The title of a work of art by Tracy Emin which I saw at the Tate the other week got my attention: Hate and Power can be a terrible thing.
This evocative title sums up the current debate in the electoral campaign for European elections in the UK. Candidates are fighting for power by employing hate.
Unsurprisingly Farage and his UKIP party have been setting the trend in this debate. He has gained extraordinary powers over the public space by instigating divisiveness and hate. He has been very receptive to popular concerns reported by the media. He tactfully turned them into his own discourse as he knew he would strike a chord with the masses. His comments are intended to provoke. He attacks; media react. It is a vicious circle. This way he assures his grinning face is published alongside his comments on the next day's first pages. After all his director of communications is the former political editor of the Daily Express so he knows what it takes to make the headlines: one needs to be controversial.
There is no interview or public speech where Farage does not make a controversial statement. He loves the spotlight and he does not mind by what means he gets it. He seems to like to be witch-hunted, to be called racist or xenophone. These bring him more prime-time TV and radio and more newspaper covers. After all he admitted: 'To do what I've done in this job, I think you have to lack self-awareness'. His never-ending controversies ensured that no other party and party leader got more attention from the media, their fellow politicians and social media users for the last fifteen months. It looked like when Farage was singing, everyone was dancing to his tune. Astonishing power of public manipulation!
As I said in my recent interview on Channel 4 Farage is a one-issue man and Ukip is a one-issue party. That issue has been immigration for the last fifteen months. He revealed his communications tactics yesterday morning in his interview on Radio 4: 'Sometimes you need to wait to have the right ideas with the time.' Since the beginning of January 2013 immigration has become people's main concern due to media's and politicians' obsession with the issue. UKIP knew how to play this card. Their party manifesto gravitates around immigration. The economy is not working, they blame it on immigrants. The crime is up, they blame it on immigrants. There is a housing crisis, they blame it on immigrants. There is a job shortage, they blame it on immigrants. Whatever the issue is, for Ukip the answer is immigrants.
More recently he has targeted Romanian immigration. Many people, both Romanian and British, consider him a racist for his inflammatory comments on Romanians. He thinks one should be worried if Romanians are moving next door. But let's rewind the last fifteen months. We tend to forget that media have given him enough ammunition for his hate discourse. How many reports featuring endless bleak images from desolate parts of Romania have we not seen? Farage's comments on Romanians as neighbours find their roots in media reports on local tensions between immigrants and the other residents showed on the now infamous Benefit Street series on Channel 4. This whole immigration debate seems like a well-orchestrated performance between media and politicians.
I am astonished that a few days before the elections, no political manifestos are discussed and analysed on the news or in the papers. On the contrary, the biggest debate on all media channels is Farage's racism. The media tries to claim the higher moral ground now. For the Daily Mail to be appalled at the Farage's 'racist' remarks against Romanians is the definition of hypocrisy. We had 'The Great Immigration Debate' on BBC and 'The Big British Immigration Row' on channel Five showing us why Romanians would come to the UK. A day before the elections, the Guardian has also published an editorial declaring 'This newspaper is committed to Britain being part of Europe and against parties that want to pull up the drawbridge'. Is this too little too late?
Farage's strategy is obvious: 'Divide and conquer'. It has clearly paid off. Ukip has recently announced that party membership has reached yet another record high reaching 38,124 members. But the reality on the ground looks different. Most recent UKIP meetings end up in fights between UKIP supporters and UKIP haters.The emotions run so high now that any decent dialogue can hardly take place. I think it is time for media and politicians to stop dancing to Farage's tune. They need to shift their attention away from immigration, particularly from Romania since no invasion happened. Only in this way UKIP and Farage lose ground. It is doubtful that media will do it. The politicians will also continue to remain passive. The only ones who can change this divisive discourse are the people by standing up to Farage and his party. Go out and vote on 22 May!