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Any remaining doubts I had about the nature of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) were dispelled today when they published their general election manifesto. UKIP have now firmly positioned themselves on the extreme right of British politics, with economic policies that will clearly benefit the richest members of society at the expense of the rest of us.
When I wrote an article in The Samosa last month comparing UKIP and the British National Party, I received an angry response from UKIP supporters for suggesting that on many issues the policies of these two parties are largely indistinguishable.
But the similarity was confirmed today by UKIP's manifesto, which is anti-immigration, anti-Muslim and anti-civil liberties. In addition to withdrawal from the European Union, UKIP want an immediate five-year freeze on migrants settling in Britain and would ban the niqab (or Muslim face veil) in certain private buildings as well as public ones.
In previous elections, UKIP have focused on emotional appeals to British identity and patriotism. This time, they have prioritised economic issues and the result is far more frightening. The gap between richest and poorest is at highest for decades, but UKIP want to take even more money from the poor and give it to the rich.
Their policies include scrapping the top rate of tax, replacing it with a uniform 31% flat rate that would see many people on middle incomes paying much more. Employers would cash in (and public services lose out) from the total abolition of national insurance. Further privatisation would see thousands of staff transferred from the public to the private sector. The most vulnerable groups would suffer most from UKIP policies, with no more free television licences for older people or student loan subsidies for those on low incomes.
On economic issues, UKIP clearly differ from the BNP, whose neo-fascist agenda includes a broadly statist approach to economics. But UKIP's extremist free-marketism is no less right-wing, while their hatred of multiculturalism, immigration and free expression is as virulent as the BNP's own.
Amongst the messages I received after my article comparing UKIP to the BNP, most were concerned to defend UKIP policies rather than to deny that it was a far-right party. With unintended irony, some made sweeping generalisations about Muslims and/or ethnic groups in a way that only served to give a negative impression of UKIP supporters and thereby reinforce my original argument.
However, one UKIP candidate emailed me to say that he objected to being called a racist. In reality, I had acknowledged that UKIP do not share the BNP's obsession with skin colour. Non-white people would undoubtedly fare worse under a BNP government than a UKIP one. But there is no chance of either of them forming a government in the immediate future. There is a chance that one (or both) of them could win a seat in the Commons. And on most issues, a UKIP MP would vote the same way as a BNP MP.
Before today, I had been inclined to assume that if UKIP win a seat, this would not be quite as bad as if the BNP win one. But today I have realised clearly that, while the BNP are more extreme on ethnicity, UKIP are more extreme in attacking the poorest members of society and defending the richest. I am therefore driven to the conclusion that a UKIP MP would be just as dangerous as a BNP MP.
Despite Nick Griffin's attempts to give the BNP a clean image, I suspect that most voters still regard BNP candidates as “thugs in suits” (to use Iain Duncan-Smith's memorable phrase). Most UKIP candidates have middle class accents and their leader sits in the House of Lords. This should not make them any more acceptable.
Also on Ekklesia: 'UKIP and the BNP – What's the Difference?' by Symon Hill http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11611Tweet