Nigel Farage's party is trying to navigate a sexual harassment scandal. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

They may have “a long history of chauvinism”, but Ukip is not the only party failing women

With a harassment scandal rumbling on, and its leader's breastfeeding comments, it's been a bad week for Ukip. But it's not the only party failing women.

Ukip has not had a good week when it comes to women. Nigel Farage kicked things off by suggesting that mothers should think twice about breastfeeding in public, managing to offend a rather large proportion of the population even by his standards.

Now a parliamentary candidate has accused Roger Bird, the party’s general secretary, of sexual harassment.

There is no denying that both of these incidents, and especially their close timing, are embarrassing for Ukip. They suggest that the party does indeed have what has been termed a “woman problem” and raise questions about why any woman would actually vote for them.

But while these stories clearly do not cast Ukip in a positive light, the party will weather this storm. After all, Ukip is hardly the only party that fails women voters.

Nick Clegg, for a start, might have tackled Ukip on the issue of women’s rights during the 2014 European election campaign but his own party is hardly a beacon of progress in this domain.

Not only do the Lib Dems risk losing their entire (tiny) cohort of women MPs at the next election, but the Chris Rennard scandal is clear proof that the party has a problem all of its own when it comes to representing the interests of women. Rennard stood accused of a variety of acts of sexual harassment, for which he refused to apologise and for which his short suspension was soon lifted. The message to women is that the Lib Dems effectively condone sexual harassment.

Then there are the Conservatives. Anyone who thinks they have no issues when it comes to women should listen again to the patronising comments made by senior Tories – including the infamous “calm down dear” incident featuring none other than party leader David Cameron. If that’s not enough, take a look at the dearth of women in the cabinet and a budget that has seen 72 per cent of cuts come out of the pockets of women voters.

If women voters want to abandon Ukip, they will have to travel a long way across the political spectrum to find a party that has not recently offered public displays of sexism.

Nothing new here

And in fact, it seems unlikely that any woman already voting for Ukip would switch on the basis of these latest slip ups. Ukip has a long history of chauvinism. Farage’s comments about breastfeeding in public saw him suggesting women should avoid being “ostentatious” about it and arguing that they make people feel “very embarrassed” and “very uncomfortable” if they don’t.

This discomfort with one of the most natural acts in the world suggests a man, and a party, that is ill at ease with women. The allegations about Bird only served to reinforce this image of a party that does not know how to treat women correctly and respectfully.

The party has long been against maternity leave and pay, and Farage himself has claimed that women are “worth far less” to employers in the financial sector. Meanwhile, Godfrey Bloom, Ukip MEP from 2004 to 2014, claimed that “no self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age”. He later argued that small businesses should be allowed to sack pregnant women. If all this hasn’t been enough to turn off women voters before, these latest affronts are hardly going to be the final straw.

And it has worried less than most about appealing to women voters to maintain that credibility anyway. Women are already less likely than men to support Ukip. Research shows that, while the three mainstream parties all have a majority of women voters, Ukip’s electorate is 43 per cent women and 57 per cent men.

This is consistent with a widespread trend for radical right parties to have male-dominated support bases. The chauvinist discourses of the radical right are predominantly targeted at and appreciated by men. The women who do support parties such as Ukip tend to do so out of agreement with the party on other policy matters such as immigration.

Women who subscribe to radical right ideologies tend to hold traditional values and to reject feminism. As such, they are unlikely to abandon Ukip on the basis of some maladroit comments about breastfeeding or some as yet unconfirmed allegations of harassment.

Ukip has at least taken action over Bird, who has been suspended pending an investigation. This indicates that Ukip is taking a stronger line on sexism than it has in the past – perhaps out of a growing desire to be seen as a credible and electable party.

And that really is the only likely cost to the party after these incidents – the potential negative impact on its efforts to achieve mainstream respectability. The women who are left aghast by these stories are unlikely ever to have voted for Ukip in the first place.

For a party that found fame embracing nostalgia for the past, retrograde attitudes to women appear to be par for the course. The real disappointment here is that Ukip’s rivals are so poorly placed to offer a women-friendly alternative.

Rainbow Murray is a reader in politics at Queen Mary University of LondonThe Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Today's immigration figures show why the net migration target should be scrapped

We should measure different types of migration separately and set targets that reflect their true impact.

Today’s net migration figures show, once again, that the government has raised expectations of tackling migration and failed to deliver. This is a recipe for disaster. Today’s numbers run far in excess of 300,000 – three times over what was pledged. These figures don’t yet reflect the fallout from Brexit. But they do show the government needs to change from business as usual.

It has been the current strategy, after all, that led the British public to reject the European Union regardless of the economic risks. And in the process, it is leading the government to do things which err on the side of madness. Like kicking out international students with degrees in IT, engineering or as soon as they finish their degrees. Or doubling the threshold for investor visas, and in the process bringing down the number of people willing to come to Britain to set up business and create jobs by 82 per cent. Moreover, it has hampered the UK’s ability to step up during last year’s refugee crisis - last year Britain received 60 asylum applications per 1,000 people in contrast to Sweden’s 1,667, Germany’s 587 and an EU average of 260.

The EU referendum should mark the end for business as usual. The aim should be to transition to a system whose success is gauged not on the crude basis of whether overall migration comes down, irrespective of the repercussions, but on the basis of whether those who are coming are helping Britain achieve its strategic objectives. So if there is evidence that certain forms of migration are impacting on the wages of the low paid then it is perfectly legitimate for government to put in place controls. Conversely, where flows help build prosperity, then seeing greater numbers should surely be an option.

Approaching immigration policy in this way would go with the grain of public opinion. The evidence clearly tells us that the public holds diverse views on different types of migration. Very few people are concerned about investors coming from abroad to set up companies, create jobs and growth. Few are worried about students paying to study at British universities. On the other hand, low-skilled migration causes concerns of under-cutting among the low paid and pressure on public services in parts of the country that are already struggling.

The first step in a new approach to managing migration has to be to abolish the net migration target. Rather than looking at migration in the aggregate, the aim should be to measure different types of migration separately and set targets that reflect their true impact. In the first instance, this could be as simple as separating low and high skilled migration but in the long term it could involve looking at all different forms of migration. A more ambitious strategy would be to separate the different types of migration - not just those coming to work but also those arriving as refugees, to study or be reunited with their families.

Dividing different flows would not only create space for an immigration policy which was strategic. It would also enable a better national conversation, one which could take full account of the complex trade-offs involved in immigration policy: How do we attract talent to the UK without also letting conditions for British workers suffer? Should the right to a family life override concerns about poor integration? How do we avoiding choking off employers who struggle to recruit nationally? Ultimately, are we prepared to pay those costs?

Immigration is a tough issue for politicians. It involves huge trade-offs. But the net migration target obscures this fact. Separating out different types of immigration allows the government to sell the benefits of welcoming students, the highly skilled and those who wish to invest without having to tell those concerned about low skilled immigration that they are wrong.

Getting rid of the net migration target is politically possible but only if it is done alongside new and better targets for different areas of inward migration – particularly the low-skilled. If it is, then not only does it allow for better targeted policy that will help appease those most vocally against immigration, it also allows for a better national conversation. Now is the time for a new, honest and better approach to how we reduce immigration.

Phoebe Griffith is Associate Director for Migration, Integration and Communities at IPPR