For the Westminster elite it is just about the worst thing you can call someone; short of a paedophile or a murderer. “Nigel Farage is a racist,” said Labour MP David Lammy yesterday. Then came Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper: ‘it is racist to somehow stir up fears about Romanians living next door”. The Prime Minister stopped short of using the R-word, though he did describe the UKIP leader’s comments on Romanians as “really pretty unpleasant”.
Two days before the European elections, the old parties are agreed. Nigel Farage and UKIP are a bunch of horrible racists not worthy of your vote.
Except, of course, the public agrees with them on neither of those points. A poll for YouGov finds that voters are split down the middle on the racism charge. 40 percent say UKIP is not a racist party, 41 percent say it is. Evidently there is no consensus.
The polls also show that UKIP is going to bring in anywhere between 25 and 35 percent of the vote on Thursday. So anything around a quarter or a third of those planning on turning up to the polling stations are so un-offended by what Farage has said that they are going to put a big cross next to his party’s name.
Perhaps 35 percent of the country are frothing racists who lie in bed at night despairing at what immigrants have done to their country and praying that a Romanian family doesn’t move in next door. Maybe that is what UKIP is about. Older voters who wish Britain would return to the 1950s, and working class voters who just wish those foreigners who took their jobs would all go back to whatever country they came from.
Perhaps this explains why UKIP supporters do not seem to really care that their leader said what he said. I disagree.
Nigel Farage’s comments on Romanians mean the run up to the Euros have focused almost exclusively on UKIP’s stance on immigration. But, while immigration is obviously a key issue for UKIP supporters, it isn’t what makes them want to vote for Farage.
An Opinium poll for the Guardian does more than anything else to explain why UKIP will probably be named the winners on Sunday night. Of people certain to vote UKIP, 67 percent are more likely than the average Brit to say they feel “alienated”, 47 percent of UKIPers are more likely to feel “ignored”, 35 percent more likely to be “angry”.
Angry is the key word, and the Prime Minister knows it. Invited by journalists to criticise those voting UKIP this week, David Cameron accepted that the reason so many of his party’s former voters had jumped ship was because they were, he said, “angry”.
The vague grouping of what UKIP calls the “establishment” – the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Conservative Research Department, the Times, the BBC – has thrown everything it has at Farage. Much has landed. After months and months of media onslaught, there is no question that UKIP has not done enough to root out the extremists in its party. In the eyes of some on the Right, much of the party’s rhetoric has gone too far.
Yet despite this, despite the charges of racism, of bigotry, of corruption, of sleaze, of hypocrisy, UKIP will probably win the European elections. Nigel Farage has been able to ride the storm. If anything being called a corrupt, hypocritical, sleazy racist has boosted his party in the polls. Why? Because, as that Guardian poll showed, so many people in Britain feel alienated, ignored and angry. UKIP’s success is a damning indictment of the failure of our political class.