Today is a depressing day. I suspect it to be a day that will be remembered through the hindsight of history as playing a pivotal role in the face of British politics. To some it represents change. For people who believe in equality and democracy it is nothing but a slap in the face.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m making a reference to the by election held last night in the Kent town of Rochester. This by election was prompted by the defection of a Conservative MP to the UKIP party and, in a largely Conservative voting area, the voting was closely watched as the result was anticipated to provide an early indication as to how the main political parties would stand up to scrutiny in the General Election next year.
But this particular election did more than shine the light on political statistics, it formalised an ugly rising tide of hatred that has become steadily endemic in British society today. It painted a thin veneer of public respectability on the face of fascism and in doing so it took our country of freedom and acceptance one step further from the multiculturalism that puts the Great in Great Britain.
Britain, like most countries, has always had its bigots. We’ve had the BNP (British National Party) begging for votes in Parliament for years and street protest movements like the EDL (English Defence League) have made their anti PC (and often rabidly racist) views known both on the streets and in the press. But these people have never been taken seriously by the mainstream. The small number of people who actually admit to voting BNP have always been viewed with a certain amount of derision. This (so called) political party has never presented a serious threat to any of the more moderate and better known parties. Last night however marked a change in public opinion as with a sharp blow to the established two party status quo the right wing UKIP (UK Independence Party) took victory over both the Conservative and the Labour party.
UKIP on the face of it present themselves as a serious political party. They go to great lengths to appeal to the man in the street with policies relating to a referendum on staying in the European Union and their pledges for ending student tuition fees and abolishing inheritance tax. But the true face of the party is far more sinister. The economic case they present for reducing immigration is little more than a smokescreen to hide the racism, homophobia and Islamophobia that lie at the concealed heart of the party. To give some specific examples of this - only 2 days before the by election the UKIP candidate Mark Reckless admitted in an interview that he supported the idea of deporting immigrants from the UK – he told the press that a Polish plumber might “only be allowed to stay for a fixed period if Britain left the European Union”. Another UKIP candidate (Heinro Vockrodt) described the Islamic religion as a “totalitarianism ideology against everything modern Britain stands for,” and UKIP candidate Douglas Denny was particularly vehement when he referred to gay people as “abnormal” making the singularly unfunny comment that he wished “They [the gays] would stop trying to ram it down my throat.”
This quite frankly worries the hell out of me. It is one thing to have bigots lurking at the margins of our society but it is quite another to clasp them to the bosom of Westminster. In electing MPs who openly support the persecution of homosexuals, immigrants and participants of the Islamic faith we are welcoming hatred into our politics. UKIP and the equally offensive far right party Britain First (who also stood for election in Rochester) are looking to make scapegoats of huge sections of the British community. It doesn’t take much awareness of history to draw the very uncomfortable parallel with the persecution of the innocent in Nazi Germany.
Now as I am in a heterosexual relationship and as I’m neither an immigrant nor a member of the Islamic faith it would perhaps be easy for me (if I didn’t happen to be a person with a conscience) to turn a blind eye to the likely consequences of a UKIP government. But I can’t. And the reason I can’t is because I can’t forget that famous quotation from Edmund Burke reminding me “All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing...” Every time we vote for a party that supports inequality and discrimination we become those good men, complicit in the evil of self advancement at the expense of others. Even when we don’t vote (and the 50% turn out in Rochester suggests an apathy of which the non voters should be ashamed) when parties like UKIP and Britain First are standing for election even by not voting we are contributing to a society which says it is acceptable to view people as being of less worth due to their racial status, sexuality or religious persuasion.
The media have played a big part in the slow indoctrination that discrimination has somehow become socially acceptable. As more and more publicity is given to the extreme right wing ideology the result is that the public face of UKIP becomes easier to stomach. Faced with a candidate like Britain First’s Jayda Fransen (infamous for her revolting declaration that she will personally bury a pig under any ground receiving planning permission for a mosque to be built) voting for UKIP seems a comparatively moderate option. But it isn’t a moderate option, voting for UKIP is voting for a country where people will be persecuted for their race, their sexuality and their religion. It’s voting for xenophobic nationalism at the expense of human rights.
It isn’t enough to sit in an armchair and watch the face of Britain slowly changing in the hope that somebody else will do something about it. We all share the obligation to stand up for those facing the threat of persecution. It isn’t enough to say I’m not gay or I’m not a Muslim therefore the problem doesn’t affect me. This creeping hatred affects us all. Once we start saying it is acceptable to oppress and discriminate against any group of people we pave the way to any one of us facing discrimination. In a world where discrimination is acceptable nobody is safe from persecution. Today’s minorities become tomorrow’s victims and the apathy of those who turn their backs or refuse to vote just strengthens this growing culture of fascism.
Our forefathers who fought in the wars didn’t (as UKIP and Britain First would have you believe) fight to keep Britain free of foreign influence. They fought for the freedom of the honest man. We don’t need weapons or military power to emulate those brave men and women. All we need is the determination not to allow the evil that is discrimination to flourish in our hearts or in our politics.
We need to vote against the parties who view hatred as the basis of their policies.
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