If it was not for the increasing media attention on the forthcoming European elections, it would be almost a certainty that in the UK the voter turnout would be well under forty percent. This is because Europe still, after just over forty years, is not seen as vital to the average British person in the street.
Illustration by topcrats
Large parts of the UK and especially England see Europe as a place that affects them, not a place that they can effect. However, this time things might be different. Different because there is a fourth party now in the UK, and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), unlike its two and a half rival parties is led by an MEP instead of an MP. Not only is Nigel Farage a Member of the European Parliament, but he presents himself as the ordinary Englishman, expressing the views of what he thinks is being said on the streets. His party has emerged in the last two years as a real threat to the established political status quo. Farage is tapping into mainstream skepticism with traditional politics and presenting UKIP as a fresh chance to start again if you want to use your vote – but he is also tapping into an anti-immigration sentiment that has been fermenting for well over a decade.
The Conservative Party is watching many of its core voters turn away from them on 25 May and support UKIP. Indeed, recent opinion polls in London suggest that UKIP might even achieve the largest number of seats – this would be a staggering volte-face if it turned out to be true. Long gone is voter apathy, the media covers what Farage has to say every day – his is the main European message at the moment and it drowns out the voices of the traditional left, center and moderate right.
However, for pro European Poland be warned: his party may have opinions on everything from transport to education, but no one is interested. The only message people are hearing is that to reduce or begin to reverse immigration, the UK must pull back from or even out of Europe. None of the other parties dare to say such things but their former strategy of ridiculing UKIP as a bunch of strange outcasts has given way to a rational attempt to out argue them, and this gives real gravitas to UKIP’s image.
Today’s UKIP photo call saw Farage display many of his candidates – there were turbans and veils in abundance as UKIP tried to put to death the notion that they are a racist party. Far better I say would have been to front up some Anglo-Polish candidates with real Polish names to show how immigration works and how value can be added to a nation where democracy was founded but is rather tired. But I didn’t see any. I hope that this will change and that somewhere in the UK Poles are recognizing that to be seen and not heard is what Victorian parents expected of their new children. If the Poles in the UK now wish to be seen as political adults they must be seen and heard. As the largest ethnic group in the UK, they are surprisingly silent and could do a great deal to neutralize UKIP’s message should they wish to do so.
Farage has shown himself to be a real battler, ready to take the punches, laugh them off, and be what the British love best – the under-dog. A large-scale victory for UKIP will not only open the battle lines for the UK general election in 2015, but also have profound repercussions for Europe.
Born in 1960 to a Polish soldier, Philip Bujak joined the British Army in 1979 and then pursued a very successful career in education, becoming Headmaster of Stover School for Girls (520 pupils) in 1993. From 2003 to 2014, he was Chief Executive of the Montessori Schools movement in the UK (750 schools). He read history and politics at the University of East Anglia (1979-1982), is the author of four books, and is a Freeman of The City of London. He takes an active interest in Polish affairs and politics in the UK, and is a regular supporter of Polish Heritage projects, receiving the Pro Memoria Medal from the Polish government in 2012.