The Rochester and Strood by-election has been extraordinary in many ways. It has been exciting in ways that no-one could really have imagined 4 weeks ago. It is also really quite disturbing.
We all know that UKIP have made immigration their big deal. Pint and fag in hand Farage droning on about how ‘they’re comin’ over ‘ere takin all our jobs’, at first it was even slightly amusing and then, presumably, the money men got involved. They could see that despite his city credentials and stockbroker past, this likeable buffoon (although I think Frankie Boyle put it rather better in his recent tweet) could be sold as a man of the people.
So off the PR companies trotted, no doubt a fat cheque in hand, to hone and polish the concept – who’d a thought it, Farage – a man of the people. So if a beer in one hand and a fag in the other can sell a former Tory stockbroker as ‘a nice bloke’, the sort of chap you could have a good chin-wag with down the local, then imagine if he had the same sort of deep prejudices that many secretly harbour but hold in check not wanting to be caught chanting ‘I’m not racist but….’ then you’d really be able to tap into the resentment pool.
So, with the concept honed time to start winding up the immigration clock. First, attack Europe – initially sound and reasonable arguments about lack of accountability and a dark shadow of undemocratic force infiltrating the EU. Exposure of the Bilderberg group and other ‘think tanks’ trying to undermine democracy further. All good points but no one’s that interested because we’re all getting used to the IMF induced austerity and we all know it was the banks that brought us to the bring of disaster (for many it was total disaster).
But with the passage of a little time the money men behind UKIP were getting fed up with taking all the flack for causing the financial crisis, perhaps they could find a use for their ‘man of the people’ and with a bit more cash get him to play on many people’s natural prejudices by, at first blaming Europe for allowing too many people to come into the country and putting pressure on services. Then, because unemployment is still high (after the financial crash – you haven’t forgotten already surely) this can be blamed on immigrants. After all, who doesn’t know someone that’s out of work, generally through no fault of their own but because the area they’ve previously worked in is known to employ someone from the EU, can be called on as a ‘witness’ to the theft of jobs – by outsiders. Of course we’ve been used to the Poles coming to the UK for many years and being successful mainly because they were genuinely good at what they did. But they’ve been a difficult target for UKIP because after all they were important allies in WW2 and their numbers have declined. But we need an enemy Nige.
Then Eastern Europe happened, they joined and UKIP had their enemy. Unlike the poles we didn’t really know much about Eastern Europeans and because of this Farage had an edge. Not only did they look a bit different so you could spot them physically but he could allude to other prejudices that they were from very poor backgrounds, no doubt poorly educated. Millions of them dazzled by the bright lights of blighty and on the march.
As austerity continued to bit the working man especially was looking for answers to why work was still not certain and in many cases still not available. They could see others working and were asking why not me. So in come UKIP to point out that immigrants are too numerous, immigrants are doing jobs that should be done by British workers. Then they realise that because immigrants are human they need to live somewhere and they get sick sometimes and need help and then, here’s the big one – some lose their jobs and find themselves in need of support from, and how very dare they, us.
Roll on to the present day and 2 quite visible Tory candidates decide to stage an enormous immigration is the cause of all our troubles show. They defect from the Conservatives to UKIP – shock horror, do we care – well not really, at first it’s just a bit of a big girl’s blouse fight between city toffs. But then starting with Clacton we suddenly realise that the immigration debate is all the press want to talk about – it’s the issue, the only issue (actually no it’s not – but I digress). With the tide of the UK media sweeping them along UKIP can start to get deep down personal about immigrants and the people love it – there’s an enemy in their midst that they can identify and point at and say it’s you – your the reason I’m not working, your the reason I’m waiting to see the doctor, your the reason for everything that’s wrong in this country today.
When people have identified an enemy they initially warm to their saviour, the one that warned them all along. The one that warned them a million eastern europeans will be descending on our green and pleasant land, stealing our women no doubt and miraculously working here for less than us despite having to pay the same rent/mortgage costs, the same food costs, same transport costs and still send money home – oh no hang on that bit doesn’t add up (better not mention that bit Nige).
So now we have identified the enemy we can demonise, we can start to dig up past prejudices from dark chapters of human history and now we can start to develop a concept not really seen since 1930s Berlin – hate.
By the time Carswell won the Clacton by-election the concept of hate had been established and now off to Rochester and Strood for the next by-election due to Mark Reckless’s decision to defect. The media swooped down onto the banks of the Medway with only one thing on their mind – immigrants. Soon the papers were full of ‘witnesses’ to job losses caused by immigrants. Hospital wards overflowing with – immigrants, staffed by immigrants (oh no wait we need them or there’ll be no agency staff to keep the hospital going – leave them out of it).
But the infection has taken hold – you can feel it. Hate. You expect the odd far right party to show up and whip up a frenzy of hate – at least they would if the people of Rochester and Strood hadn’t barred their way and sent them packing.
But real hatred, surely not – we haven’t seen that since… can we say it, Nazi Germany. 1930s Berlin especially became the model for first establishing the enemy within, once identified you can blame. As soon as blame is definite then you can start to hate. When you hate you can do anything to that enemy. This is what I think of when I imagine 1930s Berlin, as Hitler is swept to power as ‘the man of the people’. The man that identified the cause of a nation’s problems and identified the enemy. Now with hate, real hate you can route out the enemy, literally cast them out – make them 2nd class citizens and eventually with a little more hate – sub-human. Once you’ve reduced them to sub-human then they’re little better than cattle and what happens next doesn’t bear thinking about.
Have I gone too far, this is Rochester and Strood an hours drive from central London – there can’t be hate here surely. Sadly, there can and is. Sure most UKIP supporters you meet are still polite, even if they think somehow UKIP are the party to stand up to government but others sound like football hooligans, their particular brand of hatred normally associated only with fringe right wing extremists but here they’re attaching themselves to UKIP, a so called mainstream party. Witnesses at recent UKIP meetings have described it as having an atmosphere of a right wing rally from a by-gone era. The hooligan and the ‘I’m not racist but…’ types mixing with the curious and the more intelligent immigration debaters.
The fact is this is out of control. Not just for the people of Rochester and Strood but for UKIP and certainly for Mark Reckless, constantly trying to distance himself from the hate types but unable to shake them off. It’s Rochester and Strood but not as you knew it – the backdrop is now painted as 1930s Berlin.
There now can be no serious discussion about immigration until the hate has been destroyed but make no mistake, the blame for this lies squarely with UKIP and especially with Carswell and Reckless cynical by-election calls timed to perfection for them and a blast from the past for the rest of us.