Cheeky charmer Jamie Oliver adds his bit to spice up the appeal of Ukip.
It pleases him that the party is “stirring it up” though admits he is clueless about its policies and anyway doesn’t really support them. We knew the chef was a keen and sometimes effective do-gooder, but not that he was a political ignoramus. How do you indirectly endorse a political movement without knowing what it stands for? Many voters and media cheerleaders are similarly tickled by Ukip’s idiosyncrasy and “pluck” and believe its dubious claims of originality and antiestablishmentarianism. A poll by YouGov found only 10 per cent or less backed Ukip because they thought it would run the country well. More than 60 per cent did so to send a message that they were unhappy with mainstream politicians.
Now that the party has done better than expected, all the other political parties are running scared towards it. David Cameron, Ken Clarke and a few others who did valiantly try to condemn or dismiss the crudely right-wing, anti-European maniacs have fallen silent or feel compelled to mouth placatory words which must taste bitter.
I was on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions? this week, broadcast from Keele University in Staffordshire, where Ukip got 24 per cent of the vote. I was a little apprehensive of how the audience would react if I spoke up honestly against this so-called breakthrough. The question did come up and I queried some oft-quoted statistics. Only 32 per cent of those eligible to vote came out to cast their ballots. Twenty-five per cent of 32 per cent is around 8 per cent. So, 92 per cent either didn’t bother at all or did not vote for Ukip. Yet this tiny number is spooking and bullying all the other parties, which are allowing themselves to be spooked and bullied. To my astonishment, most of the audience applauded, did so again and again when I defended immigrants and the EU. One of the other panellists was Christine Hamilton. When we had dinner earlier, she was entertaining, warm and funny. Now a member of Ukip, she is an example of how likeable some of them are. And that may be one of the secrets of their undeserved, small surge.
Nigel Farage is a public schoolboy, an erstwhile City trader, the sort of chap millions of Britons have come to despise after the financial crash. But with chutzpah, an excellent gentlemen’s outfitter, fair media winds and a disarming smile permanently fixed on his face, he is seen as exemplary, honest, plain-speaking, a saviour even though his promises are worth less than the wrapping on his fancy cigars. Trust me, when you disagree with him and no-one is watching, that smile turns into a canine snarl and bite. He went for me once on a programme on LBC, his mouth unleashing brutish insults and I threatened to leave the studio unless he apologised. He did apologise, and behaved tolerably well after that. If journalists probed and contradicted him more we would see the real Farage. But like Boris, he is a media darling, adored, fun and untouchable.
The ugly truth is that Farage and his gang are encouraging the hatred of the outsider, blaming them for all ills, just as the BNP and NF did in their time. Poor Nick Griffin must be bursting with envy and wrath to see the upstarts winning hearts and minds which recoil from good, honest Fascism. Immigrants and the EU did not create the economic crash and crisis and did not impose painful cuts to benefits; migrants use our services and also work hard to provide those services in the public and private sectors; most pay taxes and are happy that some of the money goes to indigenous Britons who can’t or won’t work. It may be cunning and clever of Ukip to use these recessionary times to whip up animosity against “alien” interlopers. But it is morally repugnant and makes us all unsafe. Think of how people were incited to turn against those unlike themselves in Bosnia before the war, or Germany in the 1930s. Think and be afraid, very afraid.
Let me say, loudly and clearly, that not all the men and women now attracted to Ukip are die-hard racists or Fascists. But they must know or need to know that some of the values and people attached to this party are xenophobic and deeply reactionary. Sorry, it’s not good enough to say, “I voted for them just to show the others,” or, “I don’t agree with some of their policies but I want them to kick Westminster insiders. My vote is against politics.” These are real statements made to me after the council elections. The first person was a British Asian from Malawi, a businessman who failed to get selected for a seat by the Lib-Dems. The second was a retired pilot, a lonely widower, who spends a lot of time writing furious letters to newspapers, also local and national politicians, letters which are unanswered and unacknowledged which makes him more angry. Neither of these men expressed xenophobic views. But they had thrown their vote to a party where those views are held and unchallenged. Yes, I know, they have Jamaican immigrant Winston McKenzie, a former boxer, as a spokesman. He fancies blondes and hates the EU. A perfect mascot.
So let’s check out Ukip’s other, known, policies. McKenzie thinks gay parenting is “unhealthy” and “abuse”; the party wants the UK to be rid of minimum wages and worker protection and “elf&safety” rubbish; it is libertarian, does not believe in climate change, wants the lowest of taxes and a small state, which means cutting funds for health and education.
This time Ukip was aided and abetted by cowardice, complicity and inertia. Now politicians must find gumption and take on this malevolent force which is exploiting understandable public fears. Journalists, too, need to take Farage seriously and interrogate him as they do other politicians. The ultra-regressive Tea Party in the United States was seen off by incisive opponents. Ukip can and must be too.