Driving to work this morning, radio on, and the news announces: “UKIP involved in another race row.” Oh dear, what now? “UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, has announced, on a documentary due to be shown next week on Channel 4, that he would abolish race discrimination laws within the work place”. Eek. Whatever the facts, that’s quite the headline. And it’s also more than likely a sign that we are about to witness yet another hatchet job television show next week.
But after looking past headlines to facts, once again it’s a case of the media wilfully misrepresenting something from UKIP to construct the Pyrenees from a pin-head.
Farage has said nothing more sinister than that he would hand back choice to employers. He would legalise a principle that has been advocated by Labour and the Conservatives alike over and over again: British jobs for British workers.
So uncontroversial is this slogan that Gordon Brown, who played second fiddle in a government that opened up our borders to Eastern Europe, allowed immigration to soar to unprecedented levels and even engineered mass immigration solely to “rub the right’s nose in diversity“, used it during his last hurrah before the 2010 General Election. David Cameron, staunch friend of the EU, has supported the idea himself in the past. Yet Downing Street has called Farage’s comments “deeply concerning” and Labour have branded them “shocking”.
Now, despite taking a strongly free-market view myself, where the best candidate should be given the job regardless of whether or not they’re British, I know this is in drastic opposition to most of the British public. A poll last month for Channel 5 found that 67 percent of respondents thought that employers should give priority to British people when recruiting for jobs. Just 20 percent of those asked thought that employers should not give priority to British people and 12 percent didn’t know.
This shows just how woefully out of touch the Conservatives and Labour are with the very people they are trying to engage ahead of the General Election. Normal people – excepting, of course, your local Lib Dem focus group and friendly UNISON representatives – will not find the true version of Farage’s suggestions “concerning” or “shocking” in the slightest.
What they will find concerning and shocking are the current UK youth unemployment figures: 740,000 or 16.2 percent of 16-24 year olds were out of work at the end of last year and 27 percent of those had been unemployed for over 12 months .
By now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the two legacy parties will jump on any opportunity to turn any word from UKIP into a fracas. Today, they have purposefully twisted a sensible proposal to legalise a policy they themselves have supported into a race row. This is worryingly and absurdly insincere, even for the likes of Sadiq Khan MP.
For Farage and UKIP the issue is not race but nationality. Farage was arguing in support of British workers: black, white, Asian, other. It should be of some concern to many that Labour and the Tories have heard “British” and thought “white”. More importantly, it is about removing bad legislation and handing back to the public some autonomy in decision making, something the Tories and Labour fail to comprehend.
As I write, a Twitter spat wages between Nigel Farage, Ed Miliband and David Cameron. It is probably the closest thing we will see to a real debate between the three most popular and powerful leaders in British politics. By tomorrow it may have all blown over and the melee will have worked in Farage’s favour; for the Teflon politician, no misrepresentation by the media or others will change the minds of his supporters and the publicity induced by this row over so popular a policy will probably bring some into the fold.
Of course, for Nigel’s beliefs to have any traction UKIP must gain a stab at power and were they to do so we would be out of the EU in a flash, ending the freedom of movement of people and rendering this sort of thing obsolete. But let’s not let that get in the way of a good headline.