Mark Steel: Major parties respond to UKIP success by seeking to become UKIP
It seems to have been decided that the best response to the success of Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party that won 27.45% of the vote in the May European elections, is to try to copy him.
The Tories will soon reveal that one of their councillors declared that “the shape of a Romanian’s spine proves he’s actually a type of stinging nettle” on an election leaflet, but it was a mistake anyone could make, especially as the councillor had an earache at the time.
Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls has already insisted that from now on, Labour must talk loudly about immigration. So he’ll probably announce a commitment to bring in a new law that forbids foreigners from looking at our women. He’ll explain: “Immigrants have been a pillar of British society for hundreds of years, but their birds ain’t up to much, are they? So if they start looking at mine, I’ll be the first to say, ‘OY, Vladimir, OUT, NOW’.”
Home secretary Theresa May will reply that no Bulgarian will be allowed to work here unless they sing all day in English, starting with a medley of Boney M hits and moving on to “Our House” by Madness, and perform a one-man version of The Merchant of Venice during the tea break.
And foreign secretary William Hague will announce: “I have only this morning urinated on an EU commissioner, and unlike the Labour Party I did not spare him the drips at the end.”
It is hard to beat UKIP at this game, though. For example, Victoria Ayling, likely to be UKIP candidate for Greater Grimsby, said about immigrants: “I’d send the lot back.” So how do you top that? Maybe Chancellor George Osborne will insist he’ll send them all back, then make them all come back here again so he can send them all back a second time.
To be fair, Farage accepts he would allow immigration if it was people with the “skills we need”. Because until now, eastern Europeans have been coming here with useless skills like dentistry and plumbing and picking fruit.
So we should send them all home, and allow them in only if they’ve got a useful trade, such as disposing of tons of rotten strawberries that no one picked, chucking out millions of carpets ruined when radiators exploded, and looking after thousands of people who ended up in mental hospitals after screaming, “Aaaaaargh my poxy tooth” and were told that “the nearest dentist is in Krakow, mate”.
As Farage said: “As I say every day on 25 TV and radio shows, these days you’re not allowed to say this sort of thing on TV or radio.”
But at last someone is making the sort of common-sense arguments we so rarely hear, such as his insistence that hearing people speak a foreign language “makes me uncomfortable”.
It could be argued that if foreign languages make you uncomfortable, that’s not so much a policy as a mental illness, similar to standing for election with a policy of “I’m scared of buttons. And can’t leave the house unless all my furniture is in alphabetical order.”
But he’s made his case well, just as he’s pointed out that it’s fine to be uneasy if a Romanian moves next door to you, because some Romanians commit crime.
Strangely, he said this logic doesn’t apply to Germans, possibly because his wife’s German, or maybe because you can try as hard as you like, but you’ll never find a single German in history who’s behaved in any way that could be considered unpleasant at all, especially not towards Britain.
So you can see how difficult it must be to offer arguments that contradict Farage’s sound analysis, and how it’s much easier to agree that the reason we’re short of houses is because there are too many people over here whose only skill is building houses.
It’s especially worrying for the old parties when they see similar election results across Europe. The French, for example, seem to think that “it’s been 70 years since we let the fascists have a go at running the place, so it’s only fair to let them have another turn”.
But a fleeting glance at history suggests that trying to be as firm on immigration as parties set up to oppose immigration isn’t likely to work, just as a chess club won’t gain many new members if it says: “Football appears to be more popular than our game. But we can overtake their popularity if we kick the pieces across the table, and if a pawn’s taken we surround the referee and insist it dived outside the square.”
But that’s how it seems Labour and the Conservatives are set to challenge the threat of UKIP.
Maybe a better strategy would be to warn that if we end the movement of people across Europe, that would mean the 808,000 British who live in Spain would all have to come back, which would be the equivalent of a town the size of Brazil being dumped on our overstretched resources, which is why we simply can’t afford the huge growth in population that would happen if UKIP got its way.