Aside from whether he’s right to argue that we don’t need many racial discrimination laws, why does Nigel Farage think it’s politically a good idea to mull about relaxing them so that firms can take on British staff? The Ukip leader has spent most of today getting rather annoyed at what he says has been misreporting of his remarks to Trevor Phillips, and explaining what it was he said. Here are his original quotes:
‘I think the employer should be much freer to make decisions on who she or he employs.
‘I think the situation that we now have, where an employer is not allowed to choose between a British-born person and somebody from Poland, is a ludicrous state of affairs.
‘I would argue that the law does need changing, and that if an employer wishes to choose, or you can use the word ‘discriminate’ if you want to, but wishes to choose to employ a British-born person, they should be allowed to do so.’
Later on, Farage insisted that he was ‘not talking about abolishing race relations in this country, I’m talking about lightening employment legislation so that small employers – and don’t forget, there are nearly five million small businesses in Britain – are less fearful of taking on young British workers’. He said his proposed changes would help ‘young black and white British people’.
The strange thing about these comments is that they come at a time when Farage is trying to make Ukip appear as inclusive and non-discriminatory as possible. While many have been intrigued by the apparent difference between the Ukip leader and his Parliamentary colleague Douglas Carswell, Farage has moved towards the Clacton MP’s way of talking about immigration and inclusion in the past few months.
The party’s conference in Margate was largely aimed at sending a message that it welcomes people from all backgrounds and to that end it featured speeches from Harjit Singh Gill, former Mayor of Gloucester and Edward Fila, who spoke about life as immigrants or children of immigrants. They, along with Kellie Maloney, who spoke movingly the following day about the prejudice that many transgender people faced in this country, received rapturous applause from the floor, while Farage told the conference that the two-day meeting had shown his party was an open and welcoming one.
Ukip is currently trying very carefully to confound stereotypes of itself as an anti-immigrant, isolationist party. But getting embroiled in a row about race relations seems an odd way of trying to confound stereotypes. Farage has had to spend all morning clarifying comments that are being taken by some as a sign that his mask has slipped, and by others as a sign that everything he says will be written up as a ‘slur’ even if it isn’t. Either way, it seems a clumsy thing to do when the party’s strategy is to try to appear as open and welcoming as possible.