I’ve just watched the BBC’s “Meet the Ukippers” doc about the South Thanet branch of UKIP. This was heavily trailed because of the comments by one of its (now former) councillors about her feelings towards black people. More of that later.
My initial thoughts were that it showed a local party that was charmingly inept. The local members seemed to be mainly elderly, retired or semi-retired people, not really ready for what was about to hit them in terms of the media scrutiny following Nigel Farage’s decision to stand in their constituency.
The doc focused on four or five members of the local party. The chairman. The local press officer and her husband, and the now expelled councillor Rozanne Duncan. The chairman, Martin Heales had previously received negative media coverage due to his previous membership of the National Front. He seemed reasonably amiable to me, although the way he reacted to a constituent saying he had lost his job to EU migrants disturbed me a little (his reaction was to say “this is political dynamite which we can exploit”, or words to that effect). I felt some sympathy for him though. Previous membership of an extreme group ought not to disqualify you from participating in mainstream politics in the future if you renounce those previous affiliations. A former colleague of mine was a member of the National Front. He was a good guy, he just didn’t know any better, and once he did, he left.
The local press officer and her husband were treated most sympathetically in my view. They seemed like good honest people engaged in the thankless task of herding the cats that are the UKIP members of South Thanet, trying to prevent them from saying anything stupid. In the end, I think they stood down from active roles in the party, probably for the sake of their sanity.
This brings us on to Cllr Duncan who literally 30 seconds after the press officer explained why members had to be so careful about what they say, said she had a real problem with black people (or people with “negroid features” as she called them). After UKIP high command learnt of her comments, she was expelled from the party immediately. Interviewed afterwards, she couldn’t seem to fathom why she had been expelled and thought she didn’t have anything to apologise for. She is of an age where it was common to use racist language in every day conversation. We probably all know or knew people like this. While they use(d) what would today be branded racist language, I wouldn’t say they were racist, as they still treat everyone with respect and as they find them regardless of colour or creed. What separates people of their time like that from people like Cllr Duncan though is that she openly admitted she would treat black people differently to others. An elected politician cannot do this. They must represent their constituents equally and without favour or prejudice. This is why UKIP had to expel her. (She also had an odd fixation with people’s noses, saying “negroes” had wide noses and Jews curved noses).
A final point I want to make about the show is the treatment of UKIP by what I’m going to call ‘outraged lefties’. There is a certain group of left-wing people who have decided that UKIP are just like the Nazi Party in the 1930s and that they must stop them at any cost. The result of this seen in the film was a vocal group of protesters shouting down a UKIP candidate who had come to speak in favour of a ban on the live export of animals (a cause the protesters agreed with). They then surrounded the UKIP guy calling him a neo-nazi and a racist. It was all rather ugly. My thoughts on UKIP are that they have some policies I agree with (on Europe and a points-based immigration system), but also some rather alarming ideas (on climate change for example). I could never vote for them though as I dislike Farage’s penchant for using dog-whistle tactics against immigrants. While he persists in doing this, he should not be surprised that racists are attracted to the party.
Overall then, I thought it was quite an interesting programme. I suspect if you made a doc about a local Conservative or Labour party group, you would find similar people saying similar things (although I doubt the central parties would allow such a doc to be made). A lot of UKIP party members seem to be of another time. A time when you could say “poofter” or “chinky” and nobody batted an eyelid. This is probably still true of the Tories as well though I would imagine. The people represented were all slightly odd (as I suppose you have to be to give up so much time for an often hopeless cause), but committed and well-meaning. What they are not (even the aforementioned Cllr Duncan) are bad people. Clearly unsuitable for public office, but nevertheless representative of quite a significant minority of the public at large I would guess.