Editorial: Ukip shows its true colours

Nigel Farage is accused of dog whistle politics on migration. The foghorn, more like

Share
Related Topics

This newspaper was unconvinced by David Cameron's promise in his speech in January of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. We feared that he might be trying to repeat Harold Wilson's manoeuvre of 1974-75, but that this time it might lead to the country leaving, rather than confirming its membership of, the EU. We said that, although a referendum at some point would probably be necessary and democratic, announcing it so far in advance risked four years of business uncertainty. And we were concerned that, by trying to buy off the Ukip threat on his right flank, the Prime Minister had succeeded only in making respectable the notion that withdrawal would end all our irritations with the EU.

After the Eastleigh by-election, and perhaps unexpectedly, The Independent on Sunday is prepared to grant Mr Cameron a little more of the benefit of the doubt. Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, may well have been cock-a-hoop at his party's pushing the Conservatives into third place. The strong showing for Ukip has prompted us to pay the party the compliment of taking its policies, personnel and backers a little more seriously. What emerges, blinking, into this daylight is unattractive. It may not have been wise for Mr Cameron to describe the party once as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists", but the policies of the party are driven not by Euroscepticism so much as hostility to immigration. Mr Farage's critics accuse him of the politics of the dog whistle. The foghorn, more like.

Yet the important point about the by-election is that Mike Thornton, the Liberal Democrat, won it. As John Rentoul points out today, if Ukip cannot win there at a time like this, it must be doubted whether it can ever do more than siphon votes from the one mainstream party that could deliver the EU referendum that its supporters want.

It is worth wondering, furthermore, what might have happened in Eastleigh if Mr Cameron had not made his promise of a referendum. Then the Conservatives might have been in real trouble, and, interesting though that might have been, it would hardly have been in the national interest to have Mr Farage more rampant than he already is.

This is not the only reason for thinking that the Prime Minister's acceptance of a referendum might have more to commend it than we thought, even if it were actuated by party advantage. Since his speech, polls have recorded a marked shift in public opinion in favour of staying in the EU, even if it is not yet supported by a majority, which was the position before the eurozone crisis began in 2010.

If there is a case for renewing the democratic mandate for British membership, which this newspaper believes that there will be when the EU and the eurozone have resolved the present crisis, political leaders should say so now. The position adopted by Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, is unsatisfactory. He told the Commons in January, "We don't want an in-out referendum," although it may be that he left out the word "now" by mistake.

But if the principle of democratic consent is right, as it is, Mr Miliband should follow Mr Cameron in saying so. It allows the debate to move on to the substance rather than the mechanism. Is it in Britain's interest to remain in the EU? We believe that it is, and that the prospect of a referendum allows us to expose the backward-looking arguments of Ukip and its supporters without distraction.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Recruitment Genius: Chef

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Chef is required to join one of the largest ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is required to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
There are around 250 species of bumblebee in the world  

If you want to rumble a bumblebee, now’s your chance

Michael McCarthy
 

Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred

Simon Danczuk
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor