Knockout blow for UKIP’s attempts at respectability

by Maurice Mcleod

I usually treat UKIP like an awful smell at a boring party – I do my best to ignore it and move as far away as possible. At some point though, you have to accept that the smell just isn’t going away and there might be something rotting under the table.

Despite their talisman promising to finally leave, their number one campaign goal achieved and their leaders brawling in Brussels, the party’s influence is far from over. UKIP really is a single issue party, the issue isn’t the EU though, it’s immigration. The party may well still have an important role to play in deciding the direction of our nation in the coming years.

Tectonic activity is global and Britain is no exception. The political plates are shifting, new movements are rising and old establishment empires are crumbling. Corbyn’s rise and unashamedly progressive platform present the faint promise of a socialist government in Britain. There is a genuine appetite for change and the Tories’ mythical ability to stand united is just that – a myth. But if May is allowed to build a broad church Tory party, which speaks about equality and being in the centre, but acts like Thatcher on speed, she’ll be able to maintain the myth.

maurice-quote-media-dversifiedThis is where UKIP come in. UKIP have the ability to force the Tories to tack to the right and abandon claims of being centrist. MPs with UKIP candidates snapping at their heals will lobby for as hard a Brexit as possible and the Tory’s fault lines will re-emerge. This is May’s preferred direction of travel anyway. She sees Brexit as an opportunity to remove human rights and shrink the government further. We’re just 100 days into her premiership and we already have talk of immigration checks on mothers in labour, children at school. May and the right wing of British politics are claiming the Brexit vote was a vote against immigration. This, of course, wasn’t on the ballot paper. The public was only offered a binary option. If Labour, the Greens, the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Remain wing of the Tory party can come together to oppose this narrative, the Government is vulnerable. Pressure from UKIP could force May to overplay her hand in the same way that David Cameron did.

For UKIP to be viable political force the party needs to be able to play down the racism and xenophobia allegations enough to encourage those people who don’t think of themselves as racists to vote for them. This might seem far-fetched but we live in a world where a possible President of the USA can dismiss a recording of him boasting about sexual assault as locker room banter. A spinnable image can work wonders. Mixed-race Moss Side council estate boy made good, Steven Woolfe, the party’s immigration spokesman, could provide just the cloak of respectability the party needs. For UKIP, electing the first leader of colour of a major British political party would be a huge coup. Woolfe is an accomplished lawyer, an MEP and is very comfortable in front of a TV camera. There’s nothing the right-wing like more than a person of colour to racism-proof their arguments. Woolfe has the potential to make UKIP seem palatable to those whose politics lean that way. The problem is not everyone in his party sees him as a viable leader.

Woolfe was then excluded from UKIP’s first post-Brexit leadership race for allegedly submitting his application late. The move seems to have upset him greatly and there were rumours that he was considering defecting to the Tories. Now, after their newly elected leader, Diane James, stood down after just 18 days at the helm, Woolfe’s chances of becoming UKIP leader have been dealt another blow after a confrontation at a UKIP MEP meeting in Belgium left him fighting for his life.

From the outside, it seems there’s a determined campaign to keep Woolfe away from UKIP’s top job. As much as I abhor the party’s politics and tone and wouldn’t mind them drifting back into irrelevance, the party does a good job at keeping the Tories honest – or at least exposing their deceit. Woolfe presents their best opportunity of transitioning into a legitimate right-wing force but some within the party don’t seem able to stomach him.

Boris Johnson’s dig at protestors

Talking about spin, Britain’s lack of a clue about how to end the awful continued situation in Syria, produced an astonishing turn-around this week.

Syria’s complicated civil war has been raging five years bringing death and destruction to the country. As always with these types of conflict, it’s hard to be sure about the exact number of people who have been killed but most estimates say around half a million Syrians have died so far. Another 5 million Syrian civilians have left to find safety elsewhere and another 7 million have fled their homes to live in other parts of the country.

I’m no specialist in international diplomacy or the Middle East so I refrain from adding my ill-informed views to the debate. This doesn’t stop our Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson though.  This week he called for protests outside London’s Russian embassy in protest at Russia’s attack on an aid convoy and bombing raids in Aleppo that have killed countless civilians in the troubled country. For Johnson to be calling on anti-war protestors to do his job for him seems odd. It seems even stranger for Johnson to be calling for anti-Russian protests when we remember that less than a year ago, he was calling for Britain to work more closely with Putin’s Russia and the Assad regime. Johnson is no stranger to flipping his views to meet his political needs but, in this instance, instead of using the conflict as a stick to beat anti-war protestors it would be marvellous if he just did his job.

Race row hits abuse inquiry

Another group that are having trouble getting on with their important work is the inquiry into allegations of institutional child abuse.

The £100m inquiry which was set up by then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2014 to explore the historical institutional child abuse is on its fourth chair and has been plague by allegations of incompetence, collusion and dithering. The current chair, Prof Alexis Jay, will now have at answer questions in Parliament about allegations that her predecessor Dame Lowell Goddard made extremely troubling racist remarks. Goddard is alleged to have claimed the high rates of child abuse in the UK were “because it has so many Asian men”.

Goddard denies the accusations but questions must be answered. If an inquiry starts with the false idea that Asian men are at the centre of Britain’s child abuse problem, it has little chance of making any real progress. If the allegations prove true, all work done by Goddard should be scrutinised and, if necessary, the whole inquiry might need to start again from scratch.

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White Men Dancing is a weekly column. Kiri Kankhwende and Maurice Mcleod keep an eye on Westminster. Politics is too important to leave to politicians.

Maurice Mcleod is a social commentator with Jamaican/Swazi heritage. He is director of his own communications company, Marmoset Media, and writes regularly for The Guardian and The Spectator among other titles. He is also a trustee for campaign groupRace on the Agenda. Maurice often appears on Sky News as a talking head and writes about social issues, race or politics. He tweets as @mowords

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