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

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Paul Nuttall is like his party: sad, desperate and finished

The party hope if they can survive until March 2019, they will grow strong off disillusionment with Brexit. They may not make it until then. 

It’s a measure of how far Ukip have fallen that while Theresa May faced a grilling over her social care U-Turn and Jeremy Corbyn was called to account over his past, the opening sections of Andrew Neill’s interview with Paul Nuttall was about the question of whether or not his party has a future.

The blunt truth is that Ukip faces a battering in this election. They will be blown away in the seats they have put up a candidate in and have pre-emptively retreated from numerous contests across the country.

A party whose leader in Wales once said that climate change was “ridiculous” is now the victim of climate change itself. With Britain heading out of the European Union and Theresa May in Downing Street, it’s difficult to work out what the pressing question in public life to which Ukip is the answer.

Their quest for relevance isn’t helped by Paul Nuttall, who at times tonight cast an unwittingly comic figure. Pressing his case for Ukip’s burka ban, he said earnestly: “For [CCTV] to work, you have to see people’s faces.” It was if he had intended to pick up Nigel Farage’s old dogwhistle and instead put a kazoo to his lips.

Remarks that are, written down, offensive, just carried a stench of desperation. Nuttall’s policy prescriptions – a noun, a verb, and the most rancid comment underneath a Mail article – came across as a cry for attention. Small wonder that senior figures in Ukip expect Nuttall to face a move on his position, though they also expect that he will see off any attempt to remove him from his crown.

But despite his poor performance, Ukip might not be dead yet. There was a gleam of strategy amid the froth from Nuttall in the party’s pledge to oppose any continuing payment to Brussels as part of the Brexit deal, something that May and Corbyn have yet to rule out.

If May does manage to make it back to Downing Street on 8 June, the gap between campaign rhetoric – we’ll have the best Brexit, France will pay for it – and government policy – we’ll pay a one-off bill and continuing contributions if need be – will be fertile territory for Ukip, if they can survive as a going concern politically and financially, until March 2019.

On tonight’s performance, they’ll need a better centre-forward than Paul Nuttall if they are to make it that far. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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