At 2:02 PM this Tuesday just gone, UKIP’s South Thanet branch tweeted: “Perfect place to hold vote in front of a mosque in London. The BBC’s random means selective”. This was in response to the Daily Politics having conducted a survey as to whether or not Nigel Farage would make a good Prime Minister. They had staged this little event outside of Westminster Cathedral, a place of Catholic worship.
So not a mosque, really, at all, despite the confusion from South Thanet’s UKIPiest. This communiqué begged a fair few questions. Such as, who cares if it had been done outside of a mosque? Having expressed clear cultural bias (at the very least) in expressing the view that Muslims or at least those who might walk past a mosque in London (i.e. almost anyone of any faith or none in the Greater London area) are not worthy of taking part in a poll on Farage’s leadership qualities, is not being able to tell a Catholic church from a mosque not a clear demonstration of your ignorance on these matters and thus disqualify you from differentiating on that basis? And I thought that part of UKIP’s narrative was that they aren’t racist and in fact have loads of Muslim supporters and indeed candidates, people who share Nigel Farage’s concerns about bucket loads of Romanians rocking up to Dover. If that’s really the case, what’s with the sudden, paranoid, EDL style, “the Muslamics are all out to get us” turn?
The tweet was justly mocked, but it wasn’t the original post from @ukip_sththanet that I found particularly troubling so much as the follow up. After it had been pointed out to them that it was a Christian building, UKIP’s South Thanet gang decided to issue an apology. Sort of.
“I have got it wrong about the building as was wrongly advised and apologise. The random vote remark still stands.”
This tweet begs even more questions. First off, “as advised” sounds fairly sinister. Does UKIP’s South Thanet branch have an “Islam watch” patrol, looking for signs that the metropolitan liberal elite are indulging in their well known penchant for using Muslims as proxies for themselves?
“We need to make Farage look bad. How do we do it?” asks a 45-year-old man in skin tights jeans, deck shoes and three-day stubble.
“Let’s head to the mosque, bro,” says his friend, who talks in an unconvincing American accent that is clearly meant to be taken ironically. “Because everyone knows that Islam and UKIP mix like Godfrey Bloom and room full of working mothers, whatever Patrick O’Flynn tries to spin us, dude.”
Having said all of this, at least UKIP didn’t pull a Miliband and have their leader repeatedly pop up on TV outlets after the tweet disaster to dig himself and his party an ever-deeper hole (“Nigel, what do you think of people who go to mosques?” “I look at a mosque and I think one thing: respect”). So for now, UKIP have a better press sense than the official opposition, a truly scary thought.
But in closing: I have always resisted the urge to condemn UKIP as a racist party. Indeed, during the Euro vote, when everyone was piling in to say how racist they thought Farage’s party was, I said things to the opposite effect. I often found myself telling people who echoed this line that they were falling into a trap; that they were saying what Nigel was hoping they might say as members of the out of touch metropolitan elite. Actually to this day I remain convinced that the majority of UKIP supporters and members are not motivated by race at all.
However, those at the centre of the party, those that run the increasingly large UKIP machine? That I’m starting to seriously wonder about. I haven’t made my mind up one way or another yet, but “random not selective” remarks being what they are, my doubt on this is now standing.