Tuesday

24th May 2016

Analysis

Ukip's popularity undented by accusations of racism

  • It looks almost like a concerted media campaign against Ukip (Photo: HighVis UKIP)

It certainly feels as if it has been a fortnight of bad news for the UK Independence Party (Ukip). Each day has brought a new set of negative headlines.

Last week, for instance, there was the launch of Ukip's "biggest ever" election advertising campaign. One poster featured the slogan: "26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?" While another showed a putative construction worker begging on the street with the message: "EU policy at work. British workers are hit hard by unlimited cheap labour."

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A campaign launch is usually an opportunity for a political party to determine its own headlines. But not in Ukip's case. Within hours, the publicity generated by the campaign was almost entirely negative, with virtually all media outlets reporting that the campaign had been "branded 'racist'". Which indeed it had by the Labour Party.

More media-stoked embarrassment was to follow. Within a few days, the press got hold of the story that the construction worker featured in one of the election posters was actually Dave O'Rourke, an actor from Ireland – that is, from outside the UK.

The bad press did not stop there. The star of Ukip's election broadcast, a construction worker called Andre Lampitt, had his Twitter account paraded across the media, including statements such as "Inner peace will come when Aids does what it should and reduce African density" and "[Islam is an] evil organisation respecting a prophet who was a pedo [sic]".

Ukip promptly suspended Lampitt, but no sooner had he gone than another member emerged to take his place in the media spotlight. This time it was William Henwood, an MEP candidate in Enfield. In response to a recent speech by black comedian Lenny Henry, in which he suggested there was a poor representation of black and ethnic minorities on British television, Henwood tweeted: "He should emigrate to a black country. He does not have to live with whites."

Henwood himself has defended the tweet, but that did not stop the accusations of racism from once again being thrown at Ukip. For its part, Ukip has persistently stated that it is "non-racist, non-sectarian".

In fact, so relentless has been the bad publicity, it looks almost like a concerted media campaign against Ukip.

A story in the Commentator last year revealed that the Conservative Party was employing people to trawl through Ukip candidates' social media accounts looking for embarrassing information, before packaging it up into a briefing document to be sent out to the press.

There is every reason to suggest this is still going on, especially given the news earlier this year that Labour has, in the words of one senior minister, organised an "attack team" focused entirely on combating Ukip.

The fresh news, then, that a new cross-party campaign against Ukip, led by the former Labour immigration minister Barbara Roche, is to be launched, came as little surprise.

It merely made explicit the hitherto implicit cross-party targeting of Ukip as racist. "Ukip's campaign needs to be exposed for what it is, a racist campaign," Roche said. "The party is practising what is in effect a form of 'Euracism'." They are deploying the same language and tactics used by openly racist parties like the [British National Party], but instead of targeting migrants from Africa and Asia they are targeting migrants from within the EU."

Yet despite the constant 'racist' mud being flung in Ukip's direction, it does not seem to be sticking. Or if it is, it does not seem to be affecting voting intentions. The most recent YouGov poll this weekend put Ukip in the lead on 31 percent, Labour on 28 percent and the Conservatives in third on 19 percent.

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