Friday, 10 October 2014

The toxicity index climbs again

So Britain has its first elected, openly far right wing MP.

I say “openly” because previously such characters popped up in a party that likes to pass itself off as democratic, the Conservatives. Enoch Powell, for example, was for a while a leading figure among the Tories, but in 1968, he made one of the most notorious of racist rants, which has come to be known as the “rivers of blood” speech. He told his audience that anti-discrimination legislation, due to be voted on the following day, awoke in him an echo of the foreboding the Roman poet Virgil spoke of, when he saw the Tiber foaming with blood.

That was his reaction to an attempt to protect ethnic minorities from racial discrimination.

Today, the heirs to that kind of thinking can make themselves at home in their own party, UKIP. Its leader, Nigel Farage, gave the measure of the party this very morning, following yesterday’s election of his first Member of Parliament, when he proposed closing the borders of Britain against immigrants with HIV.

One of the achievements of Barack Obama was to do away with just such a ban in the US.

The proposal shows a complete want of humanity. Someone living with HIV needs compassion and may need support; Farage offers rejection and exclusion. On top of that toxicity, the idea is actually unworkable. The only people it would exclude would be, as the US discovered, those with the courage to admit they’re infected. Those who decide to hide their state, or aren’t even aware of it, will simply come in as before.

Nasty and useless. That’s pretty much UKIP through and through.

And now they have a voice in parliament.

As it happens, their success of last night, in the Clacton by-election, wasn’t quite the breakthrough some might like. Their candidate had until a few weeks ago been the Conservative MP for the same constituency. He’d merely switched party. As a result, he enjoyed the advantages that go with incumbency.

Even so, it’s a significant and depressing achievement.

In a sense, the worse news came from several hundred miles away, near Manchester, where another by-election took place yesterday, in the constituency of Heywood and Middleton. Labour held the seat before yesterday’s vote, and it hung on to it, but by little over 600 votes – a narrow win, and over UKIP, to boot. 

That majority is little over one tenth of what the previous incumbent enjoyed.

Liz McInnes: celebrating a victory in Heywood and Middleton
But by far too narrow a margin
Curiously, Labour improved its share of the vote over last time the seat was fought, at the general election in 2010. But the improvement was just one percentage point, and Labour lost the 2010 election. So not a lot of comfort in that result: Labour needs a much bigger improvement that that if it’s to win an overall majority next year.

Still, nothing’s so depressing as the fact that its narrow majority was over UKIP. In a traditional Labour area, the xenophobes ran it close.

That means a lot of people are going for a narrow-minded party devoid of fellow-feeling for those who most need our support and protection.

I’d like to have ended this piece with a punch line. But this isn’t really much of a joke. Not the kind you laugh at, anyway.

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