Ukip leader Nigel Farage speaks to a journalist in Rochester, Kent on November 21, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Farage's exploitation of the Charlie Hebdo murders is a new low

The Ukip leader's attack on multiculturalism is a demonstration of his malign intent. 

With its assortment of racists, homophobes and all-purpose bigots, Ukip may have raised the shock threshold in British politics, but Nigel Farage's response to the Charlie Hebdo murders is still breathtaking in its cynicism. Rather than offering a simple expression of sympathy for the victims' families, and a defence of free speech, Farage could not resist grandstanding against multiculturalism. He told LBC:

What should have been done is we should have had a controlled immigration policy and made sure we did full checks on everybody who ever came to this country from anywhere – and that applies to everyone else. We in Britain, and I’ve seen some evidence of this in other countries too, have a really rather gross policy of multiculturalism. By that, what I mean is that we’ve encouraged people from other cultures to remain within those cultures and not integrate fully within our communities …

I don’t think anyone can pretend there is a quick fix to this. We have, I’m afraid, and mercifully it’s small, but we do have a fifth column within our countries.

In these circumstances, there is little more destructive than his casual equation of multiculturalism with terrorism (the irony being that France is one of the least multicultural countries in Europe), let alone his use of the knowingly toxic "fifth column". As scholars of Islamist extremism point out, jihadists (such as the 7/7 bombers) are often among the most notionally "integrated" citizens. 

Fortunately, and unlike on other occasions when Farage has offended basic decency, he has been swiftly condemned by all parties. David Cameron said: "With the appalling events in Paris still so fresh in people’s minds and with people still struggling for their lives who have been injured, I think today is not the day to make political remarks or political arguments. Today is the day to stand four square behind the French people after this appalling outrage and simply to say that we will do everything we can to help them hunt down and find the people who did this.

"The cause of this terrorism is the terrorists themselves. They must be found, they must be confronted, they must be punished."

Nick Clegg said: "I'm dismayed, really, that Nigel Farage immediately thinks, on the back of the bloody murders that we saw on the streets of Paris yesterday, that his first reflex is to seek to make political points.

"If this does come down to two individuals who have perverted the cause of Islam to their own bloody ends, let’s remember the greatest antidote to the perversion of that great world religion, Islam, are law-abiding British Muslims themselves. And to immediately somehow suggest that many, many British Muslims, who I know feel fervently British but also are very proud of their Muslim faith, are somehow part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, I think is firmly grabbing the wrong end of the stick."

Theresa May said: "I think it is irresponsible to talk about a fifth column. We should all be working across society to ensure that we deal with and eradicate extremism wherever it exists."

There are some, on left and right, who write of Farage as a welcome addition to the British political scene, a cheeky chappie taking on the establishment. But on the day that Ofcom has ruled (rightly) that Ukip is now a "major party", his exploitation of yesterday's murders is a reminder of his malign intent. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

When will the government take action to tackle the plight of circus animals?

Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world - and innocent animals are paying the price. 

It has been more than a year since the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to passing legislation to impose a ban on the suffering of circus animals in England and Wales. How long does it take to get something done in Parliament?

I was an MP for more than two decades, so that’s a rhetorical question. I’m well aware that important issues like this one can drag on, but the continued lack of action to help stop the suffering of animals in circuses is indefensible.

Although the vast majority of the British public doesn’t want wild animals used in circuses (a public consultation on the issue found that more than 94 per cent of the public wanted to see a ban implemented and the Prime Minister promised to prohibit the practice by January 2015, no government bill on this issue was introduced during the last parliament.

A private member’s bill, introduced in 2013, was repeatedly blocked in the House of Commons by three MPs, so it needs a government bill to be laid if we are to have any hope of seeing this practice banned.

This colossal waste of time shames Britain, while all around the world, governments have been taking decisive action to stop the abuse of wild animals in circuses. Just last month, Catalonia’s Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban it. While our own lawmakers dragged their feet, the Netherlands approved a ban that comes into effect later this year, as did Malta and Mexico. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, North America’s longest-running circus, has pledged to retire all the elephants it uses by 2018. Even in Iran, a country with precious few animal-welfare laws, 14 states have banned this archaic form of entertainment. Are we really lagging behind Iran?

The writing has long been on the wall. Only two English circuses are still clinging to this antiquated tradition of using wild animals, so implementing a ban would have very little bearing on businesses operating in England and Wales. But it would have a very positive impact on the animals still being exploited.

Every day that this legislation is delayed is another one of misery for the large wild animals, including tigers, being hauled around the country in circus wagons. Existing in cramped cages and denied everything that gives their lives meaning, animals become lethargic and depressed. Their spirits broken, many develop neurotic and abnormal behaviour, such as biting the bars of their cages and constantly pacing. It’s little wonder that such tormented creatures die far short of their natural life spans.

Watching a tiger jump through a fiery hoop may be entertaining to some, but we should all be aware of what it entails for the animal. UK laws require that animals be provided with a good quality of life, but the cruelty inherent in confining big, wild animals, who would roam miles in the wild, to small, cramped spaces and forcing them to engage in unnatural and confusing spectacles makes that impossible in circuses.

Those who agree with me can join PETA’s campaign to urge government to listen to the public and give such animals a chance to live as nature intended.


The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe was an MP for 23 years and served as Shadow Home Secretary. She is a novelist, documentary maker and newspaper columnist.