On the 22nd May 2014, 4.3 million UK residents voted for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the European Parliament elections. That’s about 1 in 10 of all UK adults. Bearing in mind we are talking about a political party that wishes to privatise the NHS, legalise handguns, introduce a flat rate of tax (though they are apparently ‘re-thinking’ this), outlaw gay marriage, remove women’s rights to maternity leave, re-introduce hunting with dogs, and is led by a man who is proud to boast of his disdain at hearing foreign languages and his desire not to live next door to people of certain nationalities, this looks pretty alarming on the face of it for all moral, tolerant, liberal people.
And it is. Although it’s true, as one tweeter put it, that Nigel Farage can’t even move a wheelie bin as his party have no seats in the House of Commons, control no councils and the European Parliament is still dominated by pro-EU members, UKIP do have one heck of platform. They may look and sound like the BNP (that’s because they are almost indistinguishable on policy and rhetoric!), the BNP have never managed to mobilise 10% of the population, gain almost 40,000 members, or be recognised by OFCOM as a major political party. When we consider all of this alongside the British Social Attitudes Survey released last week, that reported, amongst other things, that 30% of British people admit to being racist, we should perhaps be a little worried about the direction in which our politics may be heading.
Nigel Farage’s ‘achievements’ are all the more remarkable when we observe just how un-correlated his rabble-rousing is with reality. Here are some statistics:
- The UK population is approximately 64 million. Around 56 million are white (approximately 87% of the population).
- 7.5 million UK residents are immigrants (approximately 12% of the population). About a third of these are from within the EU.
- Between 2000 and 2011, immigrants were 45% less likely to claim benefits than people born in the UK and 3% less likely to live in social housing.
- Between 2000 and 2011, immigrants arriving from within the EU contributed 34% more in taxes than they claimed in benefits, whilst British people paid 11% less in tax than they received.
- 5% of UK residents are Muslims.
- In the 2011 census, approximately 3.6 million people identified themselves as homosexual (approximately 6% of the population).
- Between 2002 and 2012, total incidences of recorded crime in the UK fell from approximately 5.7 million to 3.5 million, including plummeting homicide and violent crime rates. See the table below:
These numbers hardly represent a United Kingdom being overrun by non-whites, foreign nationals, Muslims and homosexuals (not that that would be a problem of course!), who are destroying our once great nation by living off of benefits and causing spiralling rates of violent and sexual crime. Yet all last week I had to listen to UKIP voters explaining that they don’t recognise their own country anymore. Really?!
So how has Nigel Farage done it? How has he convinced so many people of such pernicious untruths?
As has been the case time and again throughout human history, he has exploited the genuine misfortunes of people who are struggling to adapt to a fast changing world and (I suspect deliberately) misdiagnosed the cause of their problems in order to give his own prejudices a day in the sun. To put it bluntly, he has spread lies about certain minority groups that he doesn’t like, apparently merely because he doesn’t like them, and is using this false narrative to convince people that those minorities are the root cause of their problems. Let’s look at some more numbers:
- In 1960, life expectancy was approximately 65 years. In 2014, it is 78.
- In 1960, 23 out of every 1000 babies born died before their first birthday. Nowadays, less than 5 do.
- In 1960, the UK population was 52 million. In 2014, it is 64 million.
- By the end of the 1960’s, UK immigrants already totalled more than 3 million. See the table below:
This ought to make it clear that the UK has been hurtling toward an emergency for decades. Our population has increased by 12 million over the past 50 years (or almost 25% in half a century) but only about a third of this is due to immigration. Thus the recent increase in the rate of immigration has only accelerated our confrontation with this emergency by a few years. The jobs being taken by those damn foreigners that UKIP despise so much (which is odd because I thought they were mostly claiming benefits?!), would soon be unavailable in any case.
The truth is that the stresses currently being experienced in the UK are a microcosm of what is happening across the developed world (which is why many other countries are also witnessing a rise in the popularity of their far right political party’s). We are quite simply victims of our own success. Due to massive improvements in medicine and nutrition, the ‘baby boomers’ are refusing to die, and though we’re now having less babies over the long term, more are making it to adulthood fit and healthy. Technological advancements have reduced the numbers of labourers required in agriculture and industry, have allowed us to import much of our produce and have enabled the offshoring of, for example call centres and helpdesks. Though it might not seem so due to 24 hour News channels thrusting conflicts into our living rooms in high definition, we are living in increasingly peaceful times, meaning there is no longer a need to have large scale standing armies.
In short, most modern towns and cities are now painfully over-crowded and so we spend a lot of our time in queues and traffic jams. Juxtaposed to the improvements in standards of living is the fact that even well qualified graduates are currently struggling to find work due to there being many more people and far fewer jobs. And such is the huge demand for everything, prices are sky rocketing. Life is hard and many people are angry and confused. Unfortunately, this is fertile ground for the likes of UKIP and Nigel Farage. For all too many it is enough simply to point a finger at the person with an unfamiliar accent and they will (inaccurately) fill in the blanks themselves.
Clearly then, along with disease, poverty, nuclear weapons proliferation, climate change and terrorism, over population is one of the huge questions that our generation must find an answer to. And as with all the other issues listed above, we will not find the answer in isolation. UKIP’s insistence upon leaving the EU and ‘closing the doors’ is guaranteed to fail to resolve the problems facing modern Britain simply because it has almost nothing to do with them. That is not to say that the EU is perfect in its current form, but we must certainly seek to cooperate with, influence and build a strong European State. The equal opportunities, fair minimum wage and other social welfare and health care advantages available in Britain must be nurtured and strengthened at home and exported abroad, so that other countries are equally appealing places to live, work and raise a family. We must also of course increase tax revenue to pay for the ever growing demands on our social services. Whilst it’s impossible not to notice that the very wealthy are in a good position to contribute to this, we should also cease to subsidise whims of fancy with the public purse. The tens of billions of pounds spent every year funding organised religion and fighting the drug war can no longer be entertained, even as sport. This money is entirely wasted (actually it’s worse than that – it pays for failed policies that harm society), yet it would all by itself fill the current funding gap within the NHS, with more than a little spare change left over.
‘How to save the world’ is a detailed manuscript few of us have the time to write, but we can be sure of some general themes; we know that the emancipation of women is a good cure for poverty. Free universal health care is an obligation of any moral society, as is the tolerance and equal treatment of people from all countries, of all skin colours and of all variants of consensual sexual preferences. The strict control of firearms has never come up short of useful for reducing violent crime and murder rates, particularly in relation to gang disputes, and a concern for the welfare of animals is also a vital health check for any community as it is inextricably linked to how people tend treat each other. This list could hardly be more opposed to the policies of UKIP and most other far right wing groups, and so it should be obvious that it is essential for our survival and progress that we reject them.
But how do we convince the disillusioned that Nigel Farage is a false prophet? As ever, facts are our best weapon. You will find that almost everyone you know thinks that immigrants disproportionately claim benefits and that violent crime is on the rise, due at least in part to mass immigration. Likewise, although Eastern Europeans, homosexuals and Muslims make up only about 15% of the UK population combined, many people seem to imagine these groups are individually approaching the majority (again, it wouldn’t matter if they were, but proving they’re not goes a long way to exposing the false narrative). We must all be on high alert to such erroneous statements and be ready to set people straight. Knowledge of the true state of affairs directly impacts how people view the world. Clearly this is not a guaranteed win – the religious debate has taught us that. Some people do prefer to live in ignorance, but such is the extent of the misinformation doing the rounds, correcting it must be a great place to start.
So argue. Argue as if your life depends on it. It is possible that, in Britain at least, those who believe in fairy tales will avert serious consequences of their delusions regarding the nature of the cosmos, but we can all be sure of a reckoning in this lifetime if we take a wrong turn on the political spectrum at this crucial moment in our history. Voting will probably help as well…