Alex Macdonald and Olly Neville
On Wednesday evening, The Backbencher broke the news of how the English Defence League’s leader, Tommy Robinson – aka Stephen Lennon – endorsed UKIP and their policies on immigration and Islam. It was a controversial interview, and we found it fascinating to hear the comments from the EDL’s most senior figure about where his political allegiances lay. The EDL, on its official Facebook page – which boasts over 18,000 ‘likes’ – has written comments which throw the radical-right wing organisation’s weight fully behind UKIP and the oratory finesse of Nigel Farage.
Farage himself is unlikely to welcome the endorsement, despite the EDL boasting a significant amount of online support (2/3rds of the number of Facebook fans as UKIP). This is because the majority of British people overwhelmingly reject the politics that the EDL espouses, and association with an anti-Islam group will threaten to drag UKIP back into the territory of ‘BNP in Blazers’ accusations; a view the party has put some considerable work into dispelling.
But why do Farage and his Party – of mostly older white men – so often get dragged down into the pits of British politics by highly despised groups which advocate all sorts of nonsense?
Well, despite being a fully fledged political party with a well rounded if woefully uncosted manifesto, UKIP has only ever really focused on two main issues: The EU and immigration; often linking the two via tough rhetoric on the EU’s internal open borders and how they give access for migrants to travel easily to Britain. Election after election, be it town or Parish councils, London Mayoral or EU elections, regardless as to whether the position they are running for has any influence over immigration or not, UKIP will push immigration as hard as they can; which can see all range of weird and wonderful leaflets coming through your letterbox. Indeed UKIP’s London Elections campaign saw them sauntering around the Capital in a bright purple taxi which demanded that Londoners say ‘No to Open door Immigration’, despite the Mayor of London having no actual control over Britain’s immigration policy.
UKIP are the only party that has found the need to ban the BNP, EDL, and NF members from joining their brigade – something that is not always effective – which in itself suggests that their politics attracts undesirable members. Moreover, accusations of racism have dogged UKIP from the very beginning, with their founder quitting and calling the Party ‘morally dodgy’ and ‘extremely right wing.’ This was highlighted in recent times when a Tory MEP wrote that Nigel Farage had allegedly said some highly controversial comments in regards to ethnic minorities.
UKIP’s stance on immigration is not the only area where their policies have caused problems for their image, their former leader Lord Pearson – who was heavily backed by Farage, and Robinson of the EDL – pushed the policy of a Burka ban with great significance in UKIP’s 2010 General Election campaign. The notion was met with horror by many voters, commentators, and newspapers that a political party would attempt to regulate the clothes we can and cannot wear.
But why do we care? Why do we care if UKIP is anti-immigrant, opposed to gay marriage, and at one point became so authoritarian it wanted to regulate your clothes? Well it’s not because we are worried that UKIP have enough support to win in 2015; nor are we writing this because we are affiliated with a party and have a particular motive to win back lost votes; and nor is it for some personal vendetta against the party – even if one of us was recently scorched by UKIP’s wrath. No, we are writing this article, and highlighting these issues because despite the authoritarian politics that UKIP provides, they still have the nerve to call themselves libertarians.
Politically speaking, it may be smart to advocate for closed borders – we see it as a dreadful policy – if it means that you could win votes. It may be a politically smart move to continue to push for a protected NHS, oppose individual rights to gay marriage, decide what people can and can’t wear if you think you can gain votes in the process; but that doesn’t make it libertarian in the slightest.
Libertarianism is about freedom of the individual and being allowed to live in an environment as far away as possible from the shackles of the state. For example, libertarians would not want the government to increase defence spending by 40%; adopt a much tougher stance on crime and punishment; control who citizens can or cannot marry; and impose a strict border control policy – those ideas are in direct contrast to the idea of ‘don’t tread on me’.
The fact is that UKIP have jumped on to the growing brand of libertarianism in order to persuade the public that they are not in fact the bastion of Social Conservatism; but we see through the rhetoric. For us the fact that UKIP are attracting the endorsement of figures such as Tommy Robinson proves that they cannot be advocating the libertarian cause; how could they be if they are getting the thumbs up from the leader of an anti-Islamic organisation?
If UKIP want to continue down the road of Social Conservatism, protectionism, and anti-immigration then that is their prerogative, – and quite frankly it is not our concern – but calling themselves libertarian whilst doing it only serves to damage their credibility, and will damage the identity of what it really means to be a libertarian. This is not a good look UKIP; we think you should remove the word Libertarian from your Party’s description.