Politics already has a bad name. And given the escalating arms race between the Tories and Ukip in the run-up to the election, it’s going to get a lot worse.
Government Ministers are voting in Europe to stop rescuing migrants at risk of drowning in the Mediterranean. And Nigel Farage is sending posters depicting abused children on the back of vans round Rotherham to try to get votes in the Police and Crime Commissioner election.
The anger and anxiety that both right-wing parties are exploiting is very real. But be it on immigration, Europe or child exploitation, neither party is providing the real answers to the problems the country faces – and our politics and our country are going to get angrier, poorer and weaker if we don’t change direction fast.
That doesn’t mean running away from problems. Quite the reverse. More does need to be done on immigration. In a global economy, immigration is really important for Britain, but the system needs to be controlled and managed so it is fair. The asylum backlogs are growing, the crisis in Calais is continuing, and 175,000 people here illegally are not being sent home.
That’s why Labour are calling for stronger border controls to tackle illegal immigration, action against agencies who only recruit from abroad to undercut local wages and jobs, stronger English language requirements, and better integration. Refugees fleeing persecution should be helped in the country they first arrive in so that vulnerable people don’t have to travel across continents, and when people are here illegally, they should be sent home. Otherwise you undermine confidence in the whole system.
The Government is failing on all those counts, anxiety about immigration is rising and Ukip are certainly making hay. But that is no justification for what the Home Office announced this week. Ministers have decided to support a massive downgrade of rescue help for those travelling in dangerous and overcrowded boats across the Mediterranean because they think that rescuing people whose lives are at risk is “a pull factor” encouraging more to travel. So to deter others, they are saying it’s OK to let more people drown.
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
1/8 1993: Alan Sked forms Ukip
History professor Alan Sked had been active in anti-EU politics for a while beore he founded Ukip in 1993. He resigned from the party after the 1997 election, concerned that it was attracting far-right members, and has been critical of Ukip since. Picture: Reuters
2/8 2005: Kilroy defects
Former TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk founded Veritas in 2005, after a failed bid to become leader, and took many of Ukip's elected members with him. But the party slowly lost its popularity and didn't put forward any candidates in the last election. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty REUTERS KD/RUS
3/8 2010: Farage becomes leader, again
Farage had led Ukip from 2006 until 2009, when he stood down to fight against the Speaker, John Bercow, for his Buckingham seat. He failed to win the election and returned to lead the party in November 2010. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty
4/8 2010: Ukip fights for election
Nigel Farage was injured in a plane crash on polling day in the 2010 general election, but his party increased its success in the votes. It fielded 572 candidates and took 3.1% of the vote, though failed to win any seats. REUTERS/Darren Staples
5/8 2013: Eastleigh gains
Ukip's candidate Diane James got the highest ever number of votes for any candidate from the party, but was beaten by the Liberal Democrats. The surge in support gave Ukip confidence ahead of local and European elections later in the year. Picture: Reuters
6/8 2013: Bloom kicked out
Godfrey Bloom, who served as an Ukip MEP from 2004 to 2014, had the whip withdrawn in 2013 after sexist comments and an attack on a journalist. He sat as an independent MEP until 2014, when he ended his term in office. Picture: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
7/8 2014: European election success
Ukip got a higher proportion of the vote than any other party in 2014's European elections, adding 11 new MEPs and taking its total to 24. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
8/8 2014: Carswell defects
Douglas Carswell defected from Ukip at the end of August, and was followed by Mark Reckless at the end of September, who resigned from the Tories amid rumours of many more defections to come. Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville
This lack of humanity is appalling. How has our politics come to this? Failure on enforcement is no excuse for abandoning our values. It’s quite possible for Britain to support strong border controls and enforcement and still help those in desperate need.
It’s not just on immigration where reforms are needed, but where the arms race led by Ukip is so destructive and is making things worse. Take Nigel Farage’s decision to campaign on child abuse in Heywood and in South Yorkshire. Ukip haven’t set out any answers or any reforms. Yet on child exploitation reforms are badly needed. Children’s lives have been wrecked by terrible abuse in Rotherham, Oxfordshire and Rochdale, in the BBC and NHS by Saville and others, in North Wales care homes, and religious institutions. We need a massive overhaul of the child protection system so victims are properly listened to – to get criminals caught, justice for victims and changes in the law for the future.
But what is Nigel Farage’s response? To send a party political poster depicting an abused child, to tour the very town where those abused children are still living and trying to rebuild their lives. Ukip’s campaign doesn’t call for justice or for reform, only for Ukip votes.
When victims and their support groups speak out to complain, Farage just dismisses it. Some 1,400 children in Rotherham have already been abused and let down. Politicians of all parties should be calling for justice and support, not pulling PR stunts over children’s lives.
Too often that’s what we get from Ukip – no answers, just division and exploitation. No shame, and no limits to how low they will stoop. No qualms about joining up with a Polish MEP whose party trivialises the Holocaust – even at a time when we are facing a big increase in anti-Semitic attacks. Farage is no fool and no fruitcake. He knows exactly what he is doing, who he is manipulating and who he is exploiting. It will poison our politics and pull apart our country if everyone gets dragged into his game.
Dealing with the big challenges that all voters and politicians should be concerned about is the right thing to do. Pretending problems will go away because they are too difficult will never work. But playing divisive and exploitative politics in pursuit of votes is not just immoral. It won’t solve the problems of the country and is something Labour will not do. We need to be honest about the challenges, determined about the need for reform, but optimistic about the common values and humanity we can draw on to face them together.Reuse content