"What drives your cultural prejudice?" The question, asked of me on Twitter by someone who I'd known growing up, surprised me somewhat. He'd spotted that I had just been elected as a UKIP MEP, and assumed therefore that I must have such prejudice.
To many in the media, UKIP have become the pantomime villain - but are there really people out there who think that by virtue of being in UKIP, I must be prejudiced? Is such prejudice a hallmark of UKIP, is it endemic within UKIP - or is it another misconception?
The first role I held in UKIP was as a local branch chairman. I was supported in that role by a Secretary and a Treasurer. The Secretary was a retired university lecturer in medicine. He was learning Arabic and delivered lectures in Egypt. He would spend substantial time back in Estonia, where his family had been born, and his wife was from Germany. Meanwhile, the branch Treasurer was an Orthodox Jew. Many people in the branch had different stories.
What of myself? Admittedly I'm white, from a working-class area but family bordering on middle-class and I married the daughter of a coal miner. I would have loved to have studied or worked abroad when I was a teenager but it never really worked out. Going to university at the age of 15 rather limits the opportunities to go on your own to a foreign country, and I moved straight from university to employment. I wish I'd had more immersion in foreign cultures than visiting a few dozen countries worldwide.
My dad, who has stood as a General and Council election candidate, studied in Spain as part of his degree course (yes, that was possible without the European Union). All those years ago, he voted 'Yes' to a Common Market in the 1975 referendum - his views haven't changed. He still wants free trade with Europe, but he doesn't want the legislation that comes with it or the shameful neglect of our Commonwealth partners that we've seen. He still lives in the UK but owns property in Spain. Opponents of the EU claim that outside the EU he wouldn't be able to do that. But EU membership isn't needed for that: his neighbours are from non-EU countries. Spain would continue to welcome British ex-pats who bring money in to Spain.
My brother, who also supports UKIP, spent time working in Spain and then did aid work in Malawi. He speaks Spanish, Chichewa and Pashto as well as the odd few phrases in French and German. Whilst I have an A grade at A level in Spanish, it's not quite the same thing!
One of my friends, who also joined UKIP, is of a Yemeni background. He asked me to assist with the case of a Ugandan lady, who had been in the UK for six or seven years. In Uganda she had left her husband, because he was involved with anti-government terrorist activity. She had a child who was 5 years old by the time I met her, who had been born in the UK and knew nothing else. She had also converted from Islam to Christianity.
On arrival in the UK she had applied for political asylum, but the (then) Labour government's backlog of cases caused the 7-year delay. For some reason her case had been rejected despite serious concerns (reported in the local press) that her husband, or others, would kill her.
She was contesting deportation, and my friend asked me to help as a UKIP representative. It was clear that this was a situation where it was the right thing to do, and I did what I could. My friend recalls Labour's Denis MacShane being her constituency MP. He tells me that MacShane looked through the paperwork, disinterested - but on seeing a UKIP letter supporting her, he almost fell off his chair. He then supported the case.
Nigel Farage recently called for the British government to threaten cutting off foreign aid to Sudan in response to the case of Meriam Ibrahim, the woman who gave birth in chains in prison and is sentenced to flogging and death because she is a Christian. We're not isolationists, although we did for obvious reasons oppose the UK's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The other charge laid against UKIP along similar lines is that we're 'little Englanders'. In my last column I mentioned five anomalies about how UKIP is perceived. I could have added a sixth: UKIP, the Party of 'little Englanders', is the only Party to have Parliamentary/Assembly representation in every nation of the United Kingdom. We have an MEP in Scotland and Wales (where we were just 0.2% short of topping the poll at the European elections), and an MLA (and councillors) in Northern Ireland.
Even our 2009 crop of MEPs didn't show cultural prejudice. Nigel Farage himself is married to a German; William Dartmouth to an Australian. Whilst things didn't work out with Marta Andreasen for very different reasons, she was elected as a UKIP MEP from an Argentinian-Danish background and having lived in Spain most of her life. The last few weeks have seen UKIP MEPs elected from even more diverse backgrounds, and one of our NEC members lives in Switzerland.
On Friday I went to Newark, and leafleted various outlying villages together with a UKIP member who had turned up to help. In the car driving between villages, I learned that she was born in France and had married a Mauritian. Her son now lives there, and she has previously gone out there for up to 6 months at a time.
When UKIP's Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall visited the Roma encampments in Bulgaria, he was horrified by the conditions in which they are forced to live. The pictures (http://www.express.co.uk/pictures/galleries/1508/UKIP-MEP-Paul-Nuttall-visits-the-Roma-ghetto-in-Sofia) are truly heartbreaking. Nigel Farage often makes the point that he has 'nothing against Romanians, but everything against the Romanian government'. Why? Because that government treats its own citizens appalingly. The solution, though, is to put pressure on the Romanian government to change its ways. Open-door immigration is not the answer.
And there, I think, is the crux of the issue. UKIP doesn't believe in open-door immigration from 27 other EU countries. The extreme Left will ignore everything in this article and focus on that last point as 'evidence' of prejudice or even racism. I wonder, which culture am I supposed to be prejudiced against?Suggest a correction