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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

UKIP’s new leader, Lord Pearson

UKIP, love them or hate them, have been fairly consistent in one thing over the years – arguing against the EU because it is run by unelected bureaucrats. Just one of their arguments, perhaps – but the democratic deficit claim (though certainly disputable) has long been one of their most popular and successful.

Now, however, on the same day that the new (unelected) European Commissioners have been unveiled, they have chosen as their new leader a man who has never been elected to any public office. In one move, they’ve lost the moral high ground. What’s more, they have often in the past attacked “EU elites” – and to good effect. But now they are being led by an Old Etonian peer of the realm with one of the plummiest accents I’ve ever heard – and I went to a rather snobby public school… You simply do not get a better symbol of “elitism” than an Old Etonian peer.

At the same time as being unelected, Pearson’s obsessions are rather out of kilter with a large chunk of what I had previously taken to be British eurosceptic concerns.

UKIP has long been accused by some of its critics of being a BNP-lite, or a middle-class version of the BNP. I’m not one of them – or, at least, I haven’t been until now. I see most British eurosceptics as being misguided, certainly – but (despite the occasional mockery) I generally respect their concerns about the nature of the EU (and even agree with some of them). I can see why people are worried about decisions being taken in Brussels rather than London, even while disagreeing about it being a problem. I also don’t believe that most eurosceptics are xenophobes, as they are so often accused of being by some.

But with Lord Pearson taking the leadership, I’m not so sure. He was, after all, the person who caused a brief scandal by inviting right-wing, anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders to the UK to show his polemical anti-Muslim film Fitna. (Which I’ve seen and thought was rubbish. Relatively offensive, for sure, but not enough to be worth banning.)

What’s more, Pearson’s obsession seems not so much to be the EU – as you’d surely expect from the leader of a party set up to oppose the EU and advocate British withdrawal – as to be immigration. Take a recent interview with the BBC, broadcast on The Politics Show on BBC1 last Sunday. Transcript:

Pearson: “Immigration is probably the biggest issue outside the south east of England, and the people have been treated incredibly badly by their political class.”

Interviewer: “So is there a danger that you could be confused – UKIP and the BNP?”

Pearson: “We’ve got to be very careful, erm, especially in this area of immigration, erm, that we cannot be confused with the.. the BNP – I… I accept that. There’s a fine line to be drawn here, erm… But I would also want to bring up…”

Interviewer: “I’m sorry, but are you saying that there’s a fine line between UKIP and the BNP?”

Pearson: “Well, I don’t actually know, erm, the intimate detail of… of the BNP policy. What we would be aiming for is zero net increase, erm, in immigration. So obviously we’re… we welcom asylum seekers, we welcome people of all colours and everything, and in that we’re completely different, erm… t-to the BNP. But we think the prospect of the population moving towards 70 million, erm… you know, within 20 years or so is very worrying. Sharia Law, erm… Islamic law is running in this country in fact, erm, in many areas, which is completely unacceptable if it becomes superior to British law.”

Hardly anything there that doesn’t sound like a paraphrase of the BNP. A point that’s made even clearer by Pearson’s acceptance speech:

Please note again his obsessions:

“Of course we will be majoring on leaving the European Union – we can’t control our borders without that, we can’t control immigration… And we must get around the stranglehold of the political class.”

“The political class” is a favourite phrase of a certain other anti-immigration party leader

In that clip of Pearson’s acceptance speech – uploaded to YouTube by UKIP itself, so surely what the party want the public to see – Pearson spends little more than 15 seconds discussing the EU. The rest is given over to immigration.

So, is UKIP no longer an anti-EU party, but an anti-immigration party? And if it’s both, then what’s the major emphasis – the EU or immigration? And what exactly *is* the “fine line” between UKIP and the BNP?

More importantly, who do British eurosceptics who are opposed to the EU but dislike such hardline anti-immigration rhetoric supposed to turn to now? There are innumerable reasons to oppose the EU that have nothing to do with immigration – yet Pearson seems determined to make this the party’s primary concern. In the process, he is confirming everything nasty that has ever been said about British eurosceptics. And, what’s more, he may well be about to split the party in two. Again. Witness fellow UKIP leadership candidate, Cllr Alan Wood (transcript from BBC Politics Show last Sunday):

Interviewer: “Do you respect Lord Pearson?”

Wood: “No I don’t. I think he’s totally off the wall with his remarks about Muslims and Sharia Law, and for that I can’t respect him”

Inteviewer: “Are you saying that if he’s elected people will think that you’re too close to the BNP?”

Wood: “Yes, yes. People already think we are the BNP. Erm… It’s tragic. It’s tragic that we’ve been painted into this corner.”

Interviewer: “And so if he’s elected, you’re leaving, you’re off?”

Wood: “I cannot stay with Lord Pearson, with those views, and I don’t think he’s the right man.”

Wood will not be alone in this. Members of my family have been known to vote UKIP – some of them as recently as last summer. None of them will approve of the party shifting towards an anti-immigration position – certainly not if that becomes the party’s primary focus, as Pearson seems determined to make it.

There is a place – indeed a need – for a strong, anti-EU voice in British politics. Poll after poll shows the public’s concern on this issue. UKIP – especially after the fall-out from Cameron’s decision about a Lisbon Treaty referendum – was the obvious choice to be that voice. By picking Lord Pearson as leader, I’m afraid that British eurosceptics are being very poorly served by the party. This is bad not just for eurosceptics, but for politics as a whole.

17 Comments

  1. Nosemonkey,

    Despite your ‘liberal’ arguments about some leaving an anti-immigration UKIP, is it not probable that Lord Pearson is trying to give the party a firm second leg to stand on; one that resonates with fairly wide segments of voters, especially working class, and one which resonates ahead of a general election, where the EU is a minor concern; and when UKIP can calmly continue to decry all the major parties of “deception”?

  2. No doubt the BNP will be claiming this is an MI5 plot to steal their votes.

  3. “Political class” certainly seems to be his favourite term, if the video above is representative.

  4. Well there is a political class, as the vast majority of people have little interest in politics. How many at Westminster have done prper jobs ?
    Jobs that aren`t Lawyers, political researchers or PR men ?
    I saw the tail end of the Sundays BBC interview of all UKIP candidates. It was edited. So we only got the question about serving under Lord Perason and his immigration views.
    Why has anyone who has a view about immigration and population control here accused of being a whisker away from the BNP ? If the idea that you should control your borders and know who to let in and who to keep out is racist then that makes every country in the world racist.
    As for that Dutch MEP and his video, if it is so mild why did the government ban him and why lambast Lord Pearson for inviting him here ?

  5. Incidentally, Lord Pearson is elected, by his party members. To be head of that party . Baroness Cathy and President Tweety have not been elected .
    Who would you say holds most power ?

  6. Nosemonkey,

    The Swiss anti-minaret referendum vote is in. Is the potential for anti-immigration and anti-Islam much smaller in the UK?

  7. Ralph Grahn,

    I saw a BBC take on this . They said the Swiss want Muslims to pray in secret.
    Not so. Mosques are allowed. Minarets that are already built are allowed .Muslims can celebrate their religous customs without secrecy.
    Why are you asking about a “potential” anti-immigration and anti Muslim in the UK ?

  8. Hi, Robin

    There are only four minarets in Switzerland. It’s nice of them to allow them to stay.

  9. Hi Joe,

    Only four in China would be small . Four in a village would be over the top.
    I`m not sure of the makeup and how long there has been a Muslim community in Switzerland, which unlike Britian has no historical connections or obligations to a Muslim area , but they do seem tolerant .
    Despite what the BBC says, Muslims are allowed to practise their religion openly, and new mosques will be built.
    Let`s remember that Muslims are even closer to the Jesus saying of “where three gather in my name ” than Christians .

  10. Sorry, Robin – but can you point me to a *single* article or report from the BBC where they claim that Muslims have been banned from practicing their religion in Switzerland, or that the minaret ban means a ban on mosques?

  11. Nosemonkey,

    The main news (TV)on the day it was passed.
    Possibly other times as well .

  12. Are you *sure*, Robin? Are you sure that you didn’t simply completely misinterpret what they were saying?

  13. Nosemonkey,

    You`re good with computers. Can you diddle it up and post it, U Tube like on your blog ?
    Then you`ll see how they misinterpreted the subject deliberately because, well, the BBC, that`s what it does.

  14. Robin, the internet isn’t magic – it can’t even tell me which television or radio station you are referring to, let alone which particular report, unless you can be more precise.

    I have, however, used the power of Google to uncover over 4,000 articles on the BBC News website mentioning “minaret”, “ban” and “Switzerland”. Some are alternative edits of the same articles and some are from several years ago, hence the ridiculous number.

    I’ve been through the first 20 of them. Not a single one even *implies* that Muslims are somehow suppressed in Switzerland, or that the minaret ban is a ban on mosques.

    Do BBC presenters and reporters occasionally editorialise and put their own spin on the news? Yes. Do they tell outright falsehoods? Very, very rarely, and even then not knowingly – and never a falsehood as obvious as claiming that a vote about minarets is actually about banning mosques and suppressing Islam.

    Because, you see, if you make a false claim, someone’s going to call you on it.

  15. Nosemonkey,

    You`ve called me and I want to show my cards.No false claim from me.
    The TV news on the day had a piece that IMPLIED that the Swiss wanted Muslims to only practise their religion in secret. I remember ,just, that there was a shot of a person praying in an adapted house.Then there was the continuity announcer saying that the Swiss only wanted Muslims to keep their faith in secret.Which is a travesty of the truth.
    Muslims pray in any area, and will adapt any building into a mosque, as you can see in London.
    Thus the BBC relied on ignorance to pursue its own agenda, whatever that is.
    NOw show your cards and put your hand on your heart and declare that the BBC would not lie,misinterpret, edit, skew ,omit, show more gravitas to their own prejudices, demean those they have no sympathy with or make outright falsehoods.

  16. Robin, Your analogy is weird, but obviously Lord Pearson has much more power over UKIP than Ashton or van Rompuy have over the EU.

  17. Insideur,

    Nosemonkey made the analogy .

    Lord Pearson was ELECTED to lead UKIP.
    You can have a say in UKIPs policies and leaders.

    You can have absolutely dictatorial powers over your local stamp collectors club, but you would still not affect everyones lives in the EU and beyond,unlike the functionaries of the EU .