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.