“2014 was the hottest year on record”.
“Islam is the religion of peace”
“UKIP rocked by defection of senior member to Conservatives.”
Sometimes you have to look beneath the headlines to get to the truth of a story and the last one – concerning UKIP MEP Amjad Bashir’s move to the Conservatives over the weekend – is most definitely a case in a point.
On the face of it, it ought indeed to have been a tremendous coup for the Conservatives to have snatched UKIP’s most prominent Pakistani Muslim member. So why, when quizzed about it on BBC TV by Andrew Marr yesterday, did UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage look so intensely relaxed about this tragic loss?
Probably because – as is becoming clearer by the minute – Farage couldn’t wait to be rid of him.
The unsavoury allegations now emerging about Bashir include:
That attempts were made by Bashir’s office to rig a selection in Bradford
That he maintains links with Pakistani group MQM, classified by US authorities as a Tier III terror organisation, currently under investigation by London Metropolitan Police for money laundering.
That he remains friends with the leader of a Pakistani kidnapping gang
That Bashir had recently been suspended by UKIP as a result of unspecified financial irregularities
That Bashir was a member of the Labour party in 1970s and 1980s
That he was also selected as a candidate for George Galloway’s pro-Palestinian, hard-left Respect party but was then de-selected. (Galloway won’t give the reasons why Bashir was de-selected but told Guido: “Probably for the first time I ever have to agree with Nigel Farage that there are grave concerns about things in this guy’s past.”
That Bashir lied when he told the Conservatives that he “never had anything to do with” Respect, even though there’s an application form and five witnesses to prove his dishonesty.
None of this particularly surprises me. At a UKIP conference last year in Torquay, I attended a side event in which a panel, including Bashir, discussed the disturbing issue of the sharia courts springing up all over Britain and the injustice this parallel legal system is creating for British citizens, most notably the Muslim women who are treated like second-class citizens in their own country.
I was particularly interested in hearing what Bashir had to say because I imagined that for a Pakistani Muslim to join a party like UKIP must have been a brave, principled, and intellectually independent step. So I must admit, I was expecting some kind of livewire.
In fact though, Bashir said very little. And what he did say led me to draw at least three conclusions: 1 That he was a colourless, not especially bright, but probably quite devious careerist. 2. That, frankly, he would have been equally happy in any party, from the Greens to Labour, because I didn’t sense a shred of ideological conviction. 3. – and this disappointed me most – that he seemed far, far too eager to defend and simultaneously play down the influence of these sharia courts. I sensed, in other words, another Baroness Warsi: one with apparently a stronger loyalty to the Pakistani community and to the Umma than to the concept of a socially cohesive Britain where everyone is equal before the law.
So if Bashir was such tainted goods, why didn’t UKIP get rid of him earlier? For the same reason, I would imagine, that Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps were, at least briefly, so keen to welcome him…..
….Because, just like South Park’s The Death Camp of Tolerance, all political parties would love to be seen as representing “people of all colours and creeds holding hands under a rainbow.”
Yes, even UKIP. It might seem odd that a party which markets itself on being not like all the other parties should yet feel it has to play the tokenism game all the rest of them play. But in politics, unfortunately, superficialities really matter. Certainly, until I discovered for myself how utterly rubbish he was, I used to be very pleased that UKIP had a prominent Pakistani Muslim MEP. It nicely counteracted all that stuff you so often read in the mainstream media about UKIP being Islamophobic and racist and so on. So even if it emerges that UKIP knew for some time about Bashir’s murky background, I’m not sure that I blame them for keeping schtum.
What I do blame them for very much, however, is for having got their vetting system so wrong in the first place. It’s all very well for UKIP to be laughing at David Cameron and Grant Shapps for having welcomed such a patently dodgy chancer into the Conservatives. But if Bashir’s ineptitude (or worse) was that bleeding obvious, how come he ever passed onto UKIP’s MEP candidate’s list?
If the answer is that as a Pakistani Muslim Bashir was given special treatment and that a blind eye was deliberately turned to his flaws, then this really is dispiriting. First, it sits ill with what many rank-and-file members would like to believe of UKIP: that it is a party which believes in meritocracy and shuns politicking and sleaze. Second, it’s an opportunity missed. UKIP needs its ethnic minority candidates, of that there’s little doubt and every effort should be made to reach out and recruit them. But unless they’re any good, there really is no point – as the Conservatives discovered with Baroness “never buy the first pony you see” Warsi, and as they’re about to discover yet again with the dismal Amjad Bashir…