UKIP: monster raving loonies?
The political and media classes' pathologisation of the UK Independence Party exposes their own cowardice.
Nutters. Nutcases. Loonies. Morons. Crackpots. Cuckoos. Oddballs. Fruitflies. Fruitloops. Fruitcakes. When it comes to slang used to suggest that members of the right-wing libertarian UK Independence Party (UKIP) are mentally ill, mainstream politicians and the media have lobbed the entire urban dictionary at them.
UKIP’s latest diagnosis came at the weekend from polo-necked Conservative minister Ken Clarke. In light of the upcoming local elections, Clarke dismissed UKIP as a ‘collection of clowns’, full of ‘waifs and strays’ not sufficiently ‘sensible’ to become local councillors. His comments echoed UK prime minister David Cameron’s oft-quoted remarks from 2006 when he dismissed UKIP as a bunch of ‘fruit cakes and loonies and closet racists’. Cameron has refused to retract these comments, adding earlier this year that he still thought UKIP was full of ‘pretty odd people’.
Almost since its launch in 1993, politicians have chosen to paint UKIP as the successor to the Monster Raving Loony Party, full of – as Michael Howard, Cameron’s predecessor as Tory leader, put it – ‘cranks, gadflies and extremists’. The message is clear: on no account should UKIP be taken seriously as a political force. It deserves only ridicule. After all, how could any party that calls for the abolition of the smoking ban, or for the UK to leave the EU, be considered to be of sound mind? If you support UKIP, you need your head examined.
The volley of insults against UKIP has been ramped up in anticipation of this week’s local council elections, where UKIP looks set to gain its largest number of seats ever. One recent article in The Times suggested that UKIP could gain 40 seats, taking its UK-wide total to 90. But while this is a substantial percentage increase, UKIP would still be represented by just 0.5 per cent of the total number of councillors in the UK. While UKIP often soars above the Liberal Democrats in the polls, it makes little actual headway in elections.
All the same, the insults keep coming. Many in the media seem especially keen to dig a disproportionate amount of dirt on UKIP, casting improperly vetted candidates as the norm (helpfully assisted, as suggested in a recent Telegraph blog, by the Conservative Campaign HQ). UKIP’s members are revealed not only as far-right sympathisers and Holocaust deniers, but also as climate-change sceptics peddling ‘cuckoo conspiracy theories’. And their irrational hatred of foreigners – UKIP calls for stronger immigration controls – often leads them to being diagnosed as ‘xenophobes’.
You don’t have to be a fan of UKIP to recognise these attacks on the party as being the lowest trick in politics: depict your opponents as mad and thus remove the need to engage and argue with them. After all, what would be the point? They’re suffering from all sorts of psychological conditions from rampant denialism to proliferating phobias. They are therefore utterly incapable of engaging in rational debate.
This cheap tactic of pathologising political opponents in order to avoid debate is widespread today. Take, for example, environmentalist campaigners’ branding of anyone who deviates from what they deem to be cold hard facts as ‘climate deniers’. Pro-gay marriage campaigners have used similar tactics, calling opponents prehistoric ‘knuckle draggers’ who, as ‘homophobes’, have an irrational fear of gay people. Now the same approach is being taken with UKIP: portray them as loons with fantastic ideas (and, yes, many are critical of climate-change orthodoxies and gay marriage) borne of irrational prejudice.
Such ad hominem slurs are both cynical and cowardly, reflecting the extent to which UKIP has managed to get under the skin of the Tories and the political class as a whole. It’s now reported that Labour leader Ed Miliband is opposed to the idea of UKIP leader Nigel Farage being allowed to appear in televised debates in the run-up to the 2015 general election. Apparently UKIP’s ‘brand of anti-politics could damage all three main parties in unpredictable ways’. The fear, it seems, is that UKIP may infect voters with its madness and upset the normal business of sensible mainstream party politics. The public needs to be kept away from the lunacy of Farage for its own sanity.
Ironically, in his attack on UKIP, Ken Clarke argued that ‘they don’t know what they are for’. Perhaps if the Tories – and, indeed, Labour and the Lib Dems, too – possessed a stronger sense of what they are for, they would feel less threatened by the still-marginal UKIP. And perhaps then, rather than cheap smears, a genuine public, political debate could take place.
Patrick Hayes is a columnist for spiked.
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