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UKIP: Rise of the Risible British Empire Relics

Catherine Lafferty

THE BIG story of the "Super Thursday" elections on June 10 was unquestionably the performance of the UK Independence Party. Bolstered by the services of Dick Morris, a man widely regarded as instrumental in Bill Clintonís electoral victories and riding a tide of tabloid-inspired public dissatisfaction with the Europe, the UKIP gained 10 seats (it now has 12) in a parliament it wants dissolved.

There are good reasons to be sceptical of the European Union. Its parliament is a byword for opacity rather than transparency. Neil Kinnock, who became a European commissioner on a clean-up ticket, later sacked auditor Marta Andreasson after she produced a critical report. MEPs do not have a reputation for industry and thrift, and the less said about the Euro gravy train the better.

The European project began life as a postwar treaty between France and Germany in particular, but it was always more than a trade agreement. It was as a visionary project of peace and reconciliation for a continent scarred by two world wars.

Fast-forward to the turn of the millennium and the European Parliament is dominated by mediocrities, time-servers and has-beens. These include representatives of the UKIP, surely one of the weirdest political groups since the Monster Raving Loony Party.

The party was formed in 1993 from the dregs of the Anti-Federalist League. It achieved 157,000 votes at the 1994 European elections, in which it contested 24 out of 87 seats. Following a dismal showing in the 1997 Uxbridge West by-election, the UKIP lost its founding member and leader, Alan Sked. In 1999, its membership passed a vote of no-confidence in the ruling national executive.

The UKIP has long been a magnet for extremists. It is presumably for this reason that its prospective candidates and office-bearers have to sign a declaration confirming that they have no criminal record or serious mental illness.

The party fielded boxing promoter Frank Maloney as its candidate for London Mayor. In a press release, Maloney chose to expound on his vision for the capital. Among his concerns were policing (he wanted more) and taxation (he wanted less). He was worried about the number of press officers (too many) and same-sex police officers holding hands while on parade. He also wanted to bestow a patron saint on London. It is unclear whether he had consulted the Vatican on this.

His website is festooned with eccentric photos and links, including one to the dubious Migrationwatch, the anti-immigration outfit.

The star in the UKIPís firmament is former Labour IMP and daytime talkshow host, Robert Kilroy-Silk, famously shunted off the airwaves after an intemperate attack on Arabs in his Sunday Express column in which he characterised Arab countries as "suicide bombers" and "limb amputators".

While Kilroy-Silk denies that he is racist, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Commission for Racial Equality took issue with his comments. Trevor Phillips, the CRE chair, said the article was "indisputably stupid and its main effect will be to give comfort to the weak-minded. However, given the extreme and violent terms in which Mr Kilroy-Silk has expressed himself, there is a danger that this might incite some individuals to act against someone who they think is an Arab."

This wasnít the first time Kilroy-Silk dabbled in race "immigration" politics. In the Sunday Express last December, he wrote: "Are you fed up of some bleating blacks and Asians blaming their own failures on how their forefathers were exploited by the British Empire? Why donít they stop whining and get a life?"

The previous year, he blamed foreigners for a rise in HIV infections in Britain, saying: "The indigenous population is not responsible. The diseases are being brought here by refugees, immigrants and tourists. It is the foreigners that we have to focus on."

It might have been thought that Kilroy-Silk would retreat into private obscurity for a decent period, but not long after his abrupt departure from the BBC, it was announced that he had been adopted as a UKIP candidate. He would seem an odd choice for a party which places itself in the political mainstream and rejects any suggestions of racism and xenophobia in its ranks.

For many, however, the UKIP is being disingenuous when it dissociates itself from the racist Right. According to Karen Chouhan, the director of the race relations think-tank the 1990 Trust: "The UKIP are xenophobic in outlook and they are second only to the BNP in having so many examples of racism from their members. In some respects, they are indistinguishable from the BNP." Former UKIP leader Alan Sked was quoted in the Mail on Sunday as saying former that party chairman and MEP Nigel Farage had told him: "We will never win the nigger vote. The nig-nogs will never vote for us."

The partyís stance on immigration and "political correctness" is interesting. A UKIP election leaflet doing the rounds in Taunton depicted a Channel Tunnel connection from mainland Europe to Britain complete with foreign hordes. The caption read: "Great Britain, standing room only". In large, bold type, the leaflet proclaimed: "Say ĎNoí to EU immigration rules with the UK Independence Party."

The UKIP website flags up five freedoms the party fights for: freedom from the EU, crime, bureaucratic politicians, political correctness and overcrowding. Apparently Britain is "overcrowded" and "bursting at the seams". Many of those let into the country are "simply economic migrants" and their presence "increases social tensions".

The case of pensioner George Staunton of Toxteth, Liverpool, illustrates all that is wrong in contemporary Britain, in the UKIPís view. Staunton was arrested and charged with racially-aggravated damage after putting a UKIP poster on a wall and writing alongside it: "Donít forget the 1945 war" and "Free speech for England".

He opined: "I am no racist, but I am prepared to have a discussion about how things like immigration affect our country. I went to a Christian school where they were not scared to talk about the Empire and colonies and other races. You canít say anything now because people will point their finger and cry Ďharassmentí".

The UKIP claims that the treatment of this old relic represents a "retreat into a climate of mediaeval heresy and taboo".

And thatís not all. The UKIP has just suspended one of its new MEPs. Apparently, Ashley Mote neglected to inform the party that he is facing trial for allegations of benefit fraud. But who can blame him for this omission, given the fuss that UKIP literature makes about "economic migrants", well known for the sins of benefit uptake never mind fraud?

Iím not an EU enthusiast. However, if the UKIP is representative of Eurosceptic opinion, then make mine a double latte to go. And viva Europa.

This article was published in Tribune, 23 July 2004