Whatever Godfrey Bloom's fate, Ukip is still giving me sleepless nights

Maybe Ukip are a one-man band and a one-trick pony, but Nigel Farage is a reckless man with a very dangerous trick.

This was the week when Nigel Farage was going to prove to everyone that Ukip is neither a one-man band nor a one-trick pony. He succeeded in achieving the precise opposite. The delegates unleashed on Westminster’s Central Hall appeared less like a coherent political party and more like the cast of Are You Being Served on a reunion tour. Perhaps inevitably, events unfolded – or unravelled, to be more accurate – at pace and with hilarity. At times it felt like one was watching the entire boxed set of The Thick of It on fast forward.

It all kicked off with a Channel 4 exposé the evening before the conference. Michael Crick uncovered evidence of a rather heated teachers’ meeting, during Farage’s Dulwich College days, assessing his suitability as a prefect, complete with a letter of objection describing him as someone who publicly professed views which were "racist and neo-fascist". Farage’s defence seems to boil down to: 'Ah! Youth.'

By the beginning of the conference proper, a heavily made-up Farage, sweating under the lights – an apt metaphor for his "everyman" image melting under closer public scrutiny – made a keynote speech which even the Daily Mail described as "flat and managerial". Meanwhile, Ukip MEP and senior spokesman Godfrey Bloom was busy at a fringe meeting describing women who do not clean behind the fridge as "sluts".

Questioned about it outside the hall, Bloom said he was only joking and called the reporter a "sad little man". His aide tried to suggest that Bloom had used the term in its more antiquated meaning of "slovenly". The two versions of events are, of course, mutually exclusive; if the word was used without its double entendre connotations, there is no joke. Challenged by Michael Crick over the lack of any black faces among the dozens which adorned the front of Ukip’s conference brochure, Bloom proceeded to smack him over the head, with said brochure.

Cue Nigel Farage trotting out the usual excuses about Godfrey being a colourful character. LOLZ. As if this were not an MEP and the party’s defence spokesman – their defence spokesman, for pity’s sake – but a hapless Carmen Miranda impersonator who wandered into the hall by accident. Cue Diane James explaining that, yes, the party may attract some controversial characters, but the thorough vetting process meant only the best made it to their European election candidate list; she conveniently glossed over the fact that Bloom was one who had made it through this vetting process. What were the controversial characters who didn’t make it like?

As it became clear that the usual flannel would not fly, Bloom had the party whip withdrawn. Irritated, he continued to give interviews. They included one explaining that if journalists showed "impertinence", they could expect much worse than Crick and one in which he asked the BBC’s Allegra Stratton "has your mother never called you a slut?", then proceeded to tell her she had no sense of humour.

As was, perhaps, foreshadowed by the fact that Ukip shared Central Hall during their conference with a Carry On Memorabilia Convention, the comedy gold continued to flow the next day. A personal highlight was the anti-immigration speech, by first generation immigrant Amjad Bashir, which opened with "I wasn't born in Yorkshire, but I came as soon as I could". By the end of the two-day fiasco, "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists" seemed like a rather charitable assessment.

Now the laughter has died down, however, it is time to assess seriously the politics of the Ukip "phenomenon". I am not comforted by the fact Ukip has finally withdrawn their whip from Godfrey Bloom. Instead, I note that he is the fifth MEP out of their 13 elected to have the whip withdrawn. Instead, I worry about the fact that he was the best they could muster after their thorough vetting process. Instead, I question why the whip was not withdrawn when he addressed the European Parliament while drunk, or when he said employers would have to be mad to employ single, young women, or when he referred to the whole of the developing world as “bongo bongo land”.

I am not really concerned about Nigel Farage’s reported racist comments in 1981. I am concerned about his outrageous 2005 manifesto pledge to check any incoming migrants for communicable diseases. His alleged youthful neo-fascist views give me little pause for thought. His current association with neo-fascist parties at the European level gives me sleepless nights.

Before the conference Farage mused that they have no real ambition to form a government, but that – who knows? – maybe in 2015 they will find themselves holding "the balance of power”. In this age of coalitions, how many Godfrey Blooms lurk in Farage’s shadow, ready to assume ministerial posts? Maybe Ukip are a one-man band and a one-trick pony, but he is a reckless man with a very dangerous trick.

Nigel Farage waves after addressing delegates at the UK Independence Party conference in Westminster on 20 September. Photograph: Getty Images.

Greek-born, Alex Andreou has a background in law and economics. He runs the Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company and blogs here You can find him on twitter @sturdyalex

Getty
Show Hide image

Labour trying to outdo Ukip on border control is the sure path to defeat

Only Diane Abbott has come out fighting for free movement. 

There is no point trying to deny it. Paul Nuttall’s election as Ukip leader is dangerous for Labour. Yes, Nuttall may not be a credible voice for working-class people – he ran as a Tory councillor in 2002 and has said that “the very existence of the NHS stifles competition”. Yes, he may be leader of a party which has (for now) haemorrhaged donors and supporters. But what Nuttall’s election represents is the coming of age for a form of right-wing populism which is pointed directly at Labour’s base. Along with the likes of Ukip's major donor Arron Banks, Nuttall will open up a second front against Labour – focused on blaming migrants for falling wages and crumbling services.

In the face of this danger, and the burning need to create a narrative of its own about the neglect of the communities it represents, Labour’s main response has been confusion. Barely a week has gone by without a major Labour figure repeating the touchstone myths on which Ukip has built its working class roots. Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Emily Thornberry openly backed the idea that migration has dragged down wages. “Do I think that at the moment too many people come into this country? Yes I do”, she said.

Another response has been to look for policies that transcend the debate altogether, while giving a nod to the perceived “concerns” that voters harbour about immigration. When Clive Lewis spoke to the Guardian some weeks ago, he also repeated the idea that free movement “hasn’t worked for many of the people in this country, where they’ve been undercut” and coupled this with compulsory trade union membership for those coming to Britain to work – a closed shop for migrant workers.

It is unsurprising that MPs on the right of the party – many of whom had much to say about the benefits of migration during the EU referendum – have retreated into support for immigration controls. This kind of triangulation and retreat – the opposite of the insurgent leftwing populism that Labour needs to win elections – is the hallmark of Labour’s establishment politics. Those who want to stand and fight on the issue should be concerned that, for now, only Diane Abbott has come out fighting for continued free movement.

At the moment, Labour is chasing the narrative on immigration – and that has to stop. The process that is shifting the debate on migration is Brexit, the British franchise of a global nationalist resurgence that is sweeping the far right to power across the western world. Attempt to negotiate a compromise on migration in the face of that wave, or try to claim it as an “opportunity”, and there is simply no limit to how far Labour will be pushed. What is needed is an ideological counter-attack, which tells a different story about why living standards have deteriorated and offers real solutions.

The reason why wages have stagnated and in recent decades is not immigration. Among the very few studies which find that migration has caused a fall in wages, most conclude that the fall is marginal. The Bank of England’s study, cited by Boris Johnson in the heat of the EU referendum campaign, put the average figure at 0.3 per cent for every ten percentage point rise in migrants in a given sector of work. That rises to 1.8 per cent in some areas.

Median earnings fell by 10.4 per cent between 2007 and 2015, and by 2021 are forecast to be lower in real terms than they were in 2008. For many communities, that fall in wages comes on top of the destruction of industry; the defeat of the trade union movement; the fire sale of Britain’s social housing stock; and years of gruelling Tory austerity. Nuttall’s Ukip will argue that economic and social insecurity are the result of uncontrolled immigration. To give an inch to that claim is to abandon reality.

Labour cannot win against Ukip by playing around with new and innovative border controls – it has to put forward a vision for a radically different kind of society. Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is closer than it ever has been to the kind of radical social and economic platform that it will need to regain power - £500bn of investment, building a million new homes a year, raising minimum wage and reinstating proper collective bargaining and trade union rights. What it needs now is clarity – a message about who to blame and what to do, which can cut through the dust kicked up by the Brexit vote.