Is there racism at the heart of UKIP?

Chuka Umunna

This is a claim made today by Labour’s shadow business Secretary Chuka Umunna, a man I admire and who was I think unreasonably attacked a few years ago by my MP Chris Heaton Harris for criticising so-called celebrities posturing in the West End. I should clarify reasons for my admiration because he is not a natural bed-fellow. I was particularly impressed with the way he handled a recent Sky interview- on a subject, about Eric Pickles’ letter to muslim leaders which I felt was misguided and which I have already discussed: here is Chuka’s response to the Sky bullying.

Today, he speaks in response to Mrs Rozanne Duncan’s absurd comments today about the “problems” she faces sitting next to black people. The lady’s problems are astonishing, of course, and the biggest problem she has- quite apart from her inability to recognise racism- is her apparent inability to filter things that emerge as thoughts in her brain and then pop unaccountably into her gaping mouth. Fish would have more common-sense. Now here is the warning- because what she says is deeply offensive, but – Do listen to her comments if you are brave enough to do so- because, once she starts, she seems unable to stop. Pity is really my first response for her and for anyone who is forced to listen to her. Is it a form of Tourette’s syndrome or is it simply rank stupidity? I don’t think she intended harm, and I suppose that is why she is so astonished anyone would accuse her of racism, but she caused harm because (a) she did not take care over what she said and (b) what she said and how she justified it was simply obnoxious. When one reflects that she is an elected Councillor, then pity must turn to rage that this is someone who wields power in our name. duncan

Would I sit next to her? Oh, most certainly I would, and I would tell her very clearly that she is a stupid bigoted woman who should immediately resign her office. I certainly trust she will be replaced in May. Mr Farage is right to expel her without any further pause.

She says she does not regret saying anything.

She went on: “I used the word ‘negroes’ as you would do Asians, Chinese, Muslims, Jews. It’s a description, it’s not an insult – in the same way as you would say, ‘What do you mean by Jewish? Well, they belong to a community, they have got a certain faith, they have usually got noses that have got a bit of a curve to them, married women – if they are orthodox Jews – wear wigs.’ It’s description.” No, this is the sort of thing said by the Nazi authorities at the height of the Shoah. It just gets worse. And as for the word “negro”, it is worth taking a moment to reflect- this is not an innocent word. It comes from Spanish or Portuguese and was used specifically to describe slaves being transported across the Atlantic. It is a word imbued with prejudice. And to refer to the Latin word for black is again to get into a linguistic muddle, because the Romans had a word for “African”. It was “Afer”. So Mrs Duncan, the word used is not “a description.” It is definitely “an insult”. She understands neither english nor history.

Then she complained she had been expelled “without being offered the courtesy of a right to reply via a disciplinary hearing”. 

So much for Mrs Duncan.

But what Chuka Umunna says is more worrying. I think there are a number of loonie activists in UKIP as in any party, and the focus of the media is on them. Certainly, the moment UKIP knew of Duncan’s outburst, they seem to have hurried to expel her, which was the right thing to do. But I would like to think this is more than damage limitation- this is because UKIP is not racist at all. After all, Stephen Woolfe, Winston McKenzie, the current Commonwealth spokesman, and even Amjad Bashir who has now gone over to the Conservatives, have all stood under the UKIP banner and Winston McKenzie even stood for leadership of the Party. This is what Stephen Woolfe said, “I am a proud Englishman, I am a proud Briton, I am a proud mixed race person and I am a proud member of Ukip.”

But there must be racists in UKIP. As indeed there have been stories of racist slips in the labour camp (remember Mr Lavery’s son? or more recently there was a so-called Labour twitterer who claimed UKIP was  full of “evil money grabbing Jews” and then another twit who accused Mandy Boylett, who is herself Jewish and a prospective candidate for Stockton North, of being anti-semitic) and probably also in the Conservatives. Some of this is historical but much of this is simply a result of stupidity and narrow-mindedness. Not right at all, but I think it can be corrected.

Just think how far we have come in the last 50 years!

And that really is the point. I salute the fact that UKIP is exposing instances of racism today and bringing up a national debate about racism and how unacceptable it is. Because, if that debate is ever silenced or forgotten, there is a chance that our children will think it is right to make racist comments and that such comments are wholly innocent. They are not. They cause offence. They betray gross ignorance and they cheapen our society.

We are a society of individuals, each of us worthy in our own right of proper consideration. We are not defined by our race, colour, religion, gender, age, or our disability. That said, we might also elect to celebrate all of these features. But that is our decision and should not be imposed on us. We are not ciphers.

The Musical South Pacific put forward the idea that racism is something that is “taught” by an abusive society, “A mean little world”. I am not so sure, but certainly we need to be reminded and taught that racism is wrong.

So the debate about racism must be stirred up occasionally and I wrote to Mr Umunna to see what more we can do. This is not a subject about which anyone can afford to be complacent.

13 thoughts on “Is there racism at the heart of UKIP?

  1. Thaks for a thoughtful article, Tim. It could be argued however that racist public statements do not simply make possible a “national debate”, but actually make such thoughts and language more acceptable, turning the clock back. Didn’t Farage himself say something very similar about Romanians on trains?

    • I think maybe I should be clearer: the debate about racism must be healthy but racist statements of any form must be absolutely unacceptable. These stories give us a chance as a civilized society to repeat in public that such statements are wholly wrong. That is the point of the story and any debate moves on from that point. The fact that there is a debate and that racism is being identified or that people with their views/opinions are being “outed” is the point I am trying to make. And it is better for these things to hit the news than for them to be buried in silent suburbia. Festering further. Sorry for sounding a bit crass here. But racism, sexism, homophobia etc can never never never be acceptable. Regarding the other part of your response: The Romanian quote is part of a long interview that I would personally find uncomfortable, but if you look at it carefully, I think Farage stays just the right side of the line. He qualifies his statement about Romanians living next door by talking initially about the “eyewatering” statistics of Romanians involved in crime, a fact incidentally I witnessed in Banbury recently, where specifically Romanian gangs have targeted Pakistani houses, stealing gold and jewellery, and I think what he intended was to make a comment about home safety. But you are right and I would have felt happier had Mr Farage further qualified his comments by saying that there are also many law-abiding Romanian families. In many ways, I am forced to think of some of the comments made in the early episodes of “To the Manor Born” when Mr De Vere’s mother is revealed to be Czechoslovakian. Prejudice must be wrong, but there is nothing wrong with curiosity. The Farage interview begins with a debate about speaking english on trains and whether Mr Farage was comfortable that his wife, Kirsten, might speak German at home or when she spoke on the phone to her family. His children are bilingual- something I know you value.

      I wince every time I hear Romania or Poland targeted in rhetorical flourishes by any politician of whatever political colour. There is of course still a dodgy Romanian class that profited from the years of tyranny and in contrast, there is also a hugely impoverished community who badly need our support. But there is also some middle ground and I meet many hard-working Romanians who are doing jobs that no one seems to want to do, getting up at 5am to pick vegetables or delivering pizzas. Similarly, we must never forget the debt we owe to Poland’s airsquads in the 2nd World War: without their support, we would never have won the battle of Britain, and while we entered the war to save Poland, we left them to the Communists in 1945.

      My own take on the subject of railway intercourse is that there is a distinction between the healthy exchange of cultures and languages on the one hand that a link with Europe must involve and concerns about the EU bureaucracy (which might also involve messing around with language as indeed I know from the experience of delayed cases in the ECHR). It is the bureaucracy of the EU that UKIP rejects, not the cultural diversity of our neighbours! Do I find it disconcerting when I am surrounded by people speaking in different languages on the train? Certainly, if I am in a silent carriage which would be my preference, but otherwise, I would find it challenging and exciting: surely, we want to learn as many languages as possible, and learn as much as possible about the way others communicate. Indeed, how irritating I must have been when I lived in Greece, bickering away about things in English! There, but for the grace of God, in other words…

      The interview about rail travel came hard on the heels of John Sullivan who wrote “I rather wonder if we shot one ‘poofter’, whether the next 99 would decide on balance, that they weren’t after-all? We might then conclude that it’s not a matter of genetics, but rather more a matter of education.” Mr Farage said he would be disciplined. This represents the way he responds to prejudice.

  2. I am surprised that you admire Mr Umunna! He has been at the forefront of the anti-UKIP smear campaign. I haven’t noticed his complaining about his own party having sitting councillors who defected from the BNP!

    Of course I agree with you about Rozanne Duncan, and the party rightly moved quickly to expel her.

    • Mr Umunna has failings of course, but he has many positive features, and, anyway, he was right to condemn the calypso song.
      However, his comments about UKIP are a caricature of the party. In that, he needs to be gently coerced to revise his views.
      On the plus side, his comments about Stefano Pessina were hugely entertaining. It should always be questioned when someone who does not live here starts to pontificate about what we do, however correct his opinions may be. What Pessina said was perfectly reasonable, and might have had more weight had it been said by a tax-paying resident shop-owning tycoon. For the record, I agree with Mr Pessano that Mr Milliband’s plans are “not helpful for business, not helpful for the country and in the end, it probably won’t be helpful for them”, but equally, I enjoyed Mr Umunna’s criticism.
      My real respect for Umunna is his interest in having a living wage – this is essential and we are still not there yet. It is not, I think, about having a minimum wage, but once again, about changing people’s attitudes and empowering employers with a sense of responsibility. This alone makes me like him, but yes, there is alot he says that leaves one a little shell-shocked. I met him many years ago I think, before he got into Politics and he is a man I would like to know better.
      As for the point about the Labour links to BNP and so on, well, the simple fact is that there are people with a past everywhere, and as Mr Cameron observes, there is a point when the past should simply remain the past- though Mr Umunna needs to be careful about “whitened sepulchres”. Not everyone is as blameless as he and politics has a nasty habit of turning up surprises. But, seen in a more positive light, there is hope, I think, when people like margaret Burke or more recently Maureen Stowe recognise the error of their ways and defect from BNP to labour. God alone knows why Labour would ever want these individuals: they must be desperate. That said, of course,anyone who moves from one party to another during their time of office should have done her constituents the honour of calling a by-election.

      • The point about the BNP defectors is that Labour have welcomed them into the Party. UKIP, by contrast, has a party rule that if you have ever belonged to the BNP (let alone been a BNP councillor) then you are not allowed to join UKIP.

        I belonged to the Tory Party for several decades and saw more casual racism in that party than I’ve seen in UKIP. I suspect that Labour is at least as bad. I would have more respect for Mr Umunna if he either took his own party to task on the issue, or kept quiet about it!

        As regards the living wage, I agree with you. Unfortunately the high-skill jobs are being offshored while the British are left with low-skill, low-wage jobs like retail shelf-filling. Labour (and we) should ask themselves why that offshoring is occurring. That is of more significance in my opinion than whether Stefano Pessina lives in Monaco.

      • Trevor Maxfield!! Blood and Honour, National Front and Combat 18 before joining the BNP in 2002. He later joined the right wing For Darwen Party (which included many former BNP and England First members) in 2007, and was elected as a councillor to Blackburn with Darwen borough council later that year under their banner.
        He quit the For Darwen Party along with another of their councillors – former BNP member Anthony Meleady – in 2010 and sat as an independent for a short while before joining Labour.

  3. look at this: A Conservative candidate for a South Kesteven District Council by-election was a former British National Party activist. Dr Peter Moseley was selected to fight the single-member Aveland ward after the resignation of Conservative councillor Debbie Wren in January because of work commitments. Wren had been elected in 2011 with a large majority. The announcement by Grantham and Stamford Conservatives said: “Peter is a dedicated, local and hardworking individual who has all the qualities to really deliver for local people on South Kesteven District Council. Peter already has experience within Local Government working on Rippingale Parish Council and is a member of the Rippingale Business Club. I know that supporting Peter is the only way local residents will get the District Councillor they need.” But Moseley has a dark past. His name appeared on the BNP membership list leaked in November 2008, with the same address and mobile phone number as currently. The list described him as an activist and a “company director (remote environmental monitoring/web integration”. It added that he had an engineering degree and that his hobbies were “jive dancing, DIY”. It is unclear why those were of interest to the fascist party.

  4. Pingback: Is there racism at the heart of UKIP? | milliecoats

  5. I have added the video link to Umunna’s spatt with Sky over the Eric Pickles’ letter. I think he was cornered here and handled the issues as well as anyone could, and frankly I admire the fact that he did not play their game.
    But my goodness, I would love to have had the opportunity to have answered these questions in his place! the letter was very ill-judged. my blog on the pickles thing is here: https://animate-tim.com/2015/01/30/amjad-bashir/

  6. Wow! I love your prolific inquiry, art and intelligence. the sketch of that woman was spot on! I have quickly perused and will study more carefully later. I am definitely smiling 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s