Ukip trades in the language of fear and division; it seeks power in order to reject responsibility. Photo: Getty
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Ukip trades in the language of fear and division. The left must not humour its anti-politics crusade

One day Nigel Farage will occupy the same position in our cultural memory as Chris Eubank. But until then, the left must stand up to Ukip.

There was a time when it was difficult to avoid Chris Eubank. The champion boxer would turn up on chat shows wearing one of his dapper “Countryside Alliance meets Rupert the Bear” three-piece suits, twiddling his cane ruminatively and talking at length about the terrible burden of being able to beat the living shit out of people. Through those long years of listening to Chris Eubank, it was difficult to imagine a time when it would no longer be necessary to listen to Chris Eubank; or that the exquisite sensitivity of Chris Eubank could ever cease to be a subject of media fascination. But gradually, and without anyone really noticing, that time did come. And now you never really hear about Chris Eubank at all.

In my more optimistic moments, I feel sure that Nigel Farage will one day occupy the same position in our cultural memory. “Oh, that guy,” we’ll say, suppressing a shudder and reaching for a drink. “Yeah, he was . . . they were . . . that was a weird time.” Or maybe we won’t be allowed to forget him. Even if the results of the European elections mark the peak of Farage’s success, we’ll never be rid of him. They’ll wheel him out as some kind of Elder Statesman, won’t they? Every time there’s a riot he’ll turn up in the news studios, like a geriatric Popeye, wheezing and burping through all the old routines about Europe and immigration, Europe and immigration, Europe and immigration, as the young presenter nods professionally and wonders what the hell Britain thought it was playing at in May 2014.

A question many of us have been troub­ling ourselves with over the past few weeks is: “Exactly what is the correct way to despise Ukip?” Is it just a bunch of bitter old men pining for a Britain that never existed? Or is it a dangerous force of reaction, poisoning the debate about immigration and the EU with parochial anti-politics and straightforward xenophobia? Jokers or jingoists? Fools or fascists? And shouldn’t we be engaging with their policies instead of just calling them names?

There’s a picture doing the rounds on social media which I think shows up these false distinctions nicely. Maybe you’ve seen it: some godforsaken Ukip headquarters with a frayed Union flag and an A4 printout saying: “If your not Ukip Your not BRITISH”. Oh, how we laughed – Ha ha they can’t even spell! But the style is indivisible from the content. The first is a schoolboy error; the second is a schoolboy sharpening a stick at both ends. Can you imagine a Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem or Green supporter committing to paper the idea that to favour any other party disqualifies you from being British? I can’t. Missing out an apostrophe or two does not make you an idiot. But equating party allegiance with nationhood certainly makes you a thug. And thugs don’t often notice that they’re thugs, usually because they’re also idiots.

Let’s also consider the recent comments by Gordon Ferguson, a Ukip candidate in Southport, Lancashire: “The Lib-Lab-Cons have conspired with a foreign power, the EU, and are all thereby guilty of treason. They have sold Britain, which is the fifth largest economy, illegally into increasing slavery inside the EU dictatorship. Those responsible should be hung by the neck until dead.” He also throws in a thrilling reference to the Freemasons. A nation sold down the river, foreign powers, scapegoats and conspiracy theories . . . Is any of this starting to sound familiar? I ask only because, if I’m going to be accused of name-calling, I’m very keen to get the name exactly right.

Is this fascism? It’s hard to tell, because fascism begins as your friend. It says: “I feel your pain. You are not responsible; those responsible are the political establishment, who’ve allowed the foreigners among us to flourish. The foreigners are doing your job because the decadent elite are all the same and only out for themselves. Only we understand. Only we can defend our country from the corrupt politicians and parasites among us.” Europe and immigration, Europe and immigration, Europe and immigration . . .

Fools or fascists? Ukippers are the kinds of fools who haven’t noticed they’re sleep-walking towards fascism. Many Ukip candidates are of the age when their parents fought in the Second World War. They don’t recognise what they see in their own party literature because they’ve learned not to look too closely. Their business is anti-politics, something they share with those on the left who join in with the chorus: “They’re all the same – they’re just in it for themselves.”

Ukip trades in the language of fear and division; it seeks power in order to reject responsibility. Putting a cross next to a box for Ukip is a pastime for people who like elections but don’t much care for democracy. If you vote Ukip, you’ve been had. And if you don’t vote at all – by all means complain about the consequences but don’t be surprised if no one listens. “What would sir like to eat?” “I’ll just have what everyone else is having.” “What if sir doesn’t like it?” “Well, at least that won’t be my fault.”

Labour’s more radical ideas are beginning to inspire genuine enthusiasm. Only concrete progressive, redistributive policies, advocated clearly and with passion, criticised fiercely and with intelligence by the other parties, can fill the void that the anti-politics brigade has occupied for too long. The arguments ahead should be conducted with whatever civility we’ve got left in us. But that, I’m afraid, is more than Ukip ever deserved. Their beast has been fed, for now. But these elections will be remembered for when the arguments couldn’t be heard at all, drowned out as they were by the sound of too many of us swarming like flies around the head of a pig on a stick.

Robert Webb is appearing in “Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense” at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London WC2. For details, visit:

Robert Webb is a comedian, actor and writer. Alongside David Mitchell, he is one half of the double act Mitchell and Webb, best known for award-winning sitcom Peep Show.

This article first appeared in the 21 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Peak Ukip

Photo: Getty Images
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The Conservatives have failed on home ownership. Here's how Labour can do better

Far from helping first-time buyers, the government is robbing Peter to pay Paul

Making it easier for people to own their own first home is something to be celebrated. Most families would love to have the financial stability and permanency of home ownership. But the plans announced today to build 200,000 ‘starter homes’ are too little, too late.

The dire housing situation of our Greater London constituency of Mitcham & Morden is an indicator of the crisis across the country. In our area, house prices have increased by a staggering 42 per cent over the last three years alone, while the cost of private rent has increased by 22 per cent. Meanwhile, over 8200 residents are on the housing register, families on low incomes bidding for the small number of affordable housing in the area. In sum, these issues are making our area increasingly unaffordable for buyers, private renters and those in need of social and council housing.

But under these new plans, which sweep away planning rules that require property developers to build affordable homes for rent in order to increase the building homes for first-time buyers, a game of political smoke and mirrors is being conducted. Both renters and first-time buyers are desperately in need of government help, and a policy that pits the two against one another is robbing Peter to pay Paul. We need homes both to rent and to buy.

The fact is, removing the compulsion to provide properties for affordable rent will be disastrous for the many who cannot afford to buy. Presently, over half of the UK’s affordable homes are now built as part of private sector housing developments. Now this is going to be rolled back, and local government funds are increasingly being cut while housing associations are losing incentives to build, we have to ask ourselves, who will build the affordable properties we need to rent?

On top of this, these new houses are anything but ‘affordable’. The starter homes would be sold at a discount of 20 per cent, which is not insignificant. However, the policy is a non-starter for families on typical wages across most of the country, not just in London where the situation is even worse. Analysis by Shelter has demonstrated that families working for average local earnings will be priced out of these ‘affordable’ properties in 58 per cent of local authorities by 2020. On top of this, families earning George Osborne’s new ‘National Living Wage’ will still be priced out of 98 per cent of the country.

So who is this scheme for? Clearly not typical earners. A couple in London will need to earn £76,957 in London and £50,266 in the rest of the country to benefit from this new policy, indicating that ‘starter homes’ are for the benefit of wealthy, young professionals only.

Meanwhile, the home-owning prospects of working families on middle and low incomes will be squeezed further as the ‘Starter Homes’ discounts are funded by eliminating the affordable housing obligations of private property developers, who are presently generating homes for social housing tenants and shared ownership. These more affordable rental properties will now be replaced in essence with properties that most people will never be able to afford. It is great to help high earners own their own first homes, but it is not acceptable to do so at the expense of the prospects of middle and low earners.

We desperately want to see more first-time home owners, so that working people can work towards something solid and as financially stable as possible, rather than being at the mercy of private landlords.

But this policy should be a welcome addition to the existing range of affordable housing, rather than seeking to replace them.

As the New Statesman has already noted, the announcement is bad policy, but great politics for the Conservatives. Cameron sounds as if he is radically redressing housing crisis, while actually only really making the crisis better for high earners and large property developers who will ultimately be making a larger profit.

The Conservatives are also redefining what the priorities of “affordable housing” are, for obviously political reasons, as they are convinced that homeowners are more likely to vote for them - and that renters are not. In total, we believe this is indicative of crude political manoeuvring, meaning ordinary, working people lose out, again and again.

Labour needs to be careful in its criticism of the plans. We must absolutely fight the flawed logic of a policy that strengthens the situation of those lucky enough to already have the upper hand, at the literal expense of everyone else. But we need to do so while demonstrating that we understand and intrinsically share the universal aspiration of home security and permanency.

We need to fight for our own alternative that will broaden housing aspirations, rather than limit them, and demonstrate in Labour councils nationwide how we will fight for them. We can do this by fighting for shared ownership, ‘flexi-rent’ products, and rent-to-buy models that will make home ownership a reality for people on average incomes, alongside those earning most.

For instance, Merton council have worked in partnership with the Y:Cube development, which has just completed thirty-six factory-built, pre-fabricated, affordable apartments. The development was relatively low cost, constructed off-site, and the apartments are rented out at 65 per cent of the area’s market rent, while also being compact and energy efficient, with low maintenance costs for the tenant. Excellent developments like this also offer a real social investment for investors, while providing a solid return too: in short, profitability with a strong social conscience, fulfilling the housing needs of young renters.

First-time ownership is rapidly becoming a luxury that fewer and fewer of us will ever afford. But all hard-working people deserve a shot at it, something that the new Conservative government struggle to understand.