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Monday, June 20, 2016

Is the UKIP racist poster a turning point?

Anybody who seeks to predict how Thursday's vote on European Union membership will go is a fool. It is far too close to call. However, there was a feeling over the weekend that some people are pulling back from the leave option for a number of reasons.

Whether this is enough to give Remain a clear win is an unknown factor but the emergence of what Dan Hodges calls 'Project Hate' has a clear role to play in that trend. He writes:

Three weeks ago we all woke to the following quote from a pro-Brexit MP: 'I don't want to stab the Prime Minister in the back – I want to stab him in the front so I can see the expression on his face.'

One week later Nigel Farage said that British women risked being raped if we didn't vote for Brexit. At the same time posters began to circulate from the Vote Leave campaign – replete with shadowy footsteps – warning of 55 million migrants entering the UK from Turkey. Last week, as immigration began to slip down the agenda, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove again demanded Cameron 'veto' Turkish accession.

A day after the Orlando terrorist attack, a poster was published by Leave.EU urging people to 'act now' before a similar attack occurred here in the UK.

This followed a warning from Gove that if Turkey were granted access, 'extremists everywhere will believe that the West is opening its borders to appease an Islamist government'. They know what they are doing. Farage. Gove. Johnson. They have always known. That they were opening a Pandora's Box. But it glistened before them so brightly.

The defection of Baroness Warsi, the former communities minister who co-chaired the Tory party, from the Leave side to instead support us remaining in the EU is the most prominent consequence of this approach.

Warsi accused Michael Gove, the justice secretary and Brexit campaigner, of peddling “complete lies" but said that the final straw for her was hearing Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, defend a poster with the slogan “breaking point” depicting refugees trudging across Europe:

Lady Warsi told The Times: “That ‘breaking point’ poster really was — for me — the breaking point to say, ‘I can’t go on supporting this’. Are we prepared to tell lies, to spread hate and xenophobia just to win a campaign? For me that’s a step too far.”

Dan Hodges sums it up well: Project Hate has brought us to the brink. Britain – the country we live in this morning – stands on the edge. This time next week it could all be gone. Our economic security. Our national security. Our international security. Imagine if it works. The overt racism. The overt demonisation of refugees. The graphic threats to stab the Prime Minister in the chest. Imagine if that is what constitutes a successful British political campaign in 2016.

We have seen campaigns like that before, but they have always been defeated. Defeated because moderate voices on the Left and the Right united to oppose them. Today there is no such unity.

The voices of moderation have fallen silent. Actually, it's worse than that. They have not fallen silent, but actively joined the chorus of anger and hate.

My hope is that decency will prevail and that those people who, like Dan Hodges and me have been appalled by this descent into barbarism will stand up and be counted on Thursday.

If Remain wins on Thursday then it may well be that the racism of UKIP and 'that' poster in particular could prove to have been the turning point.
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