Is this who we really are?

I recently saw a video of a threadbare crowd gathering in Swindon town centre, awaiting the arrival of UKIP’s MEP candidate for the south-west of England: Carl Benjamin.

The Swindon Advertiser (circulation: 8,191) described Benjamin as “Rape tweet UKIP hopeful” (a wonderful ‘current position’ update for his LinkedIn profile) who made a “rock star-style entrance” to launch his campaign. In spite of the scene being eerily reminiscent of the time Robert Plant strutted into town carrying a folding patio chair, ahead of an electrifying performance in front of the Swindon branch of Vodafone, Benjamin’s “cheers of support” consisted of approximately 10-20 people chanting “Sargon! Sargon! Sargon!”, which was no louder than a group of imbeciles in a pub beer garden egging on a friend to gulp down a pint of his own piss.

Benjamin, invariably described as a toxic misogynist, triggered a deluge of hateful, threatening tweets to MP Jess Philips in 2016 after he tweeted “I wouldn’t even rape you” in response to her tweets about the rape and death threats women receive online. When journalists subsequently questioned him about the incident following UKIP’s announcement of his candidacy, he denounced them as “dirty, dirty smear merchants” – even though you can’t really be “smeared” with details of something you’ve actually done. (And if you’re not going to apologise for it, then at least stop joking about it.)

However, UKIP leader Gerard Batten – terminally bloated with the oxygen he sucks out of rooms – sees no problem in counting Benjamin among his candidates. In a recent Sky News interview (which he ultimately walked out of) he shrugged off the Jess Philips controversy as something Benjamin did three years ago “in the context of some Twitter trolling”. Spoken, of course, like a man who has absolutely no idea what trolling is, or how targeted, vicious and threatening it can be. Spoken like a man who would probably believe you if you told him to insert a late 90s Freeserve disk into a toaster and wait for an Internet browser to appear on an Etch A Sketch.

Batten claimed that he didn’t want to lose a “valuable” candidate like Benjamin because he can basically provide access to a ready-made online audience of close to a million people who subscribe to his Sargon of Akkad YouTube channel. His misogyny and racism are secondary to what he can offer UKIP 2.0 under Batten’s morally bankrupt leadership.

It’s the exact same reason Batten didn’t have anything to say when UKIP member and Infowars’ editor-at-large, Joseph Paul Watson, was busy propagating a far-right anti-Muslim arson conspiracy while Notre Dame was still burning. And also why he’s laughably compared the law-breaking of his personal advisor, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), to that of the Suffragettes, Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela. Batten needs their supporters and followers, so he’s chosen to elevate some of the country’s biggest scumbags.

With this in mind, it was disturbing to hear a recent report on Radio 4’s PM, which came from the Leave-voting Labour stronghold of Doncaster. The thrust of the item was about traditional Labour voters abandoning the Party in droves over frustrations with Brexit, with some claiming that they would now vote for UKIP at the next election. It’s not the abandonment of Labour that troubles me (let’s face it, they’re not going to save us, are they?) it’s that UKIP is seen as the answer.

Even if I was a hardcore ‘no deal’ lunatic fishing scampi fries out of a urinal in a spit-and-sawdust working men’s club, I still wouldn’t want Brexit so badly that I’d get behind this gaggle of right-wing shitheads. Do these voters fully understand who they’re aligning themselves with? Or does their relentless pursuit of those sunlit uplands blind them to the racists, violent thugs, misogynists, and purveyors of fake news and conspiracies that are now a strand of UKIP’s DNA?

Of course, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party officially launched last month (with the help of the ubiquitous Grant sisters) and is now seen, quite astonishingly, as the moderate alternative to UKIP. ‘Moderate’ in the sense that the party was, until March, led by Catherine Blaiklock (before she resigned following the discovery of some deleted anti-Islam Twitter messages), and is now led by Farage, who addressed a rally of Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party in September 2017, which is now being monitored by the country’s domestic intelligence agency the BfV. A walking fug of ale and cigar smoke, Farage recently told Sebastian Gorka on his America First podcast that Britain’s “real friends around the world speak English”.

The Brexit Party has also received a £100,000 donation from a mysterious donor, who Nigel Farage really doesn’t want to talk about. So he’s not just providing us with re-hashed single-issue politics, but loads of intrigue, too!

Former Loaded editor Martin Daubney is running as a Brexit Party candidate for the West Midlands. In his speech at the party’s launch, he boasted that he correctly predicted Brexit after he escaped “the London bubble” and started talking to real people in the queue at Asda, and in pubs and chip shops (battered sausage means battered sausage!). He also said that we should forget about buses and slogans, as if we can now effortlessly disentangle ourselves from the lies and mantras of the Leave campaign and the darkness it has unleashed on this country.

“MPs don’t know a real day’s work; they don’t understand hand to mouth,” said Daubney, alluding to out of touch Westminster politicians. Still, at least with a fawning Trump sycophant like Farage at the helm, they have a party leader with a good working knowledge of ass to mouth.

Sky News’ political correspondent, Lewis Goodall, recently attended a Brexit Party rally on the Fylde Coast in Lancashire and was struck by how closely it resembled the seething cauldron of a Trump rally.

The vocabulary and pall of its supporters are the obvious signifiers: I was assailed repeatedly by the crowd for being part of the “fake news” media. Several attendees told me our political leaders should be prosecuted or worse; many said they were traitors and that they and their supporters in other parties were not “true patriots”.

Brexit: The conditions are ripe for the biggest backlash imaginable, Lewis Goodall for Sky News (7 May 2019)

We’re standing on a dangerously slippery slope, greased with spillages of snake oil that thousands of people are still, in spite of everything, lining up to buy. But is this really who we are now? Are we a country of Farages, Battens, and Anne fucking Widdecombes?! Are we a country of buck-toothed simpletons, happy to fritter away our cash to crowdfund the ‘journalism’ of right-wing agitators like Tommy Robinson, then sit back with a Digestive while they peddle hate and harass, threaten, and violently attack anyone who stands in their way? Are we a country that laps up conspiracy horseshit on Infowars and collectively shrugs at shady online forums littered with hate speech and racial slurs? And is Carl Benjamin’s misogyny now something we can stomach because, well, why shouldn’t these awful pricks have burgeoning political careers?

Seriously, fuck these people and fuck everything they stand for! Is this honestly who we want to be? This isn’t just a fight to keep Britain in the EU, it’s a fight for the future of the country. It’s a battle to see who gets to define our national identity, our values, the things we hold dear. It’s about the type of country our children will inherit.

The right are still fighting – hard – and the very idea they could still win is absolutely terrifying.

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