Monday, 28 November 2016

Shock Jock Brexit's not what I want!: My thoughts RE UKIP under Paul Nuttall.

UKIP have announced a new leader this morning in the rather morose, "Eddie Hitler" lookalike Paul Nuttall. In some respects it would be kushty to ignore the lower than morally Bottom, so-called Far-Right party. Funnily enough Mr Nuttall doesn't believe the far-right exists anymore in the UK and credits UKIP with its destruction. I guess it's pretty easy to convince yourself that you're the party of the "patriotic working class" and try and mimic the Labour movement to escape the labelling of the past. Perhaps it's an attempt to "modernise" or "Alt-Right" the party. Who knows. I can relate to the need to escape political labelling. I've never considered myself as Left or Right leaning but it seems that if you discuss political events and policies you ultimately get sucked into ideological wars which are not of your own making. As a Millennial, I don't particularly care about old fashioned political labels being ascribed to me at will. I know my own mind and that's why I'm proud to be an independent, swing voter. As such, I have no problem expressing my disagreement with some of the
comments El Nutto has made in the past. I don't believe the UK needs to have a referendum on abortion rights, I don't believe businesses should be given an automatic right to openly discriminate against LGBTQIA people on the basis of (misguided) Christian values alone and I don't believe that fox hunting should be made legal again in the countryside. Immigration does need to be "controlled" in some form but not by spewing hateful rhetoric towards immigrants who have spent years working in the UK helping to look after our elderly, nurse patients back to health or help build the miniscule amount of social housing that actually help keep a roof over some British citizens' heads. So, on the face of it, Nuttall's UKIP wouldn't appeal to me in the slightest. Yet it's important to keep a close eye on UKIP policies that are developed over the next few months, especially if you are a member of the Labour party.

UKIP claims to be the party "for the British working class" but what UKIP doesn't understand is that most working class people in Lincoln, including myself, rarely talk about immigration except during fleeting moments of curiosity. I don't talk to my Dad about "bloody foreigners clogging up the GP Surgery" or tell my Mum I won't buy any food made by a Polish migrant on a supermarket hot food counter. I'd never dream of saying either of those comments to them or to anyone else friend or stranger. The Millennials I know are too concerned about whether they'll be able to secure themselves a full time professional role after 3 years of studying at University, or whether their apprenticeship will really equip them with the skills and experience needed to advance up the career ladder in the long term. The Millennials I know want to be able to earn enough money to put aside some for a deposit on their first home, or to help them rent their first flat. Millennials I know want to be able to not have to make a choice between heating their home or eating three square meals a day. Millennials I know want their grandparents and great grandparents to be treated with dignity and respect in their old age by professionals who have the time to care for them properly without worrying about "clocking in on time" to make sure their pay doesn't get deducted. Millennials I know who happen to be LGBTQIA want to know that they will be treated equally whilst working for an organisation- that means not being called "poof" on a daily basis, equal pay and equal opportunities for appropriate training and career progression.  Some Millennials I know care about the environment, wanting more investment in clean energy resources and better protections for animals in Lincolnshire such as our beloved hedgehogs and rabbits.

As far as I'm aware, UKIP haven't truly addressed Millennial based issues in any great depth. Farage certainly didn't go out of his way to publically comment about the state of our Social Care system or Mental Health services and I've never heard him talk about apprenticeships or comprehensive education with much gusto. All I knew about Farage was that he was a "pint man" who hated being part of the EU and bunked off from most debate and voting days and yet still got paid for it. If I'd done that whilst working as a Purchase Ledger Clerk I'd have been immediately reprimanded and possibly even fired. Farage just grinned like a Cheshire Cat.

So it was rather funny being lectured on how to follow politics like a "patriotic person" by a UKIP supporter. A recent tweet exchange involved me being accused of being supportive of a "Labour equalities-driven agenda"- as if being in favour of progressive Equality and Diversity policies is such a bad thing. He told me to "remember to switch off the lights"- i.e. insinuating that voting for Labour is now a vote for stupidity and brazen ignorance. Well that's the problem with some UKIP voters. They see any policies which are remotely progressive in nature as "leftist", "socialist", "Labour" only policies. Does that UKIP supporter, Mr Farage and Mr Nuttall think that Nuttall's policies would have much appeal in Lincoln from Conservative voters? I don't know about you but I've hardly heard of many Conservative voters who now openly oppose giving LGBTQIA people protection from discrimination at work on the basis of religious bias or want a costly referendum on a woman's right to an abortion. It's bad enough women in Northern Ireland are forced to come to England to get an abortion and some on the right still think it's acceptable to make them feel ashamed for exercising their right to control their own bodies. I don't care about fox hunting and Conservative and Labour voters alike in Lincoln don't talk about it. As for the death penalty, I thought we'd moved on as a country and believe in the power of redemption and show compassion for our enemies as we do our friends. As my grandma, a fierce opponent of the death penalty once said- "If you believe in An Eye For Eye you'll make the World Go Blind". I have no interest in putting people to death- not least because of the fact that ISIS issue death sentences like a trigger happy Trumputinung in crack cocaine binge mode. Being vengeful isn't really that worth it in the grand scheme of things. If we had so much hate in our heart, Brendan Cox would have called for the death penalty for extreme far right Neo-Nazi terrorist Mr Mair instead of expressing pity for him. I'd love to know who Mr Nuttall expects to be punished with a death penalty and whether he'd have let Mair be put to death for his actions. One can only surmise on that.

See the thing is that swing voters like me who are honest and open about our voting intentions and votes that we have previously cast are labelled on a fairly regular basis. The far right are very quick to label swing voters who are creatives as "Luvvies" and politically minded swing voters as "Champagne Socialists" in disguise if they dare to vote Labour rather than UKIP or Conservative at a General Election.   The far left label swing voters who vote Conservative "traitors" or "secret racists". It's ridiculous to slander so many independent voters in marginal seats like Lincoln, especially if they are working class Millennials. Mr Nuttall says that there are policies that Labour, UKIP and Conservative voters can all agree on. I agree with him on that point but I'd say that  Liberal Democrats, Greens  and Women's and Equalities Party (WEP) have to be included in cross-party discussions. So here's my list (probably quite different from Nuttall's!):
  • appropriate funding and staffing levels for the NHS including improved Mental Health services, sexual health clinics (GUMs) for each English and Welsh county
  • appropriate funding and staffing levels for the Prison service, to prevent staff fatigue and reduce drug dependency amongst prisoners
  • appropriate funding and staffing for the Police service, including improvement of staff training on handing rape cases, child trafficking cases, domestic abuse and violence cases and how to treat people from ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA people and disabled people with dignity and respect when dealing with claims of hate crime
  • appropriate funding and staffing levels for Comprehensive schools as well as Grammar and Free ones.
  • encouraging transparency in public services to tackle and prevent corruption and fraud-e.g. making sure MPs are forced to pay back expenses to which they were not entitled
  • immigration controls which are sensible and not derived from or backed up by hate rhetoric -e.g. praise migrant nurses, construction workers, agricultural workers and not demonise them or their family members as "scroungers"
  • freedom of expression without resorting to discrimination -e.g. wearing a cross at work to show you are Christian but do not treat a LGBTQIA co-worker differently from a Christian heterosexual co-worker.
  • more apprenticeship opportunities, including ones open to 25 year olds and older, including retraining for Arts graduates who want to change/get into a different career -e.g. Accountancy
  • investing in Digital Infrastructure, especially in rural areas with superfast broadband and 5G becoming the norm by 2020
  • investing in housing infrastructure, including increase in social housing, affordable housing, renovations of terraced housing in inner cities as part of building up social housing base
  • investing in clean/renewable energy resources but recognising the need to retain oil/gas infrastructure until renewable resources are widely available and produce cheap energy
  • preserving heritage sites for future generations and investing in museums, art galleries, theatre spaces, opera houses etc.
  • reducing reliance on foodbanks by increasing the number of full time, sustainable jobs in Northern areas without resorting to hate rhetoric against immigrants currently based in the UK
Such a list isn't designed to be comprehensive or definitive in nature but it shows that Jo Cox was right when she said that there was "far more that unites us than divides us". I believe that the Labour party must study the article that Jo wrote for the Yorkshire Post during the EU Referendum to be able to combat the views of Farage, Nuttall et al head on. Jo gave us key suggestions as to how Labour can appeal to the swing voters currently worried about the impacts of immigration on job prospects and public services, especially in the North East. Labour can't patronise Brexit voters who  have also previously voted Labour...they can't say that just because they don't talk about nuclear disarmament or the grandness of Fidel Castro on a loop that they aren't "true" Labour voters. Instead, Jo mentioned the fact that Labour should focus on dealing with the practical consequences of the UK having experienced a high level of EU immigration over the last decade and a half. It seems clear that Jo would have been supportive of the establishment of a Migrant Impact Fund (MIF) to support schools, create new GP surgeries and build houses in areas of "high demand" such as Boston in Lincolnshire...the area that had the highest Leave percentage in the country at 75.6% and South Holland, second highest at 73.6% which has a large concentration of arable farms which employ EU migrants. Jeremy Corbyn, at his Autumn Conference mentioned that the MIF is a key policy that he'd implement in the first 6 months after an election win. Also, it only seems fair for Labour to be prepared to create a MIF, considering that EU migrants have contributed £20 billion more in taxes than they've taken in benefits since 2001. UKIP hasn't talked about establishing any kind of MIF and the Conservatives haven't been forthcoming on allocating specific funding for areas like Boston. So Labour grassroots activists need to be shouting about the MIF from the rooftops.

If  Labour wants to win the next General Election, Corbyn also needs to demonstrate how immigration controls should work in an inclusive UK. Quota systems which take into account professional requirements seems quite arbitrary to Remain voters like me (who agreed with Jo that non EU immigration levels may go up post Brexit with encouragement from UKIP) but in some ways the professions quota system approach maybe a step in the right direction to try and retain Labour Brexit voters. I remember talking to a Labour voter from Boston who said that he was fine with an "Eastern European working on the farms" but he didn't understand why a Polish migrant had been recruited as a HR Assistant at his local firm. His question to me was: "How can a Polish guy get a HR position but my girlfriend with a HR masters degree can't even get an interview with a local employer?" It was quite a cutting question given my views on immigration are that it has more positive than negative effects in Lincoln. Yet his views are typical of some working class voters in Lincoln. We can't dismiss their concerns completely out of hand. I don't think privileging British candidates over migrant candidates would be the answer to improving job prospects for British born people in Lincoln as he suggested to me but rather the emphasis should be on increasing the number of job opportunities by encouraging growth in the economy. Immigrants help create profitable businesses in the UK which employ hundreds of local people often on full time contracts that pay at least the National Living Wage. It's not distasteful for migrants who work hard to earn enough money to feed, clothe and house themselves and their family to be able to have access to their own food and actively enjoy cultural activities that connect them back to their roots. Locals have to make the effort to get to know their migrants as well as migrants getting to know locals. Neighbourhood solidarity matters greatly. Sharing cultural and social values helps to remove barriers that can lead to unwarranted prejudice and discrimination. If that HR Assistant from Poland is encouraged to connect with an unemployed HR graduate from Lincoln to mentor them into finding a HR position in Lincoln as a result of meeting at a community charity gala or at a local disco venue, that's a fantastic way forward. It's not idealistic, "left wing luvvie" pie-in-the-sky thinking to believe this level of positive social cohesion could happen. At the moment there is a sense that communities which contain a higher proportion of migrants are "troublesome"- Ms Ayling, a UKIP Lincs County Councillor and candidate in the Sleaford and North Hykeham By-Election made a video in 2008 stating the UK should "send the lot back"- lot referring to asylum seekers who would be "encouraged" to speak English as soon as they arrived in the UK if they are allowed to stay. Fear of the consequences of an asylum seeker not being able to speak the language leads to mistrust without much basis for that mistrust. Fear divides us. We have to do everything we can to combat misguided fears. Fear of discussion needs to be overcome. Labour activists should not be afraid to talk to UKIP ones and vice versa.

At the same time, Labour can't dismiss swing voters who voted Remain as irrelevant or "less valuable" because of their "centrist" views. Constituencies such as Lambeth and Hackney which recorded the highest percentage of Remain voters in June are currently solid Labour (whereas Boston is solidly Conservative) and London Labour voters wouldn't take too kindly to the UK going through a "Hard Brexit" as UKIP and far right Conservative MPs have crowed for. It would certainly be a mistake for Corbyn and McDonnell to ramp up rhetoric against the EU if the Brexit process started becoming tumultuous as a result of bumbling Conservative ineptitude. Remain voters need reassurances that European relations will remain strong. That's why Labour has to be coy with regards to their Brexit stance. Corbyn is right to state Brexit will happen but must be prepared to defend workers rights whilst exploring a suitable immigration policy. Emphasising the contribution EU migrants have made to the UK economy, UK culture and society is vital. Resisting calls for arbitrary quota systems suggested by UKIP is essential. The more thoughtful Corbyn comes across on Brexit, the better his polling will be with Remain voters. And yes, Remain voters still matter and do indeed vote in General Elections. UKIP will not gain the support of Remainers like me but we must be prepared to listen and engage with UKIP supporters and swing voters, if only to find practical solutions that will help working class Millennials to thrive in a possible post Brexit climate. Jo Cox wanted us to find the common ground in politics. It's time to apply ourselves to the task of convincing swing voters to back Labour and part of that is by getting ready to take Mr Nuttall's policy discourse seriously and literally. Labour activists may not like what he has to say but they have to take on board his comments and then rebuke them cleverly with facts and workable solutions. Labour activists can do this. Just stay "woke" as they say across the Pond!