Sunday, 25 May 2014

Why I didn't vote UKIP

I exercised my democratic right to vote this week and took myself off to the local polling station for the European elections. I believe whole heartedly in voting but it inevitably always feels like choosing the lesser of several evils. Though personally I ruled out on principle the 'evil' of voting UKIP.

Sadly UKIP seemed to dominate the media coverage. Even if I agreed with any of their ideas, I couldn't vote for a leader like Nigel Farage. It's just an intuition/gut thing. And not agreeing with any of their policies. Though I suppose you could argue (and a Christian friend did, this week) their two ideas are on the face of it, at least simple - Euroscepticism and curbing on immigration - and perhaps reasonable...

But dig deeper...

It hasn't helped UKIP that certain high profile individuals have brought them into (further) disrepute, though I understand Godfrey Bloom is now an Independent MEP, but after comments about sluts and bongo bongo land and hitting someone over the head with a magazine, there's got to be a large bad taste left in the mouth, even by association. It was enough to see him on Have I Got News For You, being taken apart by Victoria Coren. That was a good episode.

So I've tried to ask myself is what is wrong with wanting to curb immigration and leave Europe? Isn't it all very reasonable? Christians disagree on many political issues - we can be right wing, or left, apparently...But can you really be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, and vote UKIP?

And what are UKIP policies, beyond curbing immigration and leaving Europe? I couldn't find any. It seems the party's main 'success' is to do with being driven along by the charisma of a leader who has a populist way of appealing to 'Britishness', whatever that is, and the need to defend it.

I'm suspicious of anything based on defensiveness. The gospel last Sunday began 'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me'. The UKIP party website begins 'These are anxious and troubled times. Our politicians do nothing in the face of dangers rising up all around us.' 

If there are so much anxiety and danger rising up around us why do so many people want to come and live here? And why is it, as Matthew Parris pointed out in the Times, that in London, one of the most multicultural places in the UK, UKIP actually did poorly; whereas in parts of Essex which are 80% 'White British', UKIP did very well. The reason is this: 'fear and resentment of immigrants does not reduce as proximity to living, breathing immigrants reduces'. (Parris summing it up rather well). Fears of 'the other' flourish in ignorance. A UKIP spokesperson was even forced to admit that it's difficult to gain ground among 'cultured and well educated' Londonders. Says it all really.

The more you tell people 'these are anxious and troubled times' the more they'll believe it. UKIP feed on people's fear of the stranger, and their desire to protect what is theirs by right, a sentiment I find deeply troubling theologically. The Israelites were told to welcome the stranger in their land because they too had been aliens in a strange land, and knew what it was like to long for a better life somewhere else. Their land 'flowing with milk and honey' was a gift from God. Look where feelings of intense ownership and proprietorial-ism have got us... Jesus wasn't plagued by such a need to defend any land, building or set of customs...And people derided him for that too.

So I howled at Stuart Lee's comic take off of UKIP Deputy Leader, Paul Nuttals, who couched his fear of a deluge of Bulgarians to the UK by saying 'Bulgarians need to ensure that their brightest and best people stay in Bulgaria and make it economically prosperous, instead of coming to the UK and serving tea and coffee'. 

You can look up the whole sketch on Huff post (Warning: VERY strong language). By reductio ad absurdum Lee shows how very fed up we English are that all these people have been coming over here, teaching us all these foreign customs, like inventing us a national cuisine (Indians) bringing us lace (French Hugenots) laying down the basis of our entire future language and culture (Anglo Saxons) and showing us how to drink out of cups (Beaker Folk). Shocking.

Curbing immigration and leaving Europe. It sounds almost reasonable till you look a bit deeper, listen to your gut, consider Jesus, and watch Nigel Farage on the TV for more than ten seconds.

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