I’ve found myself in a bit of an awkward situation. Oddly, it’s facebook related. Yes, ok, I know, facebook, I was asking for trouble, etc… I hardly ever go on there these days because I find it all a bit false and full of sentimental mawkishness which really doesn’t sit well with me. There’s also the added risk of offending someone you know, and my life becoming even more of a cringefest than it usually is. But I wanted to check something. Specifically, I wanted to see if anyone I’m ‘friends’ with liked two pages – those of UKIP and Britain First. Because if they did, an unfriending would follow, as surely as a painful nose burp follows a packet of refreshers.
First up, UKIP. ‘One friend likes this’. Meh, some bloke I went to middle school with. Was a massive bellend then, obviously still is. Unfriended. Britain First… I gaped at the page and the open bigotry, racism and hatred being indulged in. ‘One friend likes this’ What the actual holy god of buggery? Someone I’m friends with likes this vitriolic vomit served up as patriotism? WHO…. Oh. She’s not really a friend. She’s the mother of one of The Boy’s friends. She added me as a friend a while back. I could unfriend her, but she’d notice and ask me about it. Can I blame a glitch on the android app? Not really.
So I took the path of cowardice, and posted a status instead about twats who like Britain First, and why they shouldn’t be friends with me, hoping she’d see it and either ask me about it, or unfriend me silently. It’s been a few days, and she’s done neither. Bum. So now I’m annoyed. Not just with her for sharing with the world that she’s a hideous racist, but with myself for not challenging her about it. And logging onto facebook this morning, I see now that she’s said she’s voting for UKIP… and still I haven’t said anything.
It’s cowardly. I find her views repugnant. I’m horrified that I know someone like this. But yet I’m not directly calling her on it, in case it makes for a strained atmosphere in the playground. I’m tolerating her narrow-mindedness. Does that make me guilty by association? And her children... Am I prepared for them to turn into people who start sentences with ‘Now, I’m not being funny, or racist, or anything, but…’ then continuing on to make some kind of hugely offensive sweeping generalisation about ethnic minorities, other nationalities, religions, LGBT, lefties, political correctness, the world’s gone mad, where’s the common sense in that, little Englander who doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a bit of chest swelling outrage? Is that right? That I’m tacitly allowing her to think I don’t find her views disgusting and hateful?
It feels as though in recent years, there’s been a subtle and slow shift in opinions. The views of UKIP, Britain First, the EDL etc., seem to be gaining ground, appear to be becoming acceptable. It’s extremism that is moving into the mainstream. People no longer seem to be ashamed of being a bit racist, a bit bigoted, a bit ‘us and them’. For all the huge strides made towards equality, a significant number of people seem to be looking at the world around them and feeling some kind of deep, simmering resentment that they don’t have the world they used to know. And the easiest group to scapegoat for that are the people who aren’t quite the same.
I said before that humans are creatures of routine. We like familiarity, are comforted by it. So something that’s slightly ‘other’ or not exactly as we are might make us a little uncomfortable. Not in a way we want to acknowledge, but it’s there, a little glowing ember of unease. And when our lives aren’t quite what we think they should be, it starts to heat up. And the extremists work on this. They point out one or two small problems so the uneasy are nodding along and thinking ‘that makes sense’. And that’s when the real problems start. I wrote before about the flattery, ‘the truth’, and how seemingly normal people have their heads turned towards some pretty nasty ideas. And there’s strength in numbers. The more people they see agreeing with them, the more confident they become in their vicious little assertions, the more entrenched they become. If so many other people think the same thing, then it can’t possibly be a dangerous road to take, can it? And look, no one I know in real life is saying anything bad about it, just the keyboard warriors online.
And that’s where I am guilty. I’ll happily tweet about it all day. I’ll update facebook with rants about fascism. But in the real world, I’m standing back and not doing anything about the fact that hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are intending to vote for a party that would scrap the Human Rights Act, privatise the NHS, get rid of paid maternity leave, abandon action on climate change and has a tax policy that would punish the low paid and reward high earners. That’s their public face. And as the car crash of Nigel Farage’s interview on LBC shows, underneath there’s a repellent and xenophobic true identity.
So what can I do? If I won’t point out the reality of what UKIP are to people I see every day? I can write a twatty blog about it of course. Or, I can get off my arse tomorrow, go to the polling station and vote for a party that isn’t UKIP. My one small vote won’t make a huge difference in the scheme of things. But it will cancel out the UKIP vote of my friend who’s not a friend. In the 2009 European elections, 64% of the electorate didn’t vote. I’m included in that figure. I won’t be this year, and I hope you won’t be either.