Written by Conor McCormack |
If someone had told me that this week I would read something more incoherent than Donald Trump’s assertion that hurricane Florence was “one of the wettest we’ve seen, from the standpoint of water”, the only logical conclusion to draw would be that that someone is a CNN anchor, for it must surely be fake news.
However, this week I also had the displeasure of reading UKIP’s interim manifesto. A document that moves Britain’s most right-wing political contender from “I’m not racist but…” to “Maybe racial discrimination should be legal.” This, of course, refers to UKIP’s promise that, when they begin the apocalypse by entering government, they would repeal the 2010 Equality Act, shut down the Equality and Human Rights Commission and end the jurisdiction of the police to prosecute against hate crimes. This might sound ridiculous enough as it is, but let’s take a moment to fully explore the absurdities and contradictions within these pledges.
“[The manifesto] moves Britain’s most right-wing political contender from “I’m not racist but…” to “Maybe racial discrimination should be legal.””
Firstly, it is worth trying to understand what problem they wish to solve with these policies. On this occasion it is the “thought police” that UKIP perceive to be infringing upon people’s rights by restricting free speech. This appears to be an admirable motif until one understands that the legislation in question restricts action rather than speech.
The 2010 Equality Act is, at its core, an amalgamation of nine laws that prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of their their race, religion, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation and age. As suggested above, such laws prohibit action not speech. No clearer is this case than in the U.S where it was deemed that the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not threaten the sanctity of the First Amendment.
Similarly, hate crime laws are primarily designed to prevent people from abusing, insulting and threatening fellow citizens in a manner that stirs up hatred against a specific group or causes people distress or harm. Again, this is an issue of action not speech. Since its conceptualisation by enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke and John Stuart Mill, the right to free speech has always ended at the point of encouraging or causing harm to another.
“Since its conceptualisation by enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke and John Stuart Mill, the right to free speech has always ended at the point of encouraging or causing harm to another.”
Evidently threatening to or encouraging others to harm someone based on their immutable characteristics is a call to action and not legitimate speech. Empirical studies have demonstrated that being victim to racial abuse makes a person more likely to commit suicide. Therefore, racial abuse is certainly action rather than speech.
“Empirical studies have demonstrated that being victim to racial abuse makes a person more likely to commit suicide. Therefore, racial abuse is certainly action rather than speech.”
However, perhaps we are being too harsh on UKIP. Maybe their motivation to repeal these laws comes from their desire to curb what many perceive to be abuses of this legislation to restrict equality of opportunity by, for example, allowing political parties to create all male or all female candidate short lists.
And maybe they’re just big picture people who, instead of proposing to amend the law to fix these problems, simply want away with it altogether. And just maybe they were having an off day when they decided that their proposal to create all Muslim prisons and engage in enhanced screening on those arriving from “Islamic countries” wasn’t a glaring form of the segregation they claim to despise.
“Maybe they were having an off day when they decided that their proposal to create all Muslim prisons… wasn’t a glaring form of the segregation they claim to despise.”
What else are UKIP proposing?
But let’s also think about what they are not proposing in the name of free speech. Namely, repealing any other laws related to freedom of expression. For example, why not propose scrapping defamation laws? Instead, UKIP choose to focus only on laws that prohibit discrimination and abuse of minorities. Take from that what you will.
Finally, their economic policies. Although there is so much nonsense to unpack, I think their assumptions concerning the post-Brexit economy will suffice. UKIP, in all their wisdom, want both a Tory facilitated Hard Brexit and to move the economy away from solar energy and towards coal.
Environmental considerations aside, a Hard Brexit and revitalising the coal industry are not in themselves mutually exclusive desires. In fact, many on the left argue that leaving the EU will allow Britain to subsidise and protect such industries in a way that is currently impossible.
However, since we can all agree UKIP are not going to form the next government, any Hard Brexit that does occur will likely result in a Rees-Mogg type outcome where there are far fewer tariffs and subsidies, meaning Britain’s economy will likely move away from secondary industries and further towards finance.
“Sadly though, what underlines this manifesto is a clear understanding of who their base is and what issues are important to them.”
Sadly though, what underlines this manifesto is a clear understanding of who their base is and what issues are important to them. Whilst this document may appear rife with contradictions, inconsistencies and inaccuracies it should also serve as a reminder that issue salience can dictate elections in unexpected ways to the point where a billionaire can get elected President of the United States by an electorate tired of their county being run by billionaires.