“It feels to me like the shadows of the last pan-European war are creeping across the lawn. “
For months now, I have been chipping away in vain at the adamantine block of voter unreason, with regard to the disturbing rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party, that has latterly done well in elections to one third of our town halls, gaining 160 seats with all of 17% of the 30% of the votes people could be arsed to cast.
(That Labour gained 300 seats is of no interest to the media, excited by the thought of something new in British politics and inclined to ignore the Cassandras pointing out that UKIP’s gains are a potential disaster for the country.)
Dissent has a long and honourable tradition in British life. Once upon a time, Independents held many seats in local government and even controlled councils. Nobody paid much attention to them. Having rallied around the UKIP flag, however, they are now being presented in the media as a new fourth force in British politics, pushing the hapless Liberal-Democrats into last place with only 11% of the national vote. The Independents are no longer independent. And possibly no longer so honourable.
In fact, given the turnout, the fourth (maybe the first) force in British politics now is not UKIP, but voter apathy – the ‘democratic deficit’.
I have tried pointing out on political comment threads, in the face of some truly disturbing interjections from the piss-stained sofa brigade, that UKIP is not really a political party at all, and that waiting in the wings of UKIP are some very nasty forces we don’t really want to let loose again in the world.
But no-one is listening. I have also pointed out (see Posts passim) that UKIP is succeeding, precisely because of that large swathe of the electorate that has developed a visceral loathing of the rationalist, educated minority that is most vocal in its criticism of UKIP, and now feels it is entitled to indulge its contempt for the civilised values of the centre. A mob mentality is taking hold.
UKIP is the Pandora’s Box of politics, a grab-bag for all the discontent and disappointment and disempowerment in the nation. Most of it is merely letting-off steam. But some of it prefigures unimaginable horrors. Do people really want to see all that is most negative and envious and isolationist and, potentially, brutal in Britain mirrored back to us for the next five years? Or is some blood-letting a periodic necessity?
Leading UKIP is a cynical, world-weary, opportunistic, middle-aged ex-banker, ex-public-school ‘cheeky chappie’ dressed in a horrid, shiny suit over which he sometimes affects one of those velvet-collared camelhair coats beloved of spivs in 1950s Ealing comedies. I assure you, it is quite deliberate.
Nigel Farage poses outside pubs with a pint and a fag and puts on an Essex twang, and, like a used-car salesman, says just about anything people want to hear that resonates with their most profound ignorance, suspicions and prejudices.
His shtick is to sound, not as though he is telling people things, but that he is merely agreeing with them.
He agrees with them that hordes of immigrants are coming over here, swamping ‘our’ British way of life, stealing ‘our’ jobs and houses, that Europe (that faraway place of which we know little) has somehow stolen ‘our’ right to govern ‘our’ national affairs, that ‘our’ politics is profoundly corrupt, that no one is listening to the white working class, who have been dispossessed by so many people of colour, that the rich have never had it so good (because many of them are foreigners) while the poor are made to suffer by the rich people’s party in government, that all Romanians are illiterate benefit thieves, and worse.
Ordinary voters apparently love this ‘ordinary bloke’ because he ‘tells it like it is’ and speaks to ‘the common man’.
It is terrifying.
Are British voters really so pathetically gullible and stunned by Diazepam that they cannot see it is all an act? That behind this cheap and easy caricature is just as much of a glib, dissembling professional as any of the other politicians they affect to loathe?
Probably not. But Farage knows it is what people WANT to believe, not what is actually true, that wins hearts and minds. And by cleverly encouraging the gaffe-prone tendency in his party, he has succeeded in obtaining acres of free press, turning UKIP into a news story to circumvent the normal representational rules surrounding political media coverage and the expense of political advertising.
Among the loonies, I have heard one or two party members interviewed, some defectors from the Conservative party, who sounded at least normal, rational even. There were probably many perfectly sound people who joined the National Socialists in Germany in the early 1930s, believing the country had gone to the dogs and that foreigners were the problem. It is probably the most persuasive meme in history, after religion.
For the past five years I had been thinking, dreaming, planning, of getting out of this increasingly racist country, with its overbearing sense of entitlement, its ‘No dogs, no blacks, no Irish’ boarding-house mentality and its twitching net curtains.
(I use the word racist lazily, as code for the politics of envy and exclusionism, the Dark Side of nationalism. There is, as geneticists will tell you, no such thing as actual race. We are as closely related to chimpanzees as we are to one another.)
I grew up all through the dreary 1950s and not-so-swinging 60s, I don’t want to go back.
Part of my plan, since I do at least speak French, has been to move to France, where I thought I would be entitled to live and work and toddle about peacefully by virtue of the Schengen agreement. Only last week, I was negotiating with an English couple over looking after their home in France, while I sell mine here and leapfrog into genteel retirement within ambling distance of a cosy bar/tabac in some agreeable provincial small market town smelling of Gauloises and dusty lemons.
France, where the spectre of General De Gaulle has come back to haunt us in the blowsy shape of the ultra-nationalist Marine Le Pen, daughter of the far-right French politician Jean-Marie, whose anti-Europe, anti-immigrant, anti-German Front Nationale party has just won a majority of French seats in the European Parliament; something even UKIP with its 24 seats has not yet achieved.
La Belle France, where suddenly I don’t want to be either.
It feels to me like the shadows of the last pan-European war are creeping across the lawn. As yet, it is only a vague presentiment: the conventional, centrist parties still hold 70% of the seats in the European Parliament.
But instead of a centrist left- or right-wing opposition, they are now opposed by a potential coalition of the anti-Europe far-left and far-right, both of which have recently demonstrated an appetite for violence in countries where political economy has faltered. Everywhere bar in Germany, ironically, the centre is being hollowed-out, leaving a dangerous vacuum.
On Saturday, three people were shot dead by a lone, white gunman while visiting the Jewish museum in Brussels.
Is there no escape from the past?