Tonight I’ve been asked (presumably because I’m known to be both a Christian and the General Secretary of UKIP / lead North East candidate) what my thoughts are about Christianity and UKIP. Is it even possible, some have asked, for a Christian to support UKIP? If the polls are correct, as a Christian I won’t just be a UKIP member a week from now but a Member of the European Parliament for UKIP. So how can this be?
Given some of the negatives written about the Party in recent weeks, I’m aware that some Christians struggle to understand the UKIP perspective. Others warmly embrace it. In my own personal experience, in many evangelical churches there is strong support for UKIP.
Perhaps I can’t change people’s opinions, but I’m writing this for those who don’t agree – or who maybe can’t fathom the UKIP mindset at all. Agrippa asked Paul “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Even though it wouldn’t succeed immediately, Paul still tried. Likewise, even if I can’t persuade those who have seen a media onslaught in recent weeks to support UKIP, I would rather spend time talking to those who don’t already agree with me than those who do.
I’ll look at some of the various objections to UKIP which I’ve heard raised by Christians so far in this campaign and explain how I see things from a Christian perspective.
Objection #1: UKIP supports a cut in the foreign aid budget, which is hardly charitable or Christian
The problem is that the foreign aid budget is so often mis-spent. Foreign aid currently goes to countries which have nuclear and space programmes, to countries in the G20, and – in the case of Argentina – countries which have forcibly attempted to capture British territory. Foreign aid should be used to assist with natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis. It can be used to assist with a one-off famine (though extreme caution is needed to avoid accidentally doing more harm than good by putting local farmers out of business and precipitating an even greater famine the following year). These limited forms of foreign aid are what I think the general public sees as ‘helping our neighbours’. We should be doing much more than that – but it’s about developing those economies, not about handing over aid packages.
The European Union imposes a tariff of 1% on the import of cocoa from Africa, but a tariff of 30% on the import of processed chocolate. Result? A disincentive for African countries to turn cocoa into chocolate before export. Remove the trade barrier, and we would genuinely help cocoa-producing countries’ economies in the long term.
My brother spent 6 months as an aid worker in Malawi, in an area where some people were quite literally starving. The ‘Traditional Authorities’, as they were known, owned large chunks of farmable land and there were many people unemployed. For the sum of roughly £5,000 he could have purchased a piece of land and farming equipment, and paid the wages of local workers to farm maize until the first couple of crops had come through. The local people, most of whom lacked even a rudimentary education and any money to set up such an organisation, could not do so. The project would have saved lives and the £5,000 could even have been repaid within less than a year if that were the intention. An interest-free loan, and a bit of vision, would have made a massive difference but sadly the project went outside the objectives of the charity he was working for and they had to pursue other projects instead. I use this example merely to illustrate a point: helping people to grow things, or to trade, is far better than spending money on foreign aid which all too often ends up in the hands of the wrong people.
Objection #2: Christians are called to welcome strangers, even if it were to hurt us financially. That doesn’t fit with UKIP’s immigration policy.
Christians are indeed called to welcome strangers and help those in need. Many times, I’ve invited people to stay at my house who were short of money, had nowhere to live or were in need of support for a period of time to deal with other problems.
But I don’t think it follows from that, that the country should pursue a policy of open borders. In my view there’s a big difference between the role of the individual, and the role of society. In general, the Old Testament deals with society and the New Testament with the individual. Much of what is written in the Old Testament does not apply legalistically today (Christians can eat pork for example, and do not have to follow the religious requirements which Orthodox Jews do for example from the same text), but it provides a context for the understanding of the New Testament. So whilst we are (as individuals) called to welcome strangers, we (as a society) need to balance the needs of the stranger with the needs of society.
This concept of individual and society is easier to see in another context. Suppose that someone were to murder my brother. It would be my duty as an individual to forgive that sin, but it is the role of society to punish the crime. I don’t think any Christians would seriously suggest that a murderer should walk free because we choose to forgive.
In the same way, of course we – as individual citizens – should share our wealth with others. Society has a role to play. In Biblical times there was the concept of a ‘tithe’ which was used to help the poor. In modern times, a much higher percentage of our wages is already used in taxation to help those less fortunate than ourselves. On the other hand, overly high taxation acts as a disincentive to work: there is also a principle in the Bible that the worker is worthy of their hire. Policy designed to share wealth with the best of intentions can lead to disaster; the devastation caused by Communism across the world is evidence of that.
There are of course many immigration cases where this country should be compassionate. For example, a few years ago I helped a lady from Uganda, who had become a Christian in the UK and had been threatened with death if she were deported (the issues relating to her husband, who was fighting against the government at the time). When I got involved with the case, she was being moved to an immigration deportation centre. She was eventually given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and I hope that the work I did on that case played a part in that decision.
What I oppose (and UKIP opposes) is the uncontrolled immigration which comes as a part of our EU membership. In Bulgaria for example, the minimum wage is in the order of 80 pence an hour. People with even a high level of education from Bulgaria can make more money working in the UK at minimum wage. This has two effects: firstly, it impacts upon UK unemployment. At a time when almost a million young people in this country are unemployed, it deprives young people of their first career step. Secondly, it doesn’t help Bulgaria – they are losing many of their talented people.
Visiting, and working in, other countries is not something which is exclusive to the European Union. Indeed, more British citizens live in Australia and the USA than in the 27 other EU countries combined! But this should not be an automatic right: if I had a serious criminal record for example, I would expect other countries to have the right to refuse me entry to live and work in those countries. I wouldn’t expect to be allowed to compete for jobs in sectors where those countries already have a massive oversupply of labour.
UKIP seeks to regain control of our borders, and to have a fair points-based immigration system where those from India or China are not discriminated against, in favour of people from France or Spain. All should be treated equally.
Objection #3: Christians should be good neighbours, and therefore we should work together with other countries within the European Union
This raises the question: what does being ‘good neighbours’ mean? Who is our neighbour in this context? Is France our neighbour because it’s separated from us by the English Channel, or does that apply to every country in the world? I think every country worldwide is our neighbour. Being part of the European Union makes it harder for us to be good neighbours to countries outside it – for example, we’ve neglected the Commonwealth since joining the EU.
Leaving the European Union would have many practical benefits. It isn’t truly democratic (the unelected Commission proposes the laws, and the elected Parliament – which lacks many of the features of a Parliamentary democracy – amends, accepts or rejects them).
The idea of one-size-fits-all laws for 28 different countries does not work, leading to bad legislation for all. There is a substantial cost saving, and we would regain the freedom to negotiate our own trade deals once more. We’d regain the right to legislate for ourselves in many areas (UKIP would like to ban the live export of animals for example, but can’t do it inside the EU). I’m currently being lobbied by Christians, and have received dozens of emails from those who fear that under proposed amendments to the Equal Treatment Directive they will be unable to vocalise their support for traditional marriage. Whether you agree or disagree, there’s a fundamental freedom of speech issue.
I believe that being good neighbours is about trading freely and fairly. Tiny Iceland, which has a similar population to Newcastle, has a free trade deal with China. The UK is powerless to negotiate deals for ourselves; the EU Trade Commissioner negotiates them on our behalf. As a result negotiations often stall, or do not actually represent British interests.
There are very few genuine disadvantages to leaving the European Union. We could, if we wished, retain any EU legislation which has been beneficial. Outside the European Union, we’d still trade with them (we’re guaranteed by Treaty to be allowed to do so). We would be able to develop trade globally, and would also be in a position to develop genuinely fair trade with the world’s poorest countries rather than imposing tariff barriers on them. 40 years of attempted reform of the EU has failed; it’s time to leave the EU but remain good neighbours and trading partners with them.
Objection #4: UKIP candidates have said some bad (nasty/racist) things
I’ve never understood this objection, except in the context of those who accept everything they see in the media at face value. If you don’t vote UKIP for that reason, then you have ample reason to not vote for each of the other parties as well. The problem here is that UKIP has over 2,000 people standing for us as candidates this year. In any large group of people, there will some ‘bad eggs’.
The same is true of all the other parties, but it just doesn’t make front page headlines. I could choose many examples; I’ll use just a few from the Liberal Democrats but could easily do likewise for Labour, Conservatives and Greens.
Have you heard anyone suggest that they can’t vote Liberal Democrat because one of their councillors was sentenced to 18 years in prison for bombing his own constituency? Or because of the sex scandals surrounding Cyril Smith, or because of Chris Huhne’s jail sentence for perverting the course of justice, or because a councillor was convicted of racially aggravated assault?
These aren’t just ‘saying’ bad things, or writing an inappropriate post on social media. These are convictions for serious criminal offences! So why are UKIP’s the ones which make front page headlines? It goes against the grain for me to even mention these examples – politics shouldn’t be about this kind of mudslinging – but the attacks on UKIP are so ferocious that it’s important to point out that there is a certain double standard at play.
The test for UKIP is whether we deal with those people. The candidate who made the remarks about Lenny Henry? Gone. Any UKIP member found to be a former member of a racist organisation like the BNP or National Front? Kicked out immediately (Conservatives and Labour have ex-BNP members as candidates and councillors). We don’t tolerate racism or racists in our party. I’m often asked about UKIP expelling the person who claimed recent floods were a consequence of gay marriage. Some deride us for allowing him in our party (though he’d said similar things for decades when he was a Conservative and nobody batted an eyelid). His opinion was ridiculous, but that shouldn’t stop him from being a member of the Party. He was expelled because he associated UKIP with those beliefs.
The average UKIP member or candidate couldn’t be further from this media stereotype. We have more candidates in winnable positions from ethnic minority backgrounds selected than the Lib Dems or Greens at the European elections – and perhaps more than the Conservatives and Labour too. That’s why the accusations of ‘racism’ are so hurtful to us personally. The word ‘racism’ is a serious one and it should not be thrown around like confetti.
Objection #5: We can’t support a single-issue Party
UKIP is not by any means a Party of only one policy. The elections on Thursday are to the European Parliament, and therefore they are a single-issue election. At this election we aren’t talking about our policy of ‘no tax on minimum wage’ which would help struggling families, because it isn’t relevant to the European elections.
One of the policies which attracts me as a Christian to UKIP is the policy of allowing the public to force a binding referendum on moral issues through a petition of 5% of the electorate. In such circumstances, gay marriage could not have been introduced without the consent of the British people – and there would exist a democratic mechanism for change to the law on abortion, for example. UKIP was the only Party to oppose the introduction of gay marriage, and for precisely that reason: because the people of this country were not consulted on the matter. We were also concerned about the protection of churches’ rights not to conduct such ceremonies.
Objection #6: UKIP now supports gay marriage, which is anti-Christian
This just isn’t true. The objection stems from a draft statement which was accidentally put out, by individuals in the Press Office, without having authorisation to do so. Nigel Farage issued the following statement:
“UKIP’s objection to same sex marriage was two-fold. First, we did not think it should have been made a political priority at a time of many other pressing issues and pointed out that the measure had no mandate from the electorate. Secondly we were concerned that because of the role of the European Court of Human Rights in British law that faith communities which had strong objections were at risk of being forced to conduct gay marriages.
“The statement attributed to me was not made by me and not approved by me. It was a draft by a staff member that should never have been sent out. There is an ongoing debate within UKIP about how we can protect faith communities from ultimately being compelled to conduct same sex marriages against their beliefs and their will. We note that some gay rights activists are already talking about taking legal action in Strasbourg to force this issue.”