In my last article for the Huffington Post, I talked about the 99.7% - the percentage of Ukip candidates at the 2013 and 2014 local elections who had not said or done stupid things. I didn't think the 0.3%, who have been dealt with by internal disciplinary action and are generally no longer UKIP members, merited the oxygen of publicity. We're not the only Party to have a 0.3%.
Read the papers, watch the news, and you'll get the impression that it's only in Ukip where there are a small minority who need to be dealt with. Nothing could be further from the truth: Greens, Lib Dems, Conservatives and Labour all have their fair share. And they're often of an order of magnitude worse than anything from Ukip candidates. Yet there is a difference in perception and reporting: when it's Ukip, it's perceived as a structural failing within the Party. When it's another Party, it is likely to be local news not national, or reported in only one newspaper. It rarely makes television, and so the cycle is perpetuated.
It has taken a lot of thought for me to write this piece, because I hate the 'gutter politics' with which Ukip are tarnished and labelled. Those of us who choose to go into politics should be doing it for one reason and one reason only: to make life better for the people that we represent; to stand up for their interest and work hard for them. In that spirit, early this year the Times found that Ukip's local councillors are the hardest-working councillors of any Party in the UK. Why? Because we believe in the power of community, that politics is about representing local people and doing our best for them. In the European Parliament, Ukip's attendance records have been more mixed. My own voting record is something in the region of 97%, and if you look me up on mepranking.eu you'll see that I work hard in the chamber and also ask plenty of Parliamentary questions on behalf of local residents. I try to hold the President of the Parliament to account and demand neutrality. Meanwhile, I have a job in the UK to do. I have a duty to my constituents, to engage with as many people as I can despite representing an area that stretches all the way from Darlington to Berwick-upon-Tweed a hundred miles away.
Other Ukip MEPs take a different view, focusing even more on their constituency work rather than spending too much time like King Canute trying to hold back the tides of EU imperialism. We all work hard, albeit in different ways, because we share that belief in standing up for people. Yet the Party again comes in for criticism because Nigel Farage (the leader of a major Party in the UK) doesn't have the highest percentage voting record. But in the last Parliament, Nigel Farage's voting record was over 50% in the European Parliament (hundreds of miles away in Strasbourg) - compared with records for Clegg and Cameron which are 22.1% and 16.7% respectively (for a Parliament in London).
I write this for one reason alone: to show that the perception surrounding Ukip's candidates isn't fair, that other parties have issues which simply don't make the news. Let's begin with the European Parliament, where the Labour Party has attacked Ukip because (after various schenanigans by the establishment) we were pushed into accepting into our Group a member whose views are different from our own. One of my Labour colleagues in the North East made some particularly nasty comparisons in debate. The Labour Party itself is part of the PES (European Socialists) group in the European Parliament. Their leader said of a gay rights parade that he "did not approve of the manifestation and demonstration of such orientations". Can you imagine the furore if someone in Ukip had said that? Yet, the Labour Party happily sit under his leadership. With various financial scandals and court cases to boot, I hardly think Labour should have the cheek to complain about Ukip's membership. Phrases about glass houses and stones spring to mind.
Now, there are too many examples to fit into a single article so I'll just choose a few of many from each of the other parties. The point, again, is merely to make it clear that it's hypocritical for members of those parties to blame Ukip for having a tiny minority of candidates who've said bad things.
The Liberal Democrats had a councillor jailed for 18 years for planting bombs under cars in his constituency. Others have been convicted of racially aggravated assault, caught watching porn on Council laptops and advocating sexual assault, stealing £1,200 from the Royal British Legion, sharing anti-Muslim propaganda, helping sex offenders to become taxi drivers in Milton Keynes, giving Nazi salutes and posing with assault rifles. North Cornwall Council took the unprecedented step of advising schools and community groups to keep a Lib Dem councillor away from children.
In Labour, a Broxtowe councillor compared a colleague to Hitler's wife Eva Braun. Another called Hitler the 'Zionist God', councillors in Harrow and Middlesbrough left Labour with accusations of racism, a Labour MP wrote to a Jewish Ukip candidate with allegations of antisemitism and published her home address online, whilst a Labour Twitter account went the other way and described Ukip as being 'full of evil, money-grabbing Jews'. A Labour MEP took profiling to a new level, suggesting that you would expect young people from white rural backgrounds to be racist, and an MP described a postal worker as 'the pikey' in a tweet. A Labour councillor was convicted of a public order offence for yelling homophobic abuse at a colleague in the street. Earlier this month, a Labour councillor was charged with sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl.
A Conservative councillor suggested executing travellers, and another tweeted "Now that's how you deal with immigration" about the film Machete. A councillor was sentenced to six years in prison for child sex offences, another laughed about a 7-year-old flood victim during a speech, whilst still another described being 'brown and a woman' as a handicap in the Conservative selection process. A candidate had to resign over racist and homophobic tweets.
Whereas Ukip bans former BNP and National Front members from joining the Party (yes, there are a handful who joined before the ban who we can't legally remove), both the Conservatives and Labour are happy to have them as candidates and councillors.
The Green Party have their share of scandals too; incredibly they were in a group in the European Parliament led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit (who retired in May), a man who wrote in his autobiography "When a little, five-year-old girl starts undressing, it's great, because it's a game. It's an incredibly erotic game." Their leader in the UK is reported as saying that being on benefits in the UK is worse than being poor in India. A Green peer was arrested in October for obstructing a police officer. A Green Party candidate in Wales last week was still an administrator of a Facebook group which had posts advocating burning down offices of political opponents (and the people inside). The group was just a week old, but she excused the actions as being those of 'a new member' of the group. In Rochester and Strood, the Green Party ignored the war dead and campaigned on Remembrance Sunday. One of their Brighton councillors described our heroes as 'hired killers', and was forced to resign as a candidate for next year's elections. The Greens chose to replace him with someone who described the terrorist bombing of the Grand Hotel as a 'justifiable act of political warfare'.
With any of the above parties, there were far more examples which could have been used. Anyone could juxtapose these articles and more to claim that any of those parties are in some kind of crisis. But they generally have sufficient honesty not to.
I'm not claiming those parties to be racist or homophobic. With the possible exception of many Greens, I'm not claiming that any of them are extremist. But it is pure intellectual dishonesty for members of those parties to claim that Ukip is, because they - like us - have had members who have said and done some unacceptable things.
I hate writing an article like this; pointing out such behaviours in other parties feels like I'm being dragged down to their level, playing the 'game' of politics rather than honestly debating on policies. I sincerely hope never to write such an article again, and can only hope that it will be read in the spirit in which it is intended: to point out the inconsistency and hypocrisy of those who want to throw insult after insult at Ukip.