At Rochester, the main party leaders showed they are too frightened to take on Ukip’s rabble-rouser in chief, writes Nick Cohen in The Observer.
He continues: You cannot describe UKIP as a far-right party without running into trouble. Really? Vox Political does it all the time. UKIP is a far-right party, in UK terms. Respectable commentators tell you that, while individual members may be neo-fascists and that while UKIP had indeed allied with far-right parties in Europe, it does not come from fascist tradition. And I just about accept that. Why? It’s full of fascists and allied with them. “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…” it’s clearly a UKIP fascist.
Hardly any commentator, respectable or otherwise, notices that Nigel Farage has created his own stab-in-the-back myth. The treacherous “Westminster elite” so despised the decent people of Britain that it flooded the land with foreigners who “took our country from us”. They also claim the treacherous social media so despise UKIP that we’ll make up anything so they’ll look bad – even if it’s factually accurate! This is the manure in which far-right movements have always grown.
But, once again, if anyone objects, I accept that Farage is not a führer or duce. Rather than arguing about labels, let us agree to allow the facts to speak for themselves. Farage is a rabble-rouser and a coward. He plays with racism the way Ian Paisley used to play with sectarianism: whips it up, then backs off just before he can be accused of inciting violence. Ah. So what Nick’s saying is that, while UKIP is a far-right organisation, its leader isn’t strong enough to be “a führer or duce”. Let’s see the evidence:
He does not attend the meetings of the European parliament to defend British interests but pockets the money of the “hardworking taxpayers” he affects to represent and skips away. Party of the people, anyone? He claims to be a patriot while defending Britain’s enemies in the Kremlin. A fan of despotism, then. He claims to be the friend of the working man, while slapping down his economics spokesman for proposing tax rises that would hurt his backers in the City. Are we sure he’s not at the far-right of the political spectrum?
As for the men and women he leads, UKIP candidates and donors have suggested they want to drive Lenny Henry out of Britain because he is black, bar women from the boardroom and stop gays from having sex because, as everyone knows, God punishes the sin of Sodom by flooding the Thames Valley.
If you cannot call UKIP a far-right party, you can at least say that it is an alliance of the septic that’s septic, not sceptic and the geriatric: a movement of the empty-headed led by the foul-minded.
So what about the Tories and Labour? It tells you everything about the absence of principle in the mainstream parties that they don’t even try to beat Farage. Political commentators could not have been more foolish when they believed David Cameron’s promise to “throw everything” he had at stopping UKIP winning in Rochester. And did you all see Michael Gove backtracking like his life depended on it, on Friday’s Newsnight?
Cameron may have thrown money and marketing strategies, but he did not throw punches. The Conservative attack on UKIP’s ideas never came. That’s worth repeating: The Conservative attack on UKIP’s ideas never came. Perhaps he agrees with them? Cameron, who once presented himself as a moderate, instead conceded acres of ground to the extremists, no more so than on the immigration question… He has abandoned the centre and veered to the right… The new Cameron wants to show UKIP voters that he is just as right-wing as Farage.
“Just as right-wing as Farage“ – so it’s admitted that the Conservatives are moving towards Fascism, too. And how humiliating for Cameron that he has allowed UKIP to do to the Tories what the Tories did to Labour in the 1990s.
Alex Massie of the Spectator brilliantly summarised Cameron’s strategy of never allowing Farage to outflank him on the right by saying that it came down to the slogan: “UKIP are right: don’t vote for them!” Except, of course, UKIP are wrong. Cameron is a neoliberal Conservative and therefore wrong by definition, therefore his opinions about the other parties are also wrong.
The funeral of Cameron’s gutless strategy came when a desperate prime minister appealed to the centrists among Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat supporters in Rochester to vote tactically to stop the extremist UKIP candidate winning. Reasonable people could not see the difference between the extremist Cameron and extremist Farage and ignored him.
Cameron’s capitulation carries a warning. He won’t fight UKIP not only because he is frightened of Farage but because he is a prisoner of his party’s right. If he wins the next election, we now know that he will keep capitulating because he is a leader without honour or inner strength, whose own cynicism defeats him. Vox Political made this point on Facebook the other day – a commenter said a strong government needs a strong opposition and VP had to point out that we don’t have a strong government. If it was strong, then we really would have full employment, with everybody working full-time for a living wage (if not more), and both the deficit and debt would be falling. Instead we have a gang of corporate puppets who have hollowed out the British political system to make it a mechanism allowing those same corporations to profit from the taxpayer and pay the Tories for the privilege.
Not that Ed Miliband is any better. Cameron has tried and failed to pull the political insiders’ “triangulation” trick, practised by Bill Clinton: get close to your opponent (Ukip in this case), steal his votes and victory is yours. Miliband has tried to follow the “core vote” trick of George W Bush and Barack Obama: get out Labour’s “core” – about 30% of the electorate – throw in old Lib Dems, who cannot forgive the Tory alliance, that’s another 5%, and, eureka!, our strange electoral system will deliver victory. Like a child building a house out of Lego bricks, Miliband thought he could pick up the handfuls of voters he needed for victory and forget about the rest. This seems likely – but is it? Isn’t it more accurate to say that Labour is practising ‘the art of the possible’? Under unrelenting pressure from the Tory media, Miliband has had to come up with costed policies that would show it was not planning to increase borrowing and make our debts worse. Notice that the Tories are under no such constraints and can promise unfunded tax cuts to their hearts’ content. UKIP has come under no such scrutiny; its tax policies are the same as those of the Conservatives – isn’t that a hint in itself? – and it isn’t going to form part of any government anyway.
A friend should have told him that astounding condescension lay at the heart of his “35% strategy”. Labour assumed that its “core” supporters would not listen to anyone else; that, even at a time of economic distress and political disintegration, Labour “owned” them. Many of those “core” supporters are defecting to the Greens, it seems – making a future Conservative victory almost a certainty unless Labour brings them back with a clear message and genuinely crowd-pleasing policies.
Mr Cohen presents an unhappy prediction for life after May 2015: With Labour’s “core” voters offering their votes to the Green Party – a futile gesture – and UKIP pulling the Tories towards fascism, you can expect David Cameron – coward though he is – to start wearing black uniforms and demanding that everybody salute him thereafter.
Only 70 years after we defeated Hitler’s Germany in World War II, we will have become the enemy we opposed.
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