“Fruit-cakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly.” I don’t often agree with David Cameron, but his 2006 description of Ukip pretty well hit the nail on the head. It’s a vile, reactionary outfit led by a posturing demagogue. Unfortunately, it’s presently on something of a roll, due to the unpopularity of the government, the continuing ineffectiveness of Labour and its crude appeal to the worst prejudices of its chosen constituency (the white lumpenproletariat and disaffected petty bourgeoise).
But if, as seems likely, Ukip does well in Rotherham today it will be for one reason above all others: the incredibly stupid, inept, arrogant and bureaucratic decision of Rotherham council’s Children’s Services to remove three children from their foster parents simply because of the couple’s membership of Ukip.
Ukip is a reactionary organisation, but it’s not the BNP or the EDL. It is possible to be a member of an organisation with racist policies without being personally racist. By all accounts the couple are decent, caring people and experienced foster parents. They have been approved as suitable people under the (rightly) rigorous tests imposed on everyone wishing to foster children. But Rotherham Children’s Services took the children away and more or less called the couple racists because of their membership of Ukip. What a coup for that loudmouthed opportunist Farage: it seemed to confirm everything he says about bureaucratic elites obsessed by ‘political correctness’ and petty regulations, and the fact that even he can’t blame Europe for this balls-up is neither here nor there as far as public perceptions go.
The dreadful, but all too predictable, combination of arrogance and incoherence demonstrated in radio interviews by Joyce Thacker, head of Rotherham’s Children and Young People’s Services, has only served to make matters worse.
There are three byelections taking place today (Croydon North and Middlesborough as well as Rotherham), and in all of them reactionary fringe parties led by demagogues seem poised to do well. Indeed, in Rotherham at least, Ukip and Galloway’s Respect have formed a de facto alliance against Labour.
Serious socialists in all three constituencies should vote Labour today (despite the presence of left wing candidates in Rotherham and Middlesborough) and by rights, Labour should romp home in all three. But there are worrying signs that the populist right in the form of Ukip – or even Respect - may spring some nasty surprises when the votes are counted.