This Side of the Pond – May 22

By Sarah Pridgeon

Election season is upon us and brings with it the excitement of finding out who exactly will be running and what positions they will seek. Though I’m not yet permitted to vote thanks to my alien status, I do very much enjoy the suspense of waiting to see who will come through my door to announce their candidacy.

For me, it’s unusual to appreciate the political side of life. In London, even on the most local of levels, it’s a rare thing to have ever spotted your candidate on the street, let alone shared a few words with them about the weather. Meeting almost every potential official in person – and getting to know some of them personally – is a treat not available to the average city dweller.

We in the UK must judge each candidate almost entirely on their written policies and, most of the time, I’ve found that one manifesto is a carbon copy of every other. Politics didn’t have a face before I moved to Sundance.

On the UK national stage, the problem increases exponentially. I had only the behavior of politicians while grilled on the television and shown campaigning in the news to go on, because political spending is curtailed by law, politicals on the radio and television are notoriously dull and advertizing is almost unheard of.

I also can’t imagine Prime Minister David Cameron ever publishing his cell number in the local paper and inviting anyone with a question to call. He’d never get anything done.

We also have more parties to choose from in England, which means more options to research and a more bewildering list of similarities and differences. We have our basic three, just as you have the Republicans and Democrats, and these are the Labor, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

We also have a myriad of alternatives, some more sensible than others. From the Green Party with its environmental leanings to those focused on independence for the countries within the United Kingdom, most hold one or two seats in Parliament.

We even have a Monster Raving Loony Party, which exists solely to create deliberately bizarre policies that satirize British politics. It was formed by a former musician called Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow and I’m relieved to report that none of them has ever won a seat in Parliament.

And if you thought that politics could get crazy on these shores, let me share with you a story…

I’m a live-and-let-live sort of person, as most of us tend to be. I’m not the slightest bit bothered by another person’s persuasions – do as you please, in my opinion, so long as it doesn’t involve harming others. Worrying, therefore, to discover that the United Kingdom Independence Party, otherwise known as UKIP, has now fashioned itself into a viable party.

This sinister group of wild-haired politicians first grouped together in 1993 with a single agenda: to drag the country kicking and screaming away from the European Union. There were a fair few islanders at the time who regarded joining the EU as a disagreeable proposal, largely because it might mean changing the currency and that’s the sort of mental arithmetic we like to avoid.

Perhaps the first sign of trouble for this fledgling union of nutcases was its leader’s resignation, claiming that too many of his peers were racist. UKIP’s success was somewhat up and down over the next decade; they failed to make much impact in the UK’s own elections though they were surprisingly successful in the European Parliament.

Along the way, UKIP’s true intentions were slowly emerging from the murk. On the surface of things, they described themselves as “traditional” and launched a deceivingly benign manifesto that was all about lowering taxes, shrinking the state and setting fair immigration policies.

Not much different from any other political party, you might be thinking – but that’s not all that was going on. A dig below the easy-breezy surface revealed a group of people who believed that England should be just for the English.

In other words, on the boat with you if you haven’t lived here for at least eight generations and your skin is anything other than white as the driven snow. But there’s a problem with this line of thinking: none of us are actually English. We’re a mongrel race shaped by thousands of years of failed invasions, interbreeding with the rest of Europe and the odd few Viking raids, let alone the wartime GIs.

Just as most Americans can trace their roots back through time to a particular country of origin, the English came from all over the place and mingled to become one race. I have a fair amount of Spanish gypsy in my blood, apparently, and a bit of Irish and Scottish peasantry. If England were just for the “English,” we’d all of us have to leave.

The party isn’t too keen on anyone who doesn’t fall into the category of “white, able, middle-class man,” either. One of UKIP’s members made a speech after too many glasses of brandy in which he said, “No employer with a brain in the right place would employ a young, single, free woman.”

One candidate claimed he was banned from running because he had a disability and another won a discrimination case after coming out as homosexual. Members of UKIP have been quoted as saying that old people should be euthanized, gay people prefer animals and abortion should be mandatory for disabled babies.

The party is even associated with nationalist groups across Europe, one of which is led by a man who believes Swedish multiple murderer Anders Breivik had the right idea because he was acting “in defense of western civilization.” The mind quite literally boggles.

Poor Alan Sked, who presumably had nothing but the best of intentions when he founded UKIP, has acknowledged that the party is now devoted entirely to creating “a fuss, via Islam and immigrants.”

Their bigotry used to be an amusing aside during political events, but the sad truth is that UKIP is picking up a frightening number of supporters, to the point that the polls are slating a resounding win for them in the upcoming European elections. Why is anyone in their right mind supporting this party?

The answer goes back to that beautifully bland manifesto, which is made up entirely of soundbites. It has been designed to appeal to anyone who finds anything at all about modern life irritating, from smoking bans and tuition fees to taxes and wind farms. It’s hard to look at their literature without finding at least one thing that, on the surface of it, seems hard to argue with.

I’m all for freedom of speech, but I must agree with David Cameron’s view that UKIP is made up of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly,” even if he has since taken it back. I also agree with the people who keep throwing eggs at their leader and hitting him over the head with placards, because their actions are almost as farcical as the party itself.

And all of this is precisely why I enjoy politics in the haven of Crook County. When your candidate for office lives almost next door and is happy to answer an email, it’s a whole lot easier to understand their good intentions. I’m also fairly sure that none of the Lords of Harrow are running for the County Commission this year.