By Jeremy Jacobs, Writer and broadcaster
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you will either be impressed or concerned by UKIP’s current popularity.
Once rank outsiders to the political process and disliked by mainstream media, UKIP stands to make a massive impact in next Thursday’s European elections.
According to some polls, it may well push the Conservatives into third spot. This may not bode well for David Cameron, whose support may be split at the 2015 General Election.
At the last election, it could be argued that the total votes for UKIP cost the Tories 10 seats – and with it an overall majority. UKIP’s colourful and controversial poster campaign for the European elections targets some 764 mainly urban and traditional Labour areas in the north of the country.
One poster reads: “26million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose job are they after?” It also shows a British construction worker begging.
The “26million” is a reference to the total number of unemployed Europeans (according to UKIP) who are out of work and want to work in Britain – and have the legal right to do so.
The campaign costs £1.5million and is funded by multimillionaire businessman Paul Sykes, who at one time, was a keen supporter of the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher. Sykes says that opening the borders to EU migrants was a “cruel and heartless act because competition from people from much poorer countries forces down the wages of British workers”.
But there’s been strong condemnation of the posters. Labour MP Mike Gapes said they are “racist” and appealed to “all decent British Commonwealth and EU citizens” to register to vote in next week’s poll. Veteran Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, meanwhile, called UKIP posters “deeply divisive, offensive and ignorant”.
It’s tempting to brand objections to the current levels of immigration as racist, but pause for a moment to look at the figures. The current net migration into Britain is running at 250,000 each year or, putting it another way, a town or city the size of Ipswich is being “added” to the UK each year. Voters are understandably concerned. A British Social Attitudes Survey conducted in January showed 77 percent of the public want reduced immigration.
Meanwhile Nigel Farage, UKIP’s charismatic leader, has been on a charm offensive to all and sundry – including the Jewish community. The passionate speech delivered last year to a packed assembly hall at the Hasmonean Boys’ School in Hendon was well received, but will most Jewish voters even bother to exercise their right to vote next week?
At the 1999 Euro elections, only 24 percent of the British electorate bothered to vote. Five years later, the figure was 38.5 percent and in 2009 a mere 34.7 percent bothered. One has to assume that these voting patterns are similar within the Jewish community.
The recent Farage-Clegg EU TV debates may have whetted the appetite of some voters to investigate our relationship with the EU and whether we should have an In or Out? referendum, but I suspect apathy will reign supreme.
Despite the hype, the issue of Europe and the democratic deficit with the EU and its institutions remains a long way down on the list of voters’ priorities. Principal concerns are the cost of living, education and the NHS. As a result, support for the three main parties may not be as poor as predicted, albeit on a likely low turnout.
But what of UKIP? Should Jewish voters embrace its central policy of an EU exit? And in so doing, will our community be turning its back on an opportunity to promote Jewish aspirations and concerns through active support of the electoral process?
You may have seen the document A Jewish Manifesto, issued by the Board of Deputies. It covers circumcision, shechita and Arab terrorism and EU-Israel relations among others – and highlights the importance of the EU elections and a “Jewish voice” being heard in Brussels.
Whatever the Board’s agenda, you may feel this is worthy of support – even if you are one of those who worries about the emergence of a future European superstate.