A frenzied faction of Tory activists would this week have us believe that the Conservative party is falling apart. That David Cameron's support of gay marriage, and proposal to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU is the last straw for right-thinking people of Britain, leaving us no other choice but to run into the welcoming arms of Ukip. This would perhaps be an appropriate conclusion if we were a nation of bigots. But Cameron's policies are progressive and necessary, while Ukip remains little more than a very bad joke. A collection of backward-thinking, nostalgic cheerleaders for values that do not, and should not, command any sway in a modern nation.
What is sad, and a tad frightening, are the undeniable gains that Ukip has recently made in membership and in elections - 25% of the vote in wards where they stood this May. This is a trend that cannot be ignored. Because, despite the party's claims to want to protect Britain, what Ukip represents is not the deeply ingrained British values of liberty and equality, but actually, everything opposite to that.
Leaving aside the regular embarrassments of Ukip members being revealed to harbour far-right leanings, others writing racist Facebook posts, or even the grand Farage himself referring to 'coloured' people, Ukip's openly declared policies are one after another a throw-back to an outdated time. Europe (read immigrants) is of course the most publicised issue. But the party also denies global warming, wants to repeal the Human Rights Act, end the smoking ban, 'free police' from political correctness, and of course, of course ban gay marriage. The undercurrents of such sentiments are clear, and dangerous. Not only in the extent to which they lean right, but because on every front they resist progress that is precious and hard won: modern science; modern geography; modern values.
To give just a few examples: Ukip's website grandly implies that the strain on welfare and employment and pensions and policing is entirely due to immigration. No mention is made of the thousands of hard-working, low-paid immigrants doing the jobs certain 'British' people prefer to snub in favour of benefits. But such propaganda is essential fodder for the party's scapegoat ethos. One half expects the cast of South Park to break into a rendition of Blame Canada.
Meanwhile multiculturalism, says their literature, has "split our society." But multiculturalism is by definition the embracing of diversity. What splits our society is inequality and intolerance - two traits that underpin much of what Farage spouts. Not least in the issue of gay marriage, which has this week dominated the commons, flooded the press, illuminated prejudice, and apparently driven so many of us to Farage's camp. As one reason to ban gay marriage (along with the old chestnut that it might offend religious institutions), Ukip's website states simply that since it concerns only a "noisy minority" it is "not vital to the life and well-being of our Nation".
How can liberty, equality and tolerance ever be anything less than vital?
Thank goodness these are values the majority of the Commons, if not Farage, still recognises. Because despite Ukip's longing to reinstate bygone standards, minorities must no longer be trivialised, victimised or ignored. It is no longer acceptable to deny the equal rights of any ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. It is no longer acceptable to excuse such discrimination on the grounds of faith or tradition or cultural quirk. When we see women being stoned in Saudi Arabia, we do not plead the prerogative of their particular, idiosyncratic custom. We know it is wrong, we say it is wrong. And so it is with opposing gay marriage. The displeasure of churches of any faith is not a reason to deny a clear right. The 'tradition' of our country is not an excuse to resist progress.
Yet what lies at the heart of every one of Ukip's principles, is a dedication to just this. To the antiquated values of an obsolete era, an era where for most, being British meant being white, Christian, masters of an empire.
To see politicians and voters fleeing to the Ukip camp is therefore a terrible indictment of Britain's zeitgeist. Undeniably, there are real, deep-seated problems prompting it. But Farage would lead us back into the dark ages, making us not only irrelevant in Europe and beyond, but a disgrace in the historical narrative of ethical evolution. Far from Ukip's 'defending Britain' propaganda, in a true love of Britishness we have a responsibility to sensitively determine what a modern, relevant Britain should represent. Our history is one of progressive, libertarian leadership and the values we choose to exemplify and enshrine in law matter to our government, to our citizens, and to the rest of the world. It is time now to stop laughing at Farage's very bad joke.