“Label the behaviour not the person”: why we shouldn’t call Ukip a racist party

by Stephen Tall on May 10, 2014

ukip-poster-manchesterFor once I’m going to agree with Nigel Farage. Speaking at a rally this week, he pleaded with the media and public, “from this moment on please do not ever call us a racist party. We are not a racist party.”

As rallying cries go, it’s not the most ambitious. But, then, Ukip’s not an ambitious party. As Farage himself happily boasts, it has just two policies: withdrawal from the EU and bringing back grammar schools. It doesn’t really matter, though. Ukip is defined by what it’s against, not what it’s for, and a significant minority of voters like its unrepentantly chippy contrariness.

But to define Ukip as a racist party is both lazy and self-defeating. It is lazy because being against the UK’s membership of the European Union and being against unrestricted immigration within the EU are neither inherently racist positions. And it is self-defeating because the accusation of racism – dependent as it is on a category error – lacks all credibility.

Being anti-immigration is lots of other things… Deeply illiberal (the state telling citizens where they can’t live – and Farage claims he’s a libertarian!), economically flawed (immigrants are net contributors to the country), and utterly wrong-headed (the UK benefits massively from immigrants’ ambition, just as they benefit from the opportunities gained). But not racist.

For those of us who object to Ukip’s policies, it’s expedient, and probably comforting, to fling the racism charge around. It demonstrates to ourselves and others quite how fiercely we disagree with them. Maybe we hope too that it will taint Ukip, stigmatise the party in the eyes of their potential voters. It’s plausible. After all, the Tory brand was further toxified in the eyes of many by its 2005 poster campaign, ‘It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration’.

But, then, the Conservatives are a mainstream national party which needs to draw on votes across the country in order to win a majority. By contrast Ukip revel in their “we’re just telling it like it is” ersatz honesty, knowing it appeals to a limited but ultra-motivated segment of the population which feels disenfranchised. Ukip’s is the ultimate core vote strategy.

Claiming that Ukip’s policies are racist when they’re not, claiming that Ukip’s a racist party when it isn’t, plays into their hands. Ukip loves to play the victim, the brow-beaten, anti-establishment voice of the people stifled by a liberal elite that cries racism the moment immigration is criticised.

Actually, we’re quite lucky we have Nigel Farage. Seriously. Better Farage and Ukip than Marine le Pen and the National Front in France, or Golden Dawn in Greece, or Geert Wilders’ PVV in the Netherlands or Jobbik in Hungary. It’s partly thanks to Ukip that Nick Griffin’s BNP, a genuinely racist party, has disappeared without trace.

None of which is to say Ukip should be given an easy ride. Quite the reverse. Their anti-EU, anti-immigration policies inevitably attract people who are xenophobic and racist. Ukip may not itself be racist, but there are most definitely racists in Ukip, and not all of them are in the closet.

Whenever and wherever racist behaviour manifests itself it should be challenged – just as it has in recent weeks as it’s been revealed that Ukip candidates have, for instance, described Islam as “evil” and told Lenny Henry he should emigrate to a “black country”. As Sunder Katwala of British Future said in a speech to the University of Sussex yesterday:

It is precisely because UKIP is not considered a racist party that it makes sense to call on Nigel Farage to kick racists out of Ukip. Nobody has ever bothered to challenge Nick Griffin to kick racists out of the BNP. What would be the point? There would be nobody left. As the final, fatal demise of the BNP this month will exemplify, Nigel Farage knows that no party which does not accept that black and Asian citizens are equally British will get a heading in the Britain of 2014.

Nigel Farage has promised he’d clean up UKIP’s act. He’s expelled people who have been caught, but needs to do much more to keep his promise to properly vet his candidates so that he gets embarrassed less often. He should also take more responsibility for UKIP’s local campaigns that fall on the wrong side of any reasonable democratic debate. Its important we debate how to manage immigration effectively. But Nigel Farage should promise that there will be no more UKIP leaflets comparing British people to Native Americans who ‘didn’t worry about immigration and now live on a reservation’.

Nigel Farage needs to tell UKIP candidates and local parties that voicing extreme slogans like “no more mosques” is unacceptable. This falls on the wrong side of the British tradition of religious freedom. It also voices a prejudice which makes British Muslim integration harder to achieve too.

… UKIP has had to ditch and expel candidates who have made racist statements – because voicing such views is repulsive to all but the most extreme fringe of voters. At the same time, many potential Ukip voters agree with Nigel Farage’s claim that charges of racism have been used too loosely, too quickly, and too often to close down debate about immigration. It is important, therefore, to make clear that we must talk about immigration but that we should do so without prejudice or scaremongering. It is this which will help secure the broadest possible coalition for keeping racism out of the public debate.

In other words, we should label the behaviour not the person. It’s an important distinction. Don’t condemn Ukip as racist, but yes, absolutely, we should condemn racism within Ukip. And we should expect Nigel Farage to do the same. Every. Single. Time.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.


This ignores some very obvious points. First of all, since the publication of the report of the MacPherson Inquiry some years ago, there has been an emphasis on defining racism according to the perception of an action by the recipient or victim of that action, rather than by the stated intentions of the person who carried out the action. So it's not really for you to say UKIP's actions are not racist, if someone else perceives that they are. (I concede that there are some obvious flaws with the MacPherson definition – which Diane Abbott among others has come unstuck with).

But a racial group in UK law is : "any group of people who are defined by reference to their race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origin" – so by the very fact that they oppose immigration from one set of countries (the EU) – which they clearly state, then they are treating that group less favourably and therefore define that policy as a racist policy. Since this policy is, as you say, one of very few policies they have, then it seems eminently fair to describe them as a racist party – which isn't by the way labelling the individual members – it's labelling the party.

All that aside, UKIP representatives have repeatedly, and on a great many occasions demonstrated actions which are far more racist than the policies they profess to hold. You've forgotten perhaps the reference to "Bongo Bongo Land", the suggestion that Lenny Henry go back to a Black Country (as opposed to THE Black Country which is his home), I could go on at some length.

If you don't think this lot are a racist party – what would a racist party look like to you ?

by Stephen Smith on May 10, 2014 at 11:36 am. Reply #

“Whenever and wherever racist behaviour manifests itself it should be challenged – just as it has in recent weeks as it’s been revealed that Ukip candidates have, for instance, described Islam as “evil”…”


If you’re gonna write a post denouncing “category error”, it’s a good idea not to commit one yourself.

by MRDA on May 10, 2014 at 2:42 pm. Reply #

"what would a racist party look like to you?"

Labour I suppose, the only perceived difference with Diane Abbots comments and a random unknown UKIPer who has been removed from the party (therefore no longer a representative of UKIP) is that Diane is still allowed to be a member of her party. Therefore the party much condone her comments. Her comments on Finnish immigrant healthcare professionals showed a will to systematically remove them from treating people her area, did it not?

Wouldn't defining racism as being defined by the victim mean there is no definition? Though of course in the context of this article, it refers to the many people who genuinely call UKIP racist based on traditional definitions, without any real grounds to. The knee-jerk "THATS RACIST", as if an original sin had been committed isn't helpful.

The problem with the thousands calling UKIP racist, is that they have no evidence. UKIP members who have made inflammatory comments have since been removed from the party. Even prior to idiots like Godrey Bloom, UKIP was labelled racist because of its immigration policy. If as you say, any controlled immigration policy is racist, then the impact of the word has lost all meaning.

Context is key. You claim:

"the very fact that they oppose immigration from one set of countries (the EU).. is racist"

As Farage so often likes to recite, is it not racist to have a separate immigration policy with the EU and the rest of the world? Are we not discriminating against "India or New Zealand"? Aren't we treating EU members more favorably than Indians? Isn't the illiberal? Having national identity, isn't that racist?

Its impossible to draw clear distinction like you are doing, UKIP may have hypocritical and muddled policies. The problem with trying to show UKIP to be all racists wearing SS uniforms, saluting hitler and duck-stepping through Birmingham is… its a false description.

It muddles the narrative, and smears any euro-sceptic debate. Those who see through the smear campaign are more likely to vote UKIP, without proper policy research, they will vote as a reaction against the extreme-left idiots trying to hatchet-job smear the party.

I must sound like a UKIPer, but I should announce I'll likely be voting Lib Dem in the Euros.

by David Whiteknight on May 10, 2014 at 3:56 pm. Reply #

Leave your comment


Required. Not published.

If you have one.