Opinion Op Ed 28 Aug 2017 Cabbages & Kings ...

Cabbages & Kings: In UK politics, a journey to the right

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | DECCAN CHRONICLE
Published Aug 28, 2017, 2:19 am IST
Updated Aug 28, 2017, 7:15 am IST
Surprisingly, the most popular former leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage, who led its Brexit campaign, opposes Ms Waters’ candidacy  (Photo: Representational Image/AFP)
 Surprisingly, the most popular former leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage, who led its Brexit campaign, opposes Ms Waters’ candidacy (Photo: Representational Image/AFP)

India’s Supreme Court, through its ruling to outlaw triple talaq, the right of Muslim men to divorce their women on an instant or a whim, has been welcomed as a giant step forward in the civil rights of women. It is seen as a further step towards the legislation of a uniform civil code in India, and in feminist circles in Britain who follow national victories of international significance. 

The news led me to the career and policies of a British “feminist” who doesn’t. In the 2015 British general election, the voters in the South London constituency where I live were offered the option of voting for one Anne Marie Waters. Ms Waters stood as the candidate of the United Kingdom Independence Party whose entire raison d’etre before the Brexit referendum was getting the country out of the European Union — hence the “Independence” in the party’s name. 

The Brexit referendum proved to be marginally in favour of leaving the EU and Ukip celebrated. Mission accomplished! So disband and disappear? Of course not.

The party now said its mission was to see that the negotiations for the break with the EU were absolute, complete and to their liking. That may have been a logical aim and one which could possibly give Ukip a reason for existence, but it was a mission with only one possible missionary. In other words, they only had one member of Parliament out of the 620 or so at Westminster. Even that one soon quarrelled with the party’s leadership and quit. And then there were none! 

Ms Waters again applied to stand as a Ukip candidate in our constituency at last snap general election in Britain — the one which poor Theresa May hopelessly miscalculated. The then leader of Ukip vetoed her selection as their candidate and Ms Waters was debarred. Not that she would have won — Ukip was virtually wiped out in that reckoning. 

And yet the party persists and, apart from professing to hold the Brexiteering negotiators’ nose to a hard-Brexit grindstone, is seeking to evolve other policies which might appeal to its electorate. Even so, nothing at all emerges as settled intentions of policy. I have no idea, and I very much doubt if the man or woman on the Clapham Omnibus can tell you, what Ukip thinks about higher education, the licensing of vicious rats, free cherries for pickers or anything else. And so their membership has turned to the inevitable — the victimisation of a minority.

The voice of this prospective policy is none other than the failed candidate of my constituency Anne Marie Waters. She is standing for the now-vacant leadership of Ukip and is, according to the polls, the second favourite of the membership. Her programme is based entirely on an assault on Muslims in Britain. She hit the easy targets first — ban all burqas, disband all Sharia law “courts” and freeze, at least temporarily until she can think of something more appealing, all immigration. 

Ms Waters has been, I suspect, reading the crystal ball of police reports which say that after Brexit hate-crime against “foreigners” has increased four-fold. And after the recent terrorist attacks on Manchester and London, she probably calculates that votes can be won and some bigots influenced by making anti-Muslim policies her rallying cry. 

Ms Waters is a curious politician. She is Irish, lesbian and a professed feminist. She began her political life as a member of the Labour Party but now says she cannot back Labour because it has “anti-women policies”. It’s an argument she can’t quite back up. 

She also justifies her anti-Muslim campaign as she says Muslim men oppress their women and she has said “Islam treats women like absolute dirt”. 

There is a connected logic to her progress from a left-leaning Labourite to her ambition to lead the far-right Ukip party whose main appeal to the Brexit electorate was an anti-immigrant xenophobia which, despite denials from several of its prominent personnel, was overtly racist. Ms Waters began her career in activism campaigning on feminist issues. The group for whom she worked One Law For All had very many Muslim women members, who while challenging the inequality that they felt they suffered were not willing to join hands or make alliances with anti-Muslim groups. Ms Waters was. 

She quit One Law and co-founded the British branch of a German organisation called Pegida whose platform was combatting what they called “the Islamisation of Europe”. This was a manifestly flat-earthist platform. Pegida staged demonstrations in several European countries contending that the wearing of burqas by a minority of Muslim-born women, the freedom of the numerically tiny communities of Muslims to build and pray in mosques and to educate their children in their religion and their isolated and hidebound or even evolving traditions, was “Islamisation”.

The platform failed to attract the membership or generate the political momentum that would sustain it. In 2016, Pegida packed up. Ms Waters hasn’t. She now offers herself as the anti-Islamic candidate leader of Ukip. 

Without calling her names, one can mention several parallels of this journey to the right in British politics. Most of them had no impact on events or history. The only one worthy of mention is Oswald Mosley who moved in the 1920s and ’30s from being a Labourite to founding the pro-Hitler UK Fascist Union. He wasn’t a neo-Nazi; he was the real thing. He never won more than insignificant percentages in elections and was jailed during the Second World War as a Hitlerite, anti-Semite and a subversive.

Surprisingly, the most popular former leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage, who led its Brexit campaign, opposes Ms Waters’ candidacy. If she becomes leader, he has said, the party will be “finished”. A large swathe of British opinion believed and believes that if Nigel Farage’s Brexit policies succeed, Britain will be “finished”.

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