Members of the United Kingdom Independence Party must be rubbing their hands with glee today. They're the subject of the day's leading news story. The Education Secretary has described them as “a mainstream party”. The Leader of the Opposition has effectively defended them. They are being portrayed as victims of discrimination, despite their own discriminatory policies.
According to the story that broke this morning, foster carers in Rotherham had non-British children removed from their care because they are members of UKIP. This is the claim of the couple concerned. Rotherham Council's statements seem less clear, suggesting that membership of UKIP influenced the decision, but implying it was not the only factor. They have spoken of the children's cultural needs not being respected.
Our primary concern in all this must be the needs of the children. I do not know whether Rotherham Council were right to remove the children. I have not been involved in the case. I do not know the children; I do not know the foster carers; I do not know about all the issues involved. Nor, of course, do the many people who have rushed to condemn the council's decision. These include Michael Gove, who has already described it as “the wrong decision”.
It is utterly inappropriate and unprofessional for the Education Secretary to comment on the rightness or wrongness of a fostering decision on the basis of media reports, without thoroughly investigating the details. It is comparable to the Home Secretary commenting on the guilt or innocence of someone who is in the middle of a criminal trial. Mr Gove's behaviour is the real scandal in this story.
I am not arguing that UKIP members should be barred from fostering children. I am not even arguing that UKIP members should be barred from fostering children who are not British. I am not arguing that Rotherham Council made the right decision. But I do believe that it is legitimate to take foster carers' beliefs into account when considering the needs of children. For example, it would be inappropriate to place children from a Muslim family with foster carers who were prejudiced against Muslims.
UKIP are using this case to portray themselves as a reasonable, credible, non-racist party. The reality is that they are a far-right party. On many issues, their policies are comparable to the British National Party. It is true that they do not share the BNP's focus on skin colour, but their policies are similar on issues including immigration, education, criminal justice and climate change. On economics, they are way to the right of the BNP, calling for all sorts of policies that would benefit the rich at the expense of the rest of us.
I do not make these claims lightly. Two years ago, I analysed the polices of both UKIP and the BNP. I had expected some similarities but I was genuinely shocked by the extent of them. The article I wrote as a result can be read at http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11611 .
UKIP want to end all permanent immigration for five years, and severely restrict if after that. In their own words, they oppose multiculturalism. They would abolish the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the UN Convention on Refugees. Their education policy includes the teaching of a pro-imperial view of British history. They want to increase military spending by 40 per cent, reduce taxes for the rich at the expense of the rest of us and force all unemployed people to work without pay in order to receive benefits. They are keen to double the number of people in prison. Unlike almost every other party in Britain, they want to discriminate against gay and bisexual people by denying marriage rights to same-sex couples. Until 2010, they wanted to make laws about what people were allowed to wear in public, by banning the niqab. Their attitude to the environment seems to be pure fantasy, based on the claim that climate change is not caused by humans.
I have come across many people who have voted UKIP because they oppose the European Union, but who are unaware of the rest of their policies. I have no doubt that some UKIP members are decent individuals. Indeed, I dare say that some of them would make good foster carers. I have no interest in encouraging personal hostility. But UKIP as a party is a far-right grouping with a twisted image of Britain, a strong stream of prejudice and policies that would benefit only the super-rich. I'm appalled that Michael Gove and Ed Miliband seem to be trying to claim otherwise.
(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia. His book, The No-Nonsense Guide to Religion, can be ordered at http://www.newint.org/books/no-nonsense-guides/religion/ .
For links to more of Symon's writing, please see http://www.symonhill.wordpress.com .