That Ukip joke isn’t funny anymore
We've all been in a conspiracy to support Ukip. The hard-right like the party because it agrees with them. The right-wing of the Tory party likes it because it pushes their own leaders in their direction. The left likes it because it splits the Conservative vote. And people who don't fit into any of those categories like it because it shakes things up a bit.
This website has been just as culpable as the others. For some time, we hosted a column by Godfrey Bloom, who is a peculiarly laughable example of the Ukip politician.
It all seemed safe. Nigel Farage does not come across as too sinister a threat. His cheerful, spittle-lipped bonhomie seems a fairly harmless form of right-wing extremism. For a time, I thought that if that was as far-right as Britain got, we must be doing something right.
That now seems deeply naive. Ukip is doing what it always intended to do: filling our country with poison.
Its latest poster campaign targets the reptile part of the human brain. It digs below the advanced functions into the fight-or-flight mechanism, the bit of us that wants to take and hoard and lash out at anything different.
Of its latest round of posters, the most pernicious features a large hand pointing at the reader with the message: "Twenty six million people in Europe are looking for work – and whose job are they after?"
They've been branded racist on Twitter. Ukip of course denies that. But whoever the hand is pointing at, it is surely not a European person, or else its message would not make sense. And one might reasonably conclude that it does not include people from Somalia or India or Colombia. No, the 'you' is the indigenous Brit – whatever that is. And the 'other', the person taking your job, is 'the foreigner', a word which is increasingly used in this country with a degree of spite.
It is divisive by definition. And the form of division it encourages is based on nationality. No dog whistle is necessary. We can all understand perfectly well what it is trying to say.
Our patience toward Ukip is poisoning our political debate. The decisive moment came during 2010 general election campaign after Gordon Brown's regrettable conversation with Gillian Duffy. The aftermath of that saw commentators and politicians jump up to say how questioning immigration does not make you racist.
This is plainly true. But it is also true that anti-immigrant sentiment can be a Trojan horse for racism – that many of the people who despise immigration are in fact racists and hold a puritanical ethnic and cultural view of what constitutes national identity. This reactionary view of society has been reinforced by mainstream politicians, including the prime minister, insisting that "multiculturalism has failed".
The idea that there has ever been a period in which critics could not discuss immigration is total nonsense. The front pages of the Mail and the Express, to name two of the worst offenders, have screamed anti-immigrant bile for years. One study found that in 2002, 25% of Daily Mail and 24% of Daily Express articles were about asylum. Fifty-three per cent of newspaper stories about asylum were negative. The most common words associated with immigrants and asylum seekers in the national press are 'illegal' and 'bogus'.
Ukip entered this situation with questionable aspirations. Kippers will tell you until they are blue in the face that they are not racist. For many it is surely true. I know some people in Ukip, most of them now running as MEPs, who are personally decent and often good company over dinner. One or two are highly civilized, enjoyably esoteric and sincere.
But Ukip is, at heart, an alliance of Tory malcontents, reactionaries and the hard-right. The politics of its poster campaign are representative of the terrible nonsense they have in their heads.
The research of Robert Ford, lecturer in Politics at the University of Manchester, into Ukip is invaluable. Using YouGov data he found a much higher admission of out-and-out racist views in Ukip than in other parties. Twenty-two per cent said employers should favour white applicants over non-whites, 18% said non-white people are not really British and 17% said that black Brits are less intelligent than white Brits.
That's just the racism that dares to say its name. But look into other hardline views which are short of outright racism and a more widely-held ideology comes into focus.
Sixty-four per cent of Kippers think Islam poses a threat to Western civilization. A survey of Ukip supporters conducted by Matthew Goodwin and Jocelyn Evans found 84% would feel uncomfortable if a Mosque was built in their area.
Most perniciously of all, this small, nasty party, combined with the toxic politics of Lynton Crosby, has pushed the Tories further to the right than they have gone in recent memory. Who would have thought that the party of David Cameron would outdo the party of Michael "we know what you're thinking" Howard? That they would put posters on the street echoing National Front rhetoric? That ministers would pass ID cards by the back door to deal with the non-existent migrant 'threat' to public services. That it would have ministers like justice secretary Chris Grayling or home secretary Theresa May spit out the word foreigner like it was something dirty?
It must be a source of deep shame to decent-minded Tories, of whom there are many, that their party lacks the conviction or the political armoury to take on Ukip and instead has been rotted from without by an inward-looking nationalism more reminiscent of Geert Wilders than Winston Churchill.
Labour has been useless in its response. Ed Miliband's electoral calculation mandates that he claim to be "not that interested" in Farage, but in truth the party's years of anti-immigrant rhetoric and support of untrammelled free markets deprive it of the language and ideas necessary to challenge the eurosceptics.
Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats have been quick to jettison their progressive and rational immigration policies and so are left defending only the EU's worst excesses. It is hard to imagine a worse response to Ukip.
If Farage had been allowed to invent his own opponents, these are the ones he would have created.
This has happened with a party which has not one single MP and is polling in the mid-teens. It is not bad going, but it's hardly a revolution. And this tiny organisation is affected the policies of a governing party which could not even win the general election. The grotesque, unstable, mutually-loathed alliance of Ukip and the Tory high command are making this seem a more hateful country than it really is. Their voice is disproportionate to their support.
Yes, people want less immigration. But within that assessment they are capable of nuanced views. They want a reduction in low-skilled workers (64%) and extended family members (58%) but not in high-skilled workers (32%) or immediate family members (41%).There is space for a more complex, adult debate about immigration, even accepting the suspicion which informs it. Ukip does the precise opposite: it polarises. It makes the debate meaner and more hateful.
Since the Duffy incident there has been an informal but universally-held ban on commentators calling concerns about immigration racist. This avenue of attack has essentially been barred. And look where it has got us: posters, pointing towards the reader, encouraging them to resent the man next to them in the street because of where he is from. There were posters in Mussolini's Italy which were genuinely more subtle.
If you can look at it and not feel shame for your country then you do not understand what it is that makes this country great.
Two summers ago, the Olympics felt like a new chapter in the British story, a country finally putting its imperial past to rest and looking outwards: powerful, unified and diverse. Now it seems like a high water mark which recedes ever further with each passing day.
Ukip is poisoning this country. There is no amount of damage to the Tory party or funny media coverage of Farage sinking a pint that makes up for it. Let's call a spade a spade: this poster campaign is racist and only a racist could possibly have written it.