There was much speculation as to the results of the local and EU elections last month, with most commentators predicting that significant numbers would vote for right-wing parties. They were nothing if not correct.
In the local council elections, the Liberal Democrats were obliterated. Whilst Labour increased its number of councillors by 330, UKIP now has 128 seats (although, crucially, it does not have control of any council).
Across Europe, in the European Parliament elections, France’s National Front – a party whose founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, recently said that Ebola virus could ‘solve immigration problems’ – won 25% of the vote; hugely disappointing for a country which, only two years ago, elected a socialist President.
The far-right Greek party, Golden Dawn, now has three MEPs following a 9% share of the vote. UKIP won 27% of the British vote, beating all expectations. The far-right also came first in Denmark and Austria and won over 15% of votes in Hungary. Against a general background of diminishing voter turnouts, 43% of Europeans used their ballot papers. It made for depressing viewing and, in the days following the results, depressing reading in the papers.
We now have a European Parliament which houses Members who have openly defamed those from ethnic and religious minorities. Morten Messerschmidt has a conviction for linking multicultural society to rape and forced marriage. Jussi Halla-aho has been convicted for his assertion that Islam ‘reveres paedophilia’.
Although each of these parties is ostensibly anti-Europe, Euroskepticism is often twinned with flagrant racism and fear of ‘the other’. Demonisation of ‘the other’ – in this case Romanians trying to make something of their lives – was a major part of the UKIP campaign, as it has been part of every extreme ideology since the dawn of time. As a nation and a continent, we appear to have bought into this ideology.
I don’t believe that either Britain or Europe is suddenly populated by racists, but I do think that we are frightened and looking for someone to blame. Millions of people are still feeling the effects of the economic downturn and they are looking for someone to blame. We should be blaming the bankers who caused the crash or the politicians who allowed it to happen, but we have been rather spectacularly hoodwinked.
The racism that lies dormant within each and every one of us has been ignited. Interestingly, the areas of the UK which are most ethnically diverse – such as London – received almost no UKIP support. Racially homogenous areas were much more likely to vote for Farage et al. What this suggests is that those people who know ethnic minorities are not taken in by the lies being spread by the media machine. In contrast, ignorance, unsurprisingly, is associated with fear, and that fear manifests itself in what appears to be racism.
The election results were depressing, have no doubt; and there are problems, of course. But the Britain I know and love is not a nation of racists. It is simply a country of frightened people who have been taken in and manipulated.