UKIP have managed to get themselves into the news again on two accounts, neither of which has anything to do with their policies (and that might be just as well). Both stories have caused a great deal of indignation and a certain amount of amusements. I plead guilty to the second attitude.
The first story, as British readers of this blog probably know, is about that ridiculous calypso that was written by former BBC DJ Mike Read (no, I've never heard of him before this either) and performed with a mock-Caribbean accents at some fringe event, went on YouTube and was attacked as being racist. At first, Read said that he considered the accusations preposterous and the Dear Leader called on the faithful to get the calypso to No 1 in the pop charts.
After that things became a little difficult. For one thing the words of the song were published and turned out to be astonishingly stupid. For another, people who are not completely obsessed with UKIP either pro or con (I expect I shall be accused of being one of those by some UKIP-bots but I do not think the amount of time I have spent on them over the years of writing this blog or being co-editor of EURef warrants that accusation), wondered why they should have picked on the calypso as a particularly cool, up-to-date and funky kind of music.
As it happens, I have a much loved LP (or vinyl as they are called now, having become rather fashionable again) of Harry Belafonte singing calypsos in a mock Caribbean accent, Belafonte's own accent being pure American. So far as I know there were no problems with that but I don't know for sure. The LP (vinyl) was inherited by me from my father who acquired it in the 1950s, possibly on one of his two trips to London from Budapest where we lived at the time. Does that throw any light on the strange UKIP decision? Well, yes, I think it does. This is all part and parcel of their nostalgia for that rather unpleasant decade.
The faux-outrage over the racism of the song has achieved its aim and former DJ Mike Read "has apologised for his Ukip-supporting calypso song and asked for it to be withdrawn from sale following criticism that it was racist". Stupid the idea may have been but the idea that somebody must always apologize and something must always be suppressed if anybody is offended and, particularly, if the word racist can be bandied round, is turning British politics into a specie of blancmange.
The story is not over.
Read’s song just failed to make the top 20 in the midweek rundown of the official singles chart, debuting at number 21 according to the list published on Wednesday. A spokesman said sales of the song to date would continue to contribute to the official top 40, despite Read’s decision to withdraw it.That, of course, was not withdrawn from sale as it was not racist and offended only in the matter of good taste. But it did not get to No 1 either.
It could mean another dilemma for the BBC over whether to include the song in its official top 40 programme on Radio 1 on Sunday, in a potential echo of the row over the anti-Thatcher protest song, Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead.
Here, by the way, is UKIP's Culture Spokesman, Peter Whittle, attacking the attackers. It is not clear whether he actually liked the song but his political point is a very reasonable one. [Full disclosure: Peter is a good friend.] I would say that the faux outrage has not exactly harmed UKIP while an understanding of the silliness would have done. As it is, they can proclaim that they are victims of the modern mania for censorship of anything that can be described as racist.
Let us now turn to the other story, that of their new ally in the European Parliament. The Toy Parliament does not run on the basis of parties but groups and there are rules about how many parties and countries have to be represented in each group in order to be able to claim the handsome hand-outs for the MEPs'
As ever, we heard accusations and counter-accusations. Nigel Farage "has accused the president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, of "effectively blackmailing" Grigule by offering her the leadership of an overseas delegation in a deliberate attempt to silence Ukip and the eurosceptic EFDD".
Ms Grigule retaliated by saying that if she had been susceptible to "blackmail" she would have taken Mr Farage up on his offer of the group's Vice-Presidency and, anyway, she had already managed to fall out with the Dear Leader over his working methods that she characterized as being rude. Nor was she impressed by the rest of the UKIP MEPs.
"In July this year I already suggested to Nigel Farage that he should change his working style. The fact that he did not take my suggestion into account this whole time is not right," she said.The only thing I can add to that story is that it would seem that neither Mr Farage nor Ms Grigule know the difference in meaning between blackmail and bribery.
"I do not find it acceptable that MEP’s turn their backs on the European anthem or the flags of member states. I do not find shouting or rude remarks acceptable during plenary sessions, or that the majority of colleagues from Great Britain do not take part in the work of committees. I warned Farage, that if nothing changes in this attitude, I will leave the group.
"Of course, this style of working may be beneficial to Farage as his popularity in Britain grows, but to other group delegations this isolationism from the other Parliamentary groups disrupts the ability to work. This was a road leading to nowhere."
As it happens, there are always odd MEPs hanging around the Toy Parliament who can be bribed or blackmailed, depending on your use of the English language, to join a group and the Dear Leader found one: he is the Polish MEP Robert Iwaszkiewicz (more here) of the Congress of the New Right and a man who has distinguished himself by being a Holocaust denier and a supporter of domestic violence. Not a particularly prepossessing chap and neither is his party.
Korwin-Mikke [the party's leader], whose party has two remaining MEPs and received 7.5% support in Poland during May’s European parliamentary elections, is one of the most outspoken figures within the far-right groupings of parliament.Of course, saying that Hitler was not aware that Jews were being exterminated, stupid though that is, does not constitute Holocaust denials but we can say with some certainty that the Polish party, its members and its leader are not people one wants to have much to do with partly because of their opinions and, even more, because of their level of intelligence.
In July, he declared in English that the minimum wage should be “destroyed” and said that “four million niggers” lost their jobs in the US as a result of President John F Kennedy signing a bill on the minimum wage in 1961. He went on to claim that 20 million young Europeans were being treated as “negroes” as a result of the minimum wage. He refused to apologise and was fined 10 days of allowances for his comments.
Korwin-Mikke has also called for the vote to be taken away from women, has claimed that the difference between rape and consensual sex is “very subtle” and said that Adolf Hitler was “probably not aware that Jews were being exterminated”.
The problem is that as long as we are in the EU and send members to the Toy Parliament (on a very low vote, it is true) we have to deal with people like Mr Iwaszkiewicz and Mr Korwin-Mikke, as well as people who either deny the extent of Communist crimes or consider the gulags to have been quite a good idea. We do not elect these people but others do.
The outrage over a perfectly ordinary if slightly shoddy political transaction has been deafening. I have even seen demands that UKIP should be banned in Britain. A party that has received a fair number of votes should be banned, I asked. That is your democratic suggestion? I got a lot of huffing and puffing in return and reminders that the British Union of Fascists was banned and Sinn Fein was kept off the airwaves for some years. The BUF was banned durign the war, I replied, as they were seen with some (though not total) justification as aiding and abetting the enemy. Incidentally, I added, the CPGB that was doing the same between the autumn of 1939 and June 22, 1941, actively inciting members of the armed forces to desert, was not banned. And Sinn Fein was not actually banned, merely not allowed to speak on air because they were and are closely linked to a terrorist organization, the IRA. UKIP has merely done something many of us find distasteful. It is not illegal and it cannot be described as aiding and abetting the enemy. Should all those British parties who sit in groups with well known members of Communist parties be banned? There was more huffing and puffing and, in one case, a highly ironic denial that anybody denies the gulags. There was no reference to the victims of collectivization.
But I digress.
Will the second story help UKIP? Not as much as the first one, as Mr Iwaszkiewicz, the latest addition to the EFDD group is rather unsavoury and a good many UKIPers, not to mention their supporters and quasi-supporters are embarrassed by the story. Does it matter electorally? Probably not. I have no doubt the story will be rehashed during the electoral campaign next year but there are plenty of embarrassments to be brought up against all parties in the Toy Parliament. The truth is that the overwhelming majority in this country does not care about that institution.
A far more serious story is the one produced by the Evening Standard yesterday:
Britons have turned against the idea of quitting the European Union despite the rise of Ukip, exclusive new polling reveals today.The turn-around is not as dramatic as all that and is probably temporary. Opinion on the subject tends to be volatile but it has never reached the sort of support for Brexit that would indicate a victory in the referendum. Whether that is despite or because of the rise of UKIP is arguable. This blog has argued for some time that the present-day UKIP is a hindrance to the cause of British exit. It has certainly not been a help.
It found that a clear majority would vote to stay in the EU in a referendum — marking a dramatic turnaround from two years ago. The findings suggest Ukip’s surge this year has less to do with anti-EU sentiment and more to do with anxieties about immigration or disenchantment with the bigger parties.
Fifty-six per cent of people said they would vote to stay in if there were a re-ferendum now, while just 36 per cent would vote to leave, according to the Ipsos MORI poll. Excluding “don’t knows”, that amounts to a clear divide of 61 to 39 per cent.
In November 2012, the same question found that 44 per cent wanted to stay and 48 wanted to get out. At the time, support for Nigel Farage’s party stood at a mere three per cent, compared with the current level of 16 per cent — a record figure for an Ipsos MORI poll. But while support for Ukip has risen by 13 percentage points over the two-year period, support for quitting the EU has dropped by 12 points.
Backing for EU membership is at its highest since 1991 — before the Maastricht Treaty which increased integration and created the European Union out of the European Community.
Another conclusion that ought to be drawn but probably will not be by people obsessed with the idea of a referendum is that we are certain to lose it and should turn our attention more widely (yes, I know the Boss has been working on it) to the question of how we can win it, should it ever come about.