Over many years, British politics has thrown up a number of anomalies. Perhaps that's the nature of politics - a business in which perception can often seem more important than reality - but it can take generations before a sense of perspective is reached.
Let's go back a few decades. The Labour Party was traditionally seen as the champion of the coal mines, and the Conservatives as the Party of Grammar Schools. Labour, it was said, care about the environment more than the Conservatives. The facts don't always sit with our understanding of history:
- Margaret Thatcher, as Education Secretary, closed more Grammar Schools than anyone else
- More coal mines closed under Labour than under the Conservatives
- Carbon emissions fell under the Conservatives from 1979 to 1997 (without trying)
The 2014 local and European election campaigns threw up some similar anomalies about UKIP. In this article I'm going to take five of the main ones, and compare the public perception with the facts.
Anomaly no.1: UKIP's candidate list was more diverse than that of those accusing UKIP of racism
Opponents of UKIP throw around the word 'racist' like confetti. I believe that in today's society, an accusation of racism is one of the worst accusations that can be levelled against anyone. Therefore, bleating 'racist' at regular intervals devalues the meaning of the word.
The Greens and Liberal Democrats were the parties who attacked UKIP the most on this. The first political irony of 2014: UKIP's MEP candidate list was more ethnically diverse than the Lib Dems or Greens. Neither the Lib Dems nor the Greens had a single non-white face in a winnable position on their candidates' lists. Yet UKIP had Amjad Bashir and Steven Woolfe elected in the current wave of new MEPs. Our candidates' list even had an Orthodox Jew.
UKIP's ethnic minority candidates have had to put up with a lot of racial abuse and physical assault during this campaign, with even so-called 'anti-racism' campaigners aiming such racist slurs as 'oreo' or 'coconut' at them.
Anomaly no.2: UKIP, accused of misogyny, now has more women MEPs than any Party other than Labour
In 2014, UKIP had 7 women MEPs elected. Only Labour had more - and they achieved that through a quota system. Selection procedures should be about getting the best person for the job. UKIP's selection process didn't consider gender to be a factor in whether or not someone is capable of doing a good job as an MEP.
In fact, although only around 10% of those who applied to become candidates were women, 30% of our elected MEPs are women. There was no need for any 'positive discrimination' (and in my view all discrimination is still discrimination) to achieve this. A democratic vote of Party members ranked women candidates highly on the lists.
Anomaly no.3: UKIP's immigration policy, attacked as 'racist', is actually the most colour-blind policy of any Party
This one really should be self-explanatory. Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives all support the current open-door immigration from 27 other countries in the European Union. However, they support limited immigration from those outside the European Union. The overwhelming majority of those who come into the UK from the European Union are white.
UKIP, on the other hand, believes that everyone should be treated on merit. Does a potential migrant have skills to offer the UK? Are they free from serious criminal record? Are they competing for jobs in areas where we have shortages at the moment? Have they learned to speak English to a basic standard? To UKIP, the answers to those questions are more important than which country you happen to have been born in.
And whilst we're on the subject of racism, we're the only Party that doesn't allow ex-BNP, National Front or EDL members to join.
Anomaly no.4: UKIP's LGBT track record doesn't fit the 'homophobic' tag
Within UKIP, sexual orientation is something which isn't made into an issue. Our newly-elected MEP for Scotland is openly gay, for example. But we don't count how many people are gay in UKIP, we don't label such people - people's sexuality is their own business.
Our LGBT* wing is growing fast, but we believe that associations of members should be bottom-up rather than top-down. It's a grassroots organisation, not a puppet or propaganda tool of the Party leadership. It has its own views on certain matters. Like UKIP's ethnic minority members, our gay members are often subjected to abuse. They have even been accused of homophobia, just for being part of UKIP. I can scarcely imagine just how twisted a mindset has to be to accuse a gay person of homophobia, yet it's a regular occurrence.
David Silvester - the one who made the 'floods' remarks about gay marriage - was allowed to remain in the Conservative Party for decades whilst making similar remarks. But they weren't tolerated in UKIP, who expelled him. As UKIP is a Party of freedom of speech, I should point out that we defend his right to hold those views - however abhorrent they are. But when those views were associated with UKIP, he had to go.
Anomaly no.5: Other parties' councillors and candidates have behaved worse than UKIP's
Whenever one of the 2,200 or so UKIP candidates at this year's Council elections said something out of line, it was front-page headline news. In any large group of people, it's easy for some to slip through the net although we will be tightening up our selection procedures. The Party is in the process of dealing with those people, and don't expect to see their name besides a UKIP logo again.
Oddly enough, the national press passed by the Lib Dem councillor who got 18 years in prison for bombing his own constituency. And when a councillor was found guilty of racially-aggravated assault, that did not become a major news story. Nor did the councillor pictured with an AK-47. Labour has sitting councillors who are ex-BNP, and selected a convicted fraudster in Harrow. A Conservative councillor kept his job after tweeting (et al) "I'm watching Machete - now THAT's how you deal with immigration", another Conservative councillor stole £150,000 from a pensioner with dementia and they selected a former BNP activist as a candidate in South Kesteven. Then in the final two weeks of the campaign, 17 councillors from other parties were arrested on various offences - some as serious as child porn.
Opponents of UKIP have a vested interest in attacking us, but ultimately such distortions simply alienate more people from politics. Let's hope for a much cleaner campaign at next year's General Election.