So, rather than ignoring the elephant in the room, let us make the case, and directly confront the ugliness that Ukip is peddling.
Barbara Roche is chair of the Migration Matters Trust
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