It’s about a week to go before the council and European elections in the UK and it’s still looking like UKIP will steal a win in the European poll, and I find this prospect inexpressibly bleak.
There are two reasons for my gloom: the first is that UKIP seem to have managed to weave a web of deceit and bigotry into a solid vote and the second thought is that the level of political discussion in the UK (and in fairness elsewhere in Europe) is so dulled and stupid that it almost seems pointless to try to argue with people any more.
You know the facts: immigrants (including economic migrants from inside and outside the EU) are more likely to be in work, less likely to claim benefits (than the resident population) and in consequence are net contributors to the economy. We have not seen a flood of people from Hungary and Romania charging the borders of our countries in order to scrounge, rob or skive in the UK since the borders opened, in fact the numbers have decreased slightly.
UKIP has a host of nasty policies that will almost certainly never be enacted (thank god) because they a. don’t have any domestic MPs and b. don’t tend to turn up in the EU parliament as they are against it and. c. are in the minority anyway…for the moment. They are simply a nasty voice reflecting nasty views and pig ignorance.
But that seems to be the way of politics – the British Social Attitudes survey asked people how many claims for benefits were likely to be fraudulent and the public said about a third, when the actual figure is nearer 3%, many people imagine that the biggest drain on welfare spending is unemployment and income support when it’s actually pensions, and most don’t realise that as much as a third of welfare spending goes to those in work…but try to engage anyone in a conversation about politics and you realise that it’s not facts that interest people but feelings. They feel that there’s too many immigrants, and that they come over to scrounge off the UK’s generous benefits, they feel that the EU is too powerful and that it takes away our ability to make good decisions in this country, they feel that all politicians are the same and that they are to a man greedy, selfish and out of touch. With this level of discourse (and one which is encouraged by a paper press that is self-serving and mendacious) it’s inevitable that UKIP are doing well. They are not dealing with real-life facts and policies, they are appealing to peoples discomfort and press fuelled anxieties.
I don’t know what the answer is but I suspect that it’s about time that politics was taught in school alongside Maths and English as an essential part of daily life: it’s a sad fact that young people tend to be hammered in times of austerity – they lose jobs, access to education and benefits, but they don’t engage with politics. I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve heard young people say that they don’t ‘do’ politics, as if it was some weird hobby that existed ‘out there’ which doesn’t impact on them at all. As if their jobs, schools, libraries, arts, roads, hospitals and so on and so on were nothing to do with the government of the day. They tell you that nothing changes whoever you vote for – so they don’t vote. Which is true I guess: if you don’t buy a lottery ticket you can be assured you won’t win.
But if you change someones hearts and minds with good policies, exciting ideas for the future and hope for them and their children, their vote can make a difference. We know this because a Labour government gave the UK its NHS and social security system and improved the lives of millions.
I guess what I’m arguing for is a clear-eyed, fact based, passion-filled view of political involvement: I understand that people are angry and fatalistic, but if you vote for UKIP there’s no chance of change: they are simply the angry party and devoid of politics that will improve the life of the man and woman in the street. If you can’t find a party that gives you a voice, build your own or get involved with an existing group and change its priorities. But do so on the basis of things you know to be true and on a foundation of hope and positive change. UKIP is simply an angry man kicking an empty chair.