UKIP fruitcakes and racist Tories
Some years ago, Conservative leader Michael Howard dismissed UKIP members as 'cranks and gadflies'. David Cameron more recently went a step further, calling them 'fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly' (- we will return to that 'mostly'). As UKIP continues to rise in the polls - merrily surfing a perfect wave of economic meltdown in the Eurozone; concern over judicial activism in the European Court of Human Rights; and widespread disillusionment with the main political parties - the Conservative Party must choose whether to ignore or engage with this populist phenomenon; whether to respect or disparage its political agenda and programme for government.
Daniel Hannan MEP has long advocated some sort of electoral pact: "Few Conservatives disagree with UKIP policies," he writes. "Sixty-two per cent of Tory voters and 78 per cent of party members want a free trade deal with the EU rather than full membership. Most look just as kindly on Nigel Farage's domestic agenda: tax cuts, grammar schools, localism, withdrawal from the ECHR. Their complaint is that, by standing candidates at local and parliamentary level, UKIP, without winning seats itself, keeps allowing Leftie Europhiles to be elected."
It is a theme taken up today by Michael Fabricant MP: "The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is now a significant contributory factor in costing the Conservative Party victories in marginal seats," his report says. "It is time to consider actively whether a rapprochement might be possible before the 2015 general election."
The deal proposed appears to be a referendum in the run up to 2015 (ie this side of the General Election) and, in return, UKIP would not field candidates against Conservative candidates in their target marginal seats.
This is attractive, but would probably divide UKIP: many members would relish a pre-2015 referendum, as opposed to some vague 'cast-iron guarantee' of one after the election... should the Tories win, and should the referendum commitment not be sacrificed on the altar of another coalition agreement. But equally many UKIP members would be reluctant to give pro-EU Tories a free run in their target marginals: the party, they would say, is no longer a single-issue pressure group, but a credible, mainstream political party advocating inter alia selective education, low taxes, capped immigration and (not insignificantly) opposition to same-sex marriage.
The problem is that the Prime Minister is of the view that UKIP members are racist - mostly. No10 appeared to withdraw this allegation over the weekend, in the wake of the Rotherham fostering scandal (when Michael Gove referred to UKIP as 'mainstream'). But then the retraction was retracted, and Cameron's prior assertion reiterated: UKIP is indeed racist - mostly.
This qualifying 'mostly' is important, for it is an expression of quantifiable majority. Cameron is making explicit the belief alluded to by former Chairman Baroness Warsi, who alleged last May that there was a correlation between the rise of UKIP and the decline of the BNP. There appears to be a widely-held belief among senior Conservatives that UKIP is, to quote Avenue Q, 'a little bit racist'.
His Grace wishes to be frank..
He has spoken at many UKIP gatherings over the years, despite being known to be involved with and committed to the Conservative cause. And he has met the odd crank and gadfly at these gatherings, who more often than not berate him for his determination to remain a Conservative even as his party ceases to be so. He has also encountered the occasional fruitcake, the odd loony, and one or two racists - not overly closeted; more out and proud. Their target is often Muslims, as opposed to Islam, though they never appear to know any and their knowledge of the Qur'an is based on a Daily Mail theological exegesis. And they also appear to want to belong to a nation rather more mono-ethnic than the one they manifestly inhabit, preferably led by Churchill (or Thatcher, at a push), in which everyone plays cricket, drinks warm beer and goes to Church (preferably the CofE).
Of course a few UKIP members are racist, despite it being constitutionally a non-racist party. But then there are avowedly non-racist members of the BNP, who simply believe that it's the only party prepared to tackle an unwanted tide of immigration. And there are one or two racists in the Labour Party, too, whom Gordon Brown identifies as 'bigoted'. It's probably not possible to be a racist LibDem, but the Avenue Q factor is doubtless still in play.
His Grace happens to know one or two racist Conservatives, as well. In conversation a few years ago, one (a peer) referred to a colleague as 'the nigger in the woodpile'. And another (an MP) said he was 'sick of hearing about Muslims'. Now, you might say, these were merely private conversations, and so completely without proof. Further, you might argue that the first of these is a common turn of phrase - unpleasant and ignorant usage, perhaps, but nothing more. And the second expression is a feeling with which the majority of the country might sympathise: you don't have to be racist to have had enough of the media's obsession with Islam and Muslims, not least because Islam is not ethnically defined.
But His Grace also has in his possession an email from a senior (professional) figure within the Conservative Party in which he refers disparagingly to 'the Asian tribes of (insert town)'. The juxtaposition of 'Asian' with 'tribe' is manifestly derogatory in the context, conveying nothing but contempt for the primitive Asian instinct with an inference of inferior intellect and understanding.
Of course, the existence of such proof of racism within a solitary email ought not to tarnish an entire political party. But the Prime Minister has never adduced any evidence that UKIP is made up of racists 'mostly'. Might it not simply be that both UKIP and the Conservatives are racist rarely, and allegations to the contrary are just part of the fractious turf-war between two mainstream right-wing parties vying for supremacy?