In the wake of the slaughter at Charlie Hebdo in Paris the question of Muslim integration in the West has only become more vexed, but a report from the leftist think tank British Future (BF) is suggesting that it is “unlikely” to play a part in the general election in May.
A survey carried out by the group showed that 58 percent of Britons believed that most Muslims in the UK opposed the extremism and violence of IS, while 12 thought the opposite (the remainder were neutral or did not know).
The poll was conducted in November, some months before the attack on the French satirical magazine, and the question was, even by the admission of BF, rather extreme in nature. Yet it has led the group to conclude that anti-Islamic sentiment is unlikely to feature on the campaign trail.
“There are certainly important public concerns about integration, but explicitly anti-Muslim campaigning could well be both contentious and unpopular.”
This has not been the view of Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who told LBC Radio in the days after the Charlie shooting that Britain had been infiltrated by a “fifth column” because of a lack of migrant integration during the past few decades.
His comments are directly addressed in the report, with the authors stating that his anti-Islamic rhetoric might go down well with Ukip supporters but is less effective on others:
“Beyond principled objections about the risks of doing so, it is also clear that this would be more likely to narrow the party’s appeal than to extend it.”
The dispute highlight the problems fringe parties face in obtaining electoral success, rather than merely making headlines. As Ukip has risen there have been purges of the fruitier members of the party (most notably Godfrey Bloom of “Bongo Bongo Land” fame), the intention being to broaden the party’s appeal.
But whether there is electoral wisdom in eschewing the core vote is a contentious thesis. By exorcising the sentiment that the party has built itself on Farage could risk alienating the core supporters of the party, as arguably has been the case with David Cameron’s rebranding of the “nasty” Tories.
Only a week ago party secretary Matthew Richardson said that Ukip should stand up for the bigots in society, in a remark later defended as a joking quotation of the Tory MP Eric Forth, but one that tallies with many spontaneous remarks made by minor Ukip players in the last year.
It is also notable that Farage’s unpopularity has risen in line with his popularity — which is to say that his strategy hinges on division rather than the “third way” centrism that former prime minister Tony Blair used to win a landslide in 1997.
Despite that there is reason to believe the Kippers will avoid anti-Islamic messages for the most part. Ukip’s historic opposition to Europe has meant much of the anti-migrant ire has been directed towards Eastern Europeans.
That Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians have tended to be Christian (and often moreso than their British counterparts) lends the situation a certain irony — indeed reports have emerged of church life that many Kippers harken back to being revitalised because of migration.
But then Ukip are hardly noted for consistency.