British politics is a pretty unpleasant sight. There’s an anti-politician mood stalking the country. Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind are being hauled over the coals for things that aren’t against the rules, nor even against British interests. Rifkind especially should feel aggrieved that for offering to arrange meetings between a foreign firm and British diplomats, he should be accused of Sleaze. In this mood comes the “tax-dodging” witch hunt, where people’s perfectly legal and normal (for those with the cash) Tax planning is being called “tax avoidance”, which is being equated, and used interchangeably with “tax evasion”, which is a crime. People who’ve taken perfectly reasonable tax-planning steps, are being excoriated for things that are neither against the law, nor against the spirit of the law. The crime, in the rather envious eyes of the British electorate, is to have wealth and be involved in politics. And politicians are being assumed to be corrupt and on the make, with journalists happy to fuel the mood.
And the only politician to speak any sense on the subject of tax is Nigel Farage: “Of course people avoid tax, but they do so mainly for their Children“, before going on to talk about the UKIP policy to abolish Inheritance tax. And the media left it there. UKIP having a popular policy that isn’t bat-shit insane isn’t news. But they aren’t called on its implications, like a major party would be, not yet. The Tories, for whom Inheritance tax has also been a popular cut, would be asked “what would you cut/taxes would you raise?” And the policy of abolishing inheritance tax would immediately become about where the £3bn or so it raises each year would come from. Would farage make cuts, raise taxes, or borrow more? We do not know.
No ‘KIPper would consider, having found a policy that works, the potential downsides of abolishing inheritance tax. The long-term accumulation of assets in families for example. Inheritance tax is the only tax where the money raised is not its principle function. Mega-inheritance is not conducive to social mobility, and nor is it always good for the economy. Why is it fair that someone is able to inherit vast sums, tax-free where others are taxed through the nose for money they earn? For me, if it’s a choice between cutting £3bn off inheritance tax, or taking it off income tax, I’d rather the income tax cut (and the Tories agree with me there…). Whilst I think Inheritance is mostly an iniquitous tax on the unlucky, or those unwilling to confront their mortality, it’s not a priority to cut right now, not when we still need to balance the books. The Tories have taken most ordinary people out of the tax, while leaving it in place for the very wealthy. When you think a UKIP policy through, quite often what sounds right, as a black and white abstraction, is often rather stupid.
But it’s refreshing to see Farage refuse to dance to the media’s tune, even if the average UKIP policy isn’t thought through at all. When asked where the £3bn would come from, you get boilerplate blather about “fully costed policies being in the [as yet unwritten] manifesto“. And the problem with UKIP is that vague grey area between idea, aspiration and policy invites ‘KIPpers to fill in the gaps. And they do, with abandon, but without any learning or understanding.
British politics is as refined a dance as a regency débutantes’ ball. And like the refined movements of the dances, they are designed to exclude those who don’t know the steps, and so utterly baffling to outsiders. UKIP, whose main dancing experience, if we’re extending the metaphor to breaking point, is in the Mosh Pit of a metal club, aren’t invited to a Queen Charlotte’s ball, because they haven’t got the right clothes, don’t know anyone there, what they’re doing or why. UKIP gatecrashing a Season ball will ruin it for everyone, and they will look stupid. Because UKIP aren’t prepared to answer the “so what…?“, they aren’t taken seriously: they haven’t bothered to learn the steps to the dance. They’re not even aware that such dancing exists and so they’re confused when they see it.
Which brings us to Meet the UKIPpers on BBC2, which showed UKIP members filling in the policy gaps, with all the creativity and skill of a slow-witted four year old at a colouring book. Of course the TV show was superficial. Of course it was selective. But it was revealing. The utterly incompetent election agent, the Twitter question about the “mosque” (Actually Westminster cathedral…), the Creepy, inadequate couple who collect clowns, and the hilariously bigoted old bag who couldn’t see that she wasn’t kicked out for saying “negro” but for saying “I have a problem with Negroes with their Shiny skin, fuzzy hair and big noses” and who then went on to talk about “Jewish noses with a curve to them“, as if that was some kind of defence. This isn’t a one-off bad-apple spoiling the barrel. This is the mood-music of the UKIP. Janice Atkinson, a UKIP MEP described an Asian constituent as “…a ting-tong from somewhere…” (I find for some reason the indefinite article especially damning), while Mark Reckless actually thought UKIP policy was the forced repatriation of immigrants and was prepared to say so out loud and in public. Both survived in post.
This isn’t pogrom-inciting, paki-bashing racism that smashes people’s windows. It’s the quiet bigotry of profoundly stupid people, of a sort that you probably do get at every family gathering involving multiple elderly relatives. There’s always one who will openly opine about how terrible the country’s got since we “let the wogs in“. But the problem is, those nice, racist nans instil ideas into kids, who’ll become angry young men, who will then go out and set fire to a mosque. Which is why such racist talk has been ridiculed and shunned since Warren Mitchell invented Alf Garnet. UKIP is a party for people who haven’t got the joke in ‘Til death us do Part.
The same cavalier attitude towards policy that allowed Roseanne Duncan to riff freestyle on why she has a problem with Negroes while the cameras were rolling, allows the more intelligent UKIPpers to imagine their freestyling on tax, or immigration policy is Party policy. The reason ‘KIPpers are so certain the party agrees with them, is they’re quite openly making it up as they go along. UKIP agrees, because there is no policy, only opinion. The only “policy” is what Nigel decrees, and he’ll let ‘KIPpers hide behind the defence of “free speech” for any idiocies the media turns up. Yet even this “free speech” defence is idiotic. Of course Roseanne Duncan is entitled to her views. But the ‘KIPper view is that it’s all OK, so long as the media don’t see it. Which is why the ‘KIPpers were kept away from the news during the Rotherham by-election. There are a lot of racists in the party, and the party knows it. And why the “Meet the UKIPpers” filming was shut down after Ms Duncan went off-piste. UKIP is a party for stupid, bigoted people. Yes, the political elite has become too distant, the political dance has become too complicated and superficial. But UKIP is not the answer.
‘KIPpers will blame a media conspiracy for misrepresenting them. They will rant about LibLabCon “not listening to the views of ordinary people“, insulting “ordinary people” by the suggestion they’re like Roseanne Duncan. UKIP is not the answer to the problems that ail the UK, and nor will the “media conspiracy” make UKIP “more popular” as ‘KIPpers often allege. All it will do is taint the few good ideas it has, by association with people like Ms Duncan and Janice Atkinson, while bringing back a kind of low-level bigotry we’d once thought abolished back into political discourse. UKIP is poisoning the well of debate. But on the bright side, the more the views of ranty, stupid people whom the party has seen fit to put in positions of responsibility see the light of day, the less attractive it will become. These people are freaks to be pitied and laughed at, which is why they’re stuck in depressing shitholes at the end of the line, and working with UKIP not a grown-up party. Anyone with talent or drive has left, and UKIP’s South Thanet constituency branch is left with a detritus of lost souls, confused by the modern world, whom another party would happily let deliver leaflets, but whom they would calmly not call when they needed anything more serious doing.
Is there a media conspiracy against UKIP? Only insofar as the Body Politic needs antibodies to expel a parasite. Expect more revelations of nonsense from ‘KIPpers in the run up to the election. Expect scrutiny of candidates and activists in places where they might win. Only a loony could think this unreasonable. UKIP has drawn the bigoted, Euro-obsessed puss from the Tory wound, and will roll up the bigots and opportunists from other parties before destroying itself. The only question is how much damage it does to the country while this process goes on. UKIP are poisonous. But it will be fun to watch them tear themselves apart.