I blame Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Ever since this 19th Century French anarchist proclaimed ‘property is theft’, progressives have had a penchant for changing the meaning of words. Radical assertions are easily constructed by taking two different words, and asserting they mean the same thing. The trick has been played many times. A perfectly respectable X is equated to a heinous Y. By bonding them, a powerful new slogan is born. The formula of X=Y admonishes everyone who dares to defend X. They are backed into corner, turned into apologists for Y. And some genuine apologists for Y will seek to legitimize themselves by embracing the equation, thus cementing its credibility.
These semantic substitutions leave us with a poorer language. People are confused, and less able to communicate with each another. The damage is real. Some people genuinely believe that sex = rape, that a welfare cut = a tax, and that a welfare payment = a tax credit. Regarding the first of these equations, we should be fair to Andrea Dworkin by noting she actually wrote that “violation is a synonym for intercourse”, and later argued that not all sex is rape. From this sequence, I conclude Dworkin simply did not mean what she wrote. Dworkin failed to appreciate that the word ‘synonym’ is commutative, and so “violation is a synonym for intercourse” must mean the same thing as “intercourse is a synonym for violation”, which is essentially the same as saying “sex is rape”. However, we should be less tolerant of the propagandists who devised the other examples of linguistic legerdemain. Whatever our political opinions, reducing a payment is not the same as levying a tax, and reducing a tax is not the same as increasing a payment. Messing up these distinctions just makes it harder for democracies to debate and decide who pays what taxes to government, and who receives what government payments. Sadly, the British left are now so enthralled by terminological tactics that some of them went a step too far during the campaign for the European elections. They took one party on the political right, the UK Independence Party, and repeatedly proclaimed that UKIP = racist. Here are just some of very many examples:
#WhyImVotingUkip my black pen stopped working in my exam so I'm certain it's out to fail my exams
— louis anderson (@louisanderson40) May 25, 2014
#WhyImVotingUkip Being mixed race, I'm intrigued which half of me will be thrown out.
— Rohan Sivajoti (@FE_Rohan) May 22, 2014
— Rob Dicken (@1970RobD) May 22, 2014
The semi-comical takeover of the #WhyImVotingUkip hashtag could be blamed on the blipvert tendencies of social media. In place of reasoned argument, we get 140 characters, designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, with the hope of going viral. But what happened on Twitter was just an echo of a more extensive effort to discredit UKIP supporters as racists. This ranged from defacing UKIP posters by giving leader Nigel Farage a Hitler-style moustache, through considered articles about racism written by politicians from mainstream parties, to Green Party campaigners seeking to ‘peacefully’ provoke UKIP opponents by calling them bigots. In summary, a section of the British public are obsessed with labelling UKIP as racist, even though UKIP steadfastly insists it is not.
The desire to prove UKIP’s racism has grown as UKIP has become more popular. This is no coincidence. As Gandhi pointed out: “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” UKIP was ignored for a long time. When they finished third in the 2004 European elections, they were much harder to ignore. When UKIP finished second in the 2009 European elections, they became impossible to ignore. During the 2014 campaign, UKIP’s opponents appeared to be in transition. They were no longer sure whether to laugh at UKIP’s supporters, or to fight them. But if they fight too dirty – by trying to shame voters with false accusations of racism – they might find their tactics are counterproductive. Crying wolf is a tactic that only works well once.
It is the least popular left-wing groups who fight most viciously: the supporters of the Greens, the People’s Assembly, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, and all the other fringe neo-communist movements. A simple vote count shows that their enmity is driven by envy. When film director Ken Loach established yet another alternative party, the ironically-titled Left Unity, he showed his admiration for UKIP’s success: “what UKIP has done for the Right, we need for the Left!” But the major problem with any popular movement that represents the will of the people is that it will not get very far by repeatedly insulting the beliefs of lots of people. And for all the furore about UKIP’s supposed racism, they are not advocating the kinds of policies traditionally associated with racism or fascism. This is why it is odd that UKIP voters are being characterized as prejudiced against blacks, keen on the deportation of certain racial groups, and so on.
To the extent that UKIP’s policies might be defined as racist, this all hinges on the fact that exit from the European Union would allow the UK government to exert more control over immigration. It may come as a shock to some people, but when it comes to exerting control over immigration, European Union countries are very unusual. Other countries have policies that limit and define who is allowed to immigrate. Only EU countries adopt a policy which says that literally half a billion foreigners could move to their country, whenever they like, without anything to stop them. Most countries apply selective criteria, allowing some people in (usually the ones who can do certain jobs) whilst barring other people. So if UKIP is deemed racist because it wants a selective immigration policy, then most of the world is racist.
The most truthful way to criticize UKIP is to point out how few policies they have. This should be fertile territory for the left. Many leftist factions have an overabundance of policies, which sit like ageing hand grenades, likely to cause devastation if the public ever handled them. UKIP, however, has no serious policy for the economy, or defence, or the health service. It should be easy to rubbish UKIP. Polls show that even UKIP’s voters tend to be ignorant of any party policy except for exiting the EU. In that respect, UKIP is little more than a never-ending referendum for people who want Britain out of Europe. Accusing UKIP supporters of racism changes the relationship between those people and the rest of society. It is impossible to attribute a quality to a party, without attributing the same quality to its supporters. And it is foolish to dismiss millions of people as racists, based solely on the scantiest evidence. In that respect, those who condemn UKIP as a racist party may be doing more harm to themselves, and to society, than they appreciate.
The contorted, divisive thinking of the British left has been exemplified by how they have responded to two seemingly unrelated events: the crisis in Ukraine, and UKIP’s campaigns. In one case, Russian propaganda has been endorsed and repeated with barely any analysis. Leftist journalist John Pilger is only slightly more extreme than Britain’s mainstream media, when he proclaims that the forces behind the interim Ukraine government are ‘fascists’ and ‘neo-Nazis’, who ‘oversee savage attacks’ on ethnic Russophones who are ‘fighting for survival’. Britain’s mainstream media did not go quite as far Pilger, but broadcasters like C4 were quick to assert that fascists and racists were behind the new Ukrainian government. However, the most important driver of the Maidan movement, whose demonstrations toppled the Ukrainian government, was the desire for Ukraine to join the European Union. In contrast, the only widely-recognized policy of UKIP is that it wants Britain to leave the European Union. So the British left has managed to whip itself into a lather about racist fascist neo-Nazis who want to join the EU, whilst simultaneously rushing to the streets to protest at the rise of racist fascist neo-Nazis who want to leave the EU. There appears to be some contradictory thinking here. And I doubt the contradiction is between the so-called racists, fascists and neo-Nazis, whether in the UK or Ukraine.
Though UKIP repeatedly denies it is racist, others insist it is racist. The reason why UKIP denies its racism so often is because it is asked the question so often. It seems that racism, like beauty, is solely in the eye of the beholder. I dare say that some people will now think I am a racist, though I see no evidence of racist thinking in anything I have written. If so, let them think what they like. I find it peculiar that we live in a world where a person’s beliefs are not determined by asking them what they believe. In such a world, asking somebody if they are racist, and receiving the answer that they are not racist, would count as pretty good evidence for an absence of racism. Nowadays, it appears that some prefer to ignore this kind of evidence. They feel our fellow citizens cannot be trusted; we should peer mysteriously into their souls, rather than believing their words. The individual can no longer be trusted to accurately report their own beliefs.
Instead of believing each person’s words, we are told we should only trust special people, who are gifted with a special powers. It is not clear why these people are special, except that they say they are special, and are convinced of their own powers. These special people can detect an odd word here and there, an occasional glance or gesture, some small behavioural signals which always reveal the crypto-racist. They are like witchfinders – they claim to see the facts clearly, whilst most of us are blind. This witch-hunting power is monopolized by members of a certain political persuasion, and a certain societal class. This is the power which is being exercised, when a Green Party activist ‘peacefully’ tells a UKIP candidate that they are racist; the resulting one-finger comeback only validates their conclusion. Will Self exercised this same power when reviewing a book by Rod Liddle – though Liddle ‘tries to say the right things about race’, Self is still able to detect the racism that lurks underneath Liddle’s words. And if we incessantly ask Nigel Farage about the difference between hypothetical Romanians who live next door, and his German wife, then eventually (and thankfully!) his mask will slip and the sinister truth of his racism might be revealed. Ignore all the other interviews, because Farage, like the demon he is, must have been lying, obfuscating, and misleading us. It is only when Farage says something that might be considered the trivial gaffe of a tired man, and which is quoted out of context, that we should pay attention, and rush to judgement. The witchfinders’ finely-attuned racism sensors have been proven right, yet again…
The following is taken from the recent interview given by Farage to LBC’s James O’Brien.
Farage: Let’s talk about immigration, let’s talk about Europe, let’s talk about the European elections. I am making one very simple point. We cannot have any form of managed migration into Britain and remain a member of the European Union because we have an open door to nearly half a billion people. And the argument, James, I’m putting, is this: we’d be far better to have an immigration policy, that didn’t, as it currently does, discriminate against engineers from India, or doctors from New Zealand, in favour of anybody, regardless of skill levels or backgrounds, coming from Southern and Eastern Europe. And that is the great debate. And when Nick Clegg, you know, took me on, and I tried to have that debate with him, and he was very reluctant on that particular point to engage, Cameron and Miliband run a country mile away from that debate, and that I think is at the heart of our relationship with Europe.
O’Brien: Indeed, and if that was the debate you’d offered to have on this program we’d have it now, but what the caller asked you was why so many people think you’re racist.
Farage: Well, I think, yes, we’ve had our idiots…
O’Brien: (interrupts) … And part of the answer would be that you talk about children who can’t speak English as a first language without mentioning it includes your own children.
Farage: What is racism? Is racism between races? I was talking about, I was talking about…
O’Brien: (speaks over) … Don’t you know? How can you say you’re not something if you don’t know what it is?
Farage: Is race about colour? Is, is, is race about race or is it about nationality? I made a comment there that wasn’t intended to say any more than I felt uncomfortable about the rate and pace of change, and numbers of people…
O’Brien: (speaks over) … No, you felt uncomfortable about people speaking foreign languages, despite the fact that presumably your own wife does when she phones home to Germany.
Farage: I don’t suppose she speaks it on the train.
O’Brien: Why not? Is she not allowed to? Can’t she speak German wherever she wants?
Farage: (speaks over) Of course people are allowed to.
O’Brien: And what about the line about not wanting to live next to Romanians? It’s perfectly acceptable people not to want to…
Farage: (speaks over) I was asked if a group of Romanian men moved in next door to me, would you be concerned.
O’Brien: What about if it was a group of German children did? What’s the difference?
Farage: Oh, the difference. You know what the difference is.
O’Brien: No, I honestly don’t. This is, I think this is where the disconnect is between your position and mine. What is the difference?
Farage: We want an immigration policy based on controlling not just quantity, but quality as well…
And there it lies. This is the best argument yet that Farage is a racist, of the type some rush to compare to Hitler. Farage knows ‘the difference’ between a group of Romanian men, and a group of German children. That is what he said. He knows the difference between men from one country, and children from another country. His interviewer, who posed the question, innocently claims that he does not know the difference. At this point, I must admit that I can discern a difference: one is a group of adult men, the other is a group of children. If a group of men moved next door to me, I might be concerned. By definition, my neighbours would rank amongst the most horrible of all types of people: they are men, not women. And because there is more than one man, these men would defeat me if I tried to physically fight them. If given a choice, I would definitely prefer to live next to children. This is not because I am naive. Children can also cause lots of trouble. In some ways, I would be more concerned if children moved next door to me. As a responsible person, I would call Social Services, and tell them about the lack of adults to take care of the children. But I would be less worried about kids beating me up.
Though Farage was asked to compare children to adult men, this exchange has been misreported everywhere. For reasons best known to people who work in professional media, they have determined this dialogue was only about the differences between Germans and Romanians. Perhaps that is what the interviewer, O’Brien, intended. But if he intended that, why did he talk about German children, instead of a group of German men?
If this exchange is supposed to be the smoking gun that proves Farage is ‘a bit’ racist – presumably nobody thinks Farage is planning to murder millions of people, despite the endless comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis – then only two types of people will be convinced by it. The first type are the people who already thought Farage was racist, and just wanted more evidence to confirm their existing beliefs. Clearly I am not writing in the hopes of influencing them. The second type are the people who did not hear what was actually said. Probably they are beyond help too; they feel no shame at making damning judgements based on the flimsy second-hand reports of others.
I cannot say that Farage is not racist. But then, I cannot say that of many people. I cannot say that Nick Clegg, or the Pope, or Barack Obama is not racist. I must suspend judgement except for those people I know well, and for those people whose racism is so overt as to be beyond doubt. In our society, racism is a serious charge. If the best evidence of Farage’s racism is that he thinks there is a ‘difference’ between German children and Romanian men, then any reasonable and open-minded person would postpone reaching a conclusion. And because Farage is the leader of UKIP, we must also dismiss the lazy generalization that his party is racist. In fact, a reasonable and open-minded person might conclude that the personal beliefs of a man with a German wife and German-speaking children is likely to be more nuanced than would suit some of his political opponents. We should be wary of the motives of UKIP’s opponents, who accuse Farage and his party of racism on the eve of an important election which UKIP are set to win.
But arguments like these will never shake the confidence of those witchfinders who do believe they have a special gift for identifying the racism that lurks in others. So I have only one thing to say to those people: enjoy your gifts, without limit. Trust in your talent, and use it everywhere. I abhor racism. If racists are going to be mercilessly outed, then out them everywhere, from every place they lurk.
But then, the anti-racists might not want to do that. Somewhere along the way, they might lose the courage of their convictions. They usually seem to. Saying UKIP is racist is easier, and more convenient, than saying a member of the Green Party is racist. But there must be a racist in the Green Party. After all, a man might campaign against the threat of global warming, whilst also disliking darkies. Is the Green Party doing enough to find this man, and eject him from the party? Could it do more? Perhaps it should search through the old tweets and Facebook postings of its members, or interview them incessantly. In short, maybe they should examine their own supporters, as much as they scrutinize their rivals.
An abundance of anti-UKIP tweets linked racism with the idea that its supporters are homophobic white privileged men. But do these enthusiastic denouncers of racism really believe that only homophobic white privileged men are capable of racism? There are women who are racists. And Pakistanis who are racists. And gays who are racists. And if we find an anti-racist who indefatigably insists that only white people can be racists, how else should we describe this anti-racist, except to call him another variety of racist?
Denouncing UKIP as racist only works if we avert our eyes from every other political party. Look at the polls which identify where UKIP’s support has come from. UKIP’s voters have come from Labour, and the Lib Dems, and the Tories, and the Greens. When there is a general election next year, many of UKIP’s voters will return to those other parties. The ranks of UKIPs activists and members is augmented by many defectors from other parties. Others chose to join UKIP because they want an alternative to the other parties. So given its lineage, if UKIP is racist then there must be racists in the Labour Party, and racists in the Liberal Democrats, and even the Green Party must harbour racist supporters. There are racists all over. Why not put more time and effort into denouncing those racists? What makes them hard to spot, other than the fact that nobody was looking for them? Perhaps the answer is that anti-racists also know ‘the difference’. Many outspoken anti-racists have also picked sides in many other kinds of fights, relating to EU membership, and climate change, and economics, and feminism. Whilst they say they fight against racism, it would be inconvenient if they sometimes found racists were on ‘their’ side. And it is inconvenient when some of their beliefs are opposed by people from certain ethnic backgrounds. Are they so keen to hunt racism amongst their own ranks? Do they chide themselves for racism, when they consider who engages in female genital mutilation, or the selective abortion of girls? It is more likely they find a convenient ‘difference’ between these awkward scenarios, and the positions adopted by Nigel Farage and his supporters.
“Everybody is racist.” Do you like my new leftist slogan? It fits the X=Y model. I am an adult man; by some definitions, I was a thief and a rapist already. We might as well add racism to my list of crimes, based solely on the evidence that I am human, and therefore prone to many failings. I will happily plead guilty, if all the UKIP-despising anti-racists are willing to sit in the dock alongside me, and have the minutiae of their beliefs examined, to determine who they are prejudiced against. Or maybe everybody should drop the X=Y sloganeering, and only judge people as individuals, based on what they have really said and done. And that includes fair treatment for supporters of UKIP.