Rev Wale Hudson-Roberts examines the success of UKIP in the recent council and European elections, and argues that the Church must take a stand against the racism within this growing political force
Protest vote or not, UKIP’s inexorable surge onto the political landscape has created an earthquake. Even mainstream parties have conceded that UKIP’s meteoric rise is a blow and a worry. UKIP has no MPs, but won 27.5 per cent of the ballots in the European elections, and became the first minor party in over a century to lead a national vote. Its triumph was crowned by the 161 English council seats it picked up, having won a paltry 30 between 2009 and 2012. While the other parties strategise on how to stop the UKIP machine, UKIP are strategising on how to win a handful of parliamentary seats in next year’s General Election. Even more alarming is their dream to take hundreds of thousands of votes from the mainstream parties, making the outcome fiendishly unpredictable.
This thrust for votes is being driven mainly by its leader, Nigel Farage, who recently commented, “It was rush hour from Charing Cross; it was the stopper going out. We stopped at London Bridge, New Cross and Hither Green. It was not until we got past Grove Park that I could actually hear English being spoken in the carriage. Does that make me feel slightly awkward? Yes. I wonder what is really going on. And I’m sure that’s the view that will be reflected by three quarters of the population, even more.”
This consciously culturally-biased (racist) political organisation is intent on playing a smart game of divide and rule, and is beguiling numbers from all walks of life. In the early days, UKIP targeted the European Parliament, the Commission, and the Council of Ministers, but in more recent days, with increasing numbers of Brits competing for properties, health, schools and employment, UKIP have seized on the fears and vulnerabilities of the British public. Its approach has become obviously racist, enticing many into its xenophobic tentacles.
There is something toxic about the party; it is more than just vilifying foreigners. The public are now being empowered to proudly express their unpalatable views about immigrants. The views of many, having lain dormant for many years, have become vociferous in their expression and malignant in their effect. That a third of the UK population have recently indicated their prejudice and racist beliefs in a recent poll, suggests that words and actions are slowly converging.
There are a number of catalysts behind racism’s current visible ascent, the politics and strategy of UKIP being amongst the most influential. And their burgeoning fan base, which sadly consists of some Black and Asian people, is powering the force of their arguments. The obvious inability of mainstream parties to stop them creating a society divided on race and other lines is becoming glaringly obvious.
“Protest vote or not, UKIP’s inexorable surge onto the political landscape has created an earthquake”
So, with the face of British politics likely to change, what can the Church do to address this concern? Understanding the social and political landscape, which has contributed to the rise of UKIP, is a starting point. In short, their support is disproportionately drawn from older, blue-collar workers, with little education and few skills; groups further marginalised by the economic and social conversion of Britain. For such – mainly White – disgruntled voters, disillusionment with the political system has meant that UKIP have become their only voice. Understanding this world, imbibed by UKIP, will strengthen the Church’s protest.
Protest is one of the perennial themes in the New Testament. Jesus handpicked His disciples not for them to retreat into the mountains to pray, but to support and equip them in their mission to change the world – which also included saving souls. Saving of souls was incredibly important to Christ, but we should not forget that the saved soul is called to be salt and light to the world at large. This involves the inauguration of a new and just kingdom, one marked by righteousness and justice. In other words, Christ saved us so that people could protest and experience victory against the very things they were saved from, such as sin. Excluding others from the party, because they are Polish, Romanian, and so the list continues; we call this racism. A challenge to UKIP is what the Church needs to become, a kind of protest movement. Voting is one way the Church can do this.
With the passing of the European and local elections, there is still the General Election, which is fast looming. Curtailing UKIP’s influence is what our votes will do. Herein lies the conundrum. Many of our pastors enjoy sipping tea and coffee with the political elite; parading the corridors of power with their sharp suits and even sharper shoes, giving the impression that change and progress are part of their DNA. Yet the same pastor will have little knowledge of the likes of UKIP, and would rather preach on speaking in tongues, deliverance, and women dressed in inappropriate attire, rather than on the Church being salt and light in one’s immediate vicinity, which might involve casting the vote.
As the Church, then, perhaps we need to take more seriously how we can challenge parties such as UKIP, whose policies exclude and not include, and disempower and not empower others. If the role of the Church is to be salt and light, that means in all areas of life, not just a few.