British Conservative Party leader David Cameron caused a stir on Tuesday when he claimed that one of the smaller parties in British politics – the UK Independence Party – was made up of “closet racists.” He made the remark on a London radio station after the UK Independence Party (UKIP) used Freedom of Information legislation to force the Conservatives to release a list of party donors, something which they have so far refused to do.
The row seemed to be gaining momentum by midday as Cameron refuted calls by UKIP for an apology and by the end of the day UKIP were consulting their lawyers as to whether Cameron’s comments were at all libellous.
Although UKIP has no members of Parliament and managed only one to two percent of the vote in last year’s general election, the party has 10 representatives in the European Parliament where it is only surpassed by the Labour and Conservative Parties who have 19 and 27 representatives respectively.
UKIP’s leader in the Europeans Parliament Nigel Farage stated “we are a non-racist, non-sectarian Party whose offence, in Mr Cameron’s eyes, has been to attempt to force his Party to disclose its sources of finance.” Cameron also has other issues with UKIP. Whilst the Conservatives and the UKIP once inhabited similar political ground on the right of the political spectrum, these days Cameron’s re-branding of the Conservative party as an altogether more centrist affair leaves open the possibility that as Cameron seeks the greater share of the popular vote in the centre of the political spectrum more traditional right wing voters may come to see the UKIP as the only real right wing choice at the ballot box.
In fact Cameron’s ranting may be harmful to the Conservatives. It is estimated that a significant proportion of the voters vote for the Conservative party in British elections and the UKIP in European elections and that Cameron’s comments may be harmful to these so-called “dual voters.” Amongst Conservative bloggers there were signs of disquiet as activists questioned Cameron’s strategy of continual rebranding of the party – in this instance by disassociating itself from the right as much as possible – when instead the focus could be on the forthcoming local elections.
It has emerged today that two former UKIP candidates were former members of a fascist organisation called the National Front in the 1970s. This would give Cameron’s remark a slither of credibility if it wasn’t for the fact that before becoming UKIP candidates these men were members of the Conservative Party!
Also, it seems strange for Cameron to accuse the UKIP of racist tendencies when the Conservatives’ manifesto for the last general election (which David Cameron wrote) was certainly more right wing than the UKIP manifesto – especially on the issue of immigration where the Conservatives faced concerted criticism from the media for imposing immigration quotas. If Cameron’s criticism is that outside of policies the UKIP members and party officials are racist then this is a dangerous statement to make off-the-cuff – it is a serious remark to brandish about without evidence especially when UKIP has an official policy of expelling former members of extremist parties.
UKIP, the Green Party and many other parties are fearful of potential changes to funding of political parties in the United Kingdom which in light of ongoing police investigations into bribery claims could see state funding for political parties become more prevalent. Smaller parties are worried that state funding for political parties will increase for parties with only two or more MPs. If this is the case then the possibility of smaller parties emerging as a new force in national elections will be greatly diminished as the financing system will always weigh against them. As the debate on party financing continues, anticipate more spats involving the smaller parties as they fight to make sure party financing law is fair for all parties not just the large ones.
Lawrence Jasper writes about International Relations
By Lawrence Jasper