Maybe it’s time for a look back at the Rotherham fostering scandal, now that the initial fall-out has settled — although Damian Thomson said most of what needed to be said in his wonderful headline “Rotherham’s Stasi have handed UKIP a PR victory. A shame they had to tear apart a foster family in the process”.
Nigel Farage was quite right to express his sympathy and concern, first of all for the children involved, and then for the foster parents. But since the scandal centres on the disqualification of the foster parents simply for being members of what is now Britain’s third (and fastest growing) political party, it is impossible not to respond politically, and to examine the political consequences.
When I first heard the news (6:00 a.m. on Saturday, BBC Radio 4, lead item), I could scarcely believe the coincidence — the very town where a by-election was taking place in less than a week. Yet it was true. And I suspect that those left-wing social workers are kicking themselves. They have indeed handed UKIP a PR coup — the very last thing they’d have wanted or intended.
But the implications go much further. First of all, it has obliged senior Conservatives, and the Labour leader, to come out and condemn the decision, and to make it clear that UKIP is a respectable mainstream party, and that attempts to discriminate against it, and to make ritual accusations of racism, are plain unacceptable. After all, five years ago it was difficult to mention immigration without knee-jerk racism smears. Today, all major parties are prepared to have a grown-up debate on the subject — though only UKIP is able, or prepared, to address the issue of EU immigration. Let’s not forget that 20 million plus Romanians and Bulgarians gain free access to the UK, and our health and welfare services, in thirteen months’ time, unless some action is taken first.
Credit to Education Secretary Michael Gove, who said that Rotherham Council had made “the wrong decision, in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons”. I heard on the radio some apologist from social services complaining that Gove made a blanket judgement without full access to the facts. Yet it seems beyond question that the social workers took action (on their own admission) because the foster parents were members of UKIP, and they (the social workers) took that as proof positive that the parents were therefore racist and unsuitable to foster non-British children. Gove did his duty, condemning an outrage and leaping to the defence of freedom and democracy, though it perhaps stuck in his throat to speak up for UKIP — especially as his Party Leader once (preposterously) described UKIP as “closet racists”.
Ed Miliband has similarly condemned the action by Rotherham council, though so far as I know, the Lib-Dems have been singularly reticent on the matter. So much for liberalism.
What the Rotherham incident has also done is to highlight UKIP’s position on immigration, which resonates on the doorstep perhaps even more than our position on the EU. Another outcome that those social workers never intended, and will deeply regret.
So. Is UKIP against immigration (as a BBC interviewer asked Nigel yesterday)? Of course not, and we are very conscious of the needs of British industry for imported skills. But we’re against the current free-for-all (especially from the EU, where we can’t even begin to control immigration). We’re against poor and unskilled economic migrants coming freely to Britain for our health and welfare services. In short we want a sensible, orderly, managed immigration policy, with controlled numbers. The sort of immigration policy that sensible countries like Australia and Canada operate. If they can do it, why not Britain?
Is UKIP against multiculturalism? Yes, when it leads to ghettoisation, to ethnic minorities living in isolated communities, frequently struggling with the English language or not motivated to learn it, and so deprived of the advantages for which they came to this country in the first place. We want legal immigrants to this country to integrate, to join in, to live by British values, and so do the best for themselves, for their families, and for this country — while of course retaining an attachment to their cultural values. Celebrating Adilfitri and Dewali is one thing. Living in an ethnic ghetto in a British city, cut off from mainstream society, is quite another.
Does UKIP hate Europeans? Absolute nonsense. Personally I think Europe is great. I spend a lot of time there. I love the culture, the cooking, the countryside, and I work closely with Europeans from many countries. As my bumper sticker succinctly puts it, “Love Europe — Hate the EU”. We oppose the EU not through prejudice or nationalism, but because it is a disastrous and unaccountable form of governance, which is making this country poorer, and less democratic, and less free. For the record, UKIP works closely with a number of European nationals in our group in Brussels. I have an Italian (a highly competent lawyer, as it happens) on my staff. Nigel Farage is married to a German. Doesn’t sound like prejudice against foreigners to me.
So how will the Rotherham scandal affect the by-election on Thursday? Forecasting is a mug’s game, so I won’t try it. But I can’t wait to see the result.