Inevitably the lowest attacks have been saved until the week of the election. For months now the neat drip-feeding of anti-UKIP stories from Conservative Campaign Headquarters direct to the UK press has done everything possible to depict UKIP as a racist, xenophobic, bigoted party.
This has been significantly ratcheted up ahead of Thursday’s vote. Today’s pages include the Times repeating a story from last year in the hope of successful guilt-by-association. The story is that Geert Wilders (the ‘Dutch Xenophobe’ as the Times headlines him) would like Nigel Farage to join him and Marine Le Pen in an anti-EU Brussels voting bloc. What neither the Times nor any other newspaper wishes to give Farage any credit for is that he refuses to join that bloc precisely because of the presence in it of a party like the Front Nationale. And yet the press continues to attempt to portray Farage as leading a British National Front.
The depths to which this has sunk are pretty spectacular. For instance it now appears that the British media are perfectly content with vilifying and taunting Farage for having a German wife, because they believe they are doing so in a ‘liberal’ cause. At some point in recent days it seems to have become accepted wisdom that if you are married to a German then you should believe in an utterly unrestricted open door immigration policy. It also appears that to distinguish between different types of immigrant (as Canada and Australia do, to give just two examples) is to be deemed irredeemably ‘racist’.
But the lowest attack of all is now in, and it is of course the story that this was always building towards. And so it has come to pass that the papers are now repeating another story, and finally saying openly what they have wanted to say all these weeks: that Nigel Farage once used the ‘n’-word. Such is the story in today’s Mail. The source is Alan Sked, who fell out with Farage two decades ago. Sked not only claims that Farage used the ‘n’-word but also wanted former National Front members to stand for UKIP.
About which there are many things to say, but let me confine myself to two.
Firstly – if Farage had wanted to run a party which allied itself with the far-right, racist attitudes of the National Front or BNP he could have done so years ago. As it is, former members of the BNP are forbidden from joining UKIP and in his earliest days in the party Farage waged a small war precisely to get rid of those who wanted to form any such alliance. But although they know that this happened, this is just one of the things that the UK media seem almost wholly unwilling to concede. Any party which campaigns for national sovereignty and limited immigration might be expected to attract some undesirable elements around the edges. In the same way that a party which campaigns for Green or left-wing issues might inevitably find itself attracting a certain number of people who take a positive attitude towards far-left wing dictatorships around the world.
But even worse than this is the continental myopia displayed in the British press. In every country across Europe there are parties doing well because they are opposed to the EU project. In the wake of the Euro-crisis, among many other things, it takes a degree of wilful ignorance to imagine this surprising or necessarily extreme. Yet the reaction certainly can take extreme forms. In Greece it manifests itself in the extreme left-wing politics of Syriza and the extreme right-wing politics of Golden Dawn. In Hungary there are the street militant thugs of Jobbik. Inside from them there is the Front Nationale in France, a party whose leader may have reformed some of the party’s views, but whose senior membership remain – as Farage himself has frequently pointed out – people who doubt the historical truth of the Holocaust. And so on and so on.
If the British press could display some independence of mind for even a moment, it might recognise that the success of UKIP is not some terrible stain on British political moderation but rather a triumphant demonstration of it. While the continent is busily throwing up some genuinely unpleasant far-left and far-right anti-EU parties, the only serious political manifestation of this political revolt in Britain is a generally pleasant, decent and broadly libertarian party. But this apparently will not do. Not just because most of the British media has weirdly decided to dance to the tune of UKIP’s political opponents, but because (thankfully for all of us) the media’s need for Nazis and racists in modern Britain vastly exceeds the very limited actual supply.
Fortunately, I suspect the public can see what most of the press cannot. Most people continue to realise that Nigel Farage is not Adolf Hitler, that some idiot council-candidate whose said something rude about gays does not presage some anti-gay pogrom, and that our country has serious challenges of sovereignty and border control to deal with, which the main parties have to date shown themselves utterly incapable of addressing. Every member of UKIP could reveal themselves to be not on-board with gay marriage and support the right to broadcast early recordings of ‘The Sun has got his hat on’ on regional radio, yet still the questions of why Britain is no longer in control of its own border policy or law-making would remain unanswered by the main political parties.