For those of us interested in a more peaceful, sustainable and socially just world, the local and European elections make for a pretty depressing day.
There’s been plenty of comment about whether the rise of UKIP has been as momentous as the British press would have us believe. Anotherangryvoice.blogspot does a great job of exploding the media myths. In the local elections, their share of the vote went down and they’ve gained control of precisely zero councils but they grew their share of the vote and number of seats in Europe.
However, facts rarely get in the way of a good story and the story we’re being fed just now is that UKIP are an unstoppable new force in British politics because they’re speaking to justifiable grievances held by large swathes of the voting public.
The BBC is as culpable in peddling this story as any of the right wing press. Farage has been omni-present in the media – in sharp contrast to the visibility of the Greens, say. His frequent appearances gave him credibility he didn’t deserve and did more to build his campaign than his own party machine. And the absence of robust challenge to UKIP’s many and varied inflammatory and plain wrong statements meant that they were able to live on in the world as if they were true.
It’s this lack of challenge and moral relativism that needs confronting. It’s the same moral relativism that allows the BBC to think it’s reasonable to put up Nigel Lawson as an authoritative voice denying climate change.
Farage’s farrago of lies and scaremongering only serves one purpose. It protects the powerful from any real scrutiny and instead creates imaginary terrors to divert us from real critical debate. Instead of asking why our politics and key institutions are largely run by a white male public school elite (of which he is one, in spite of his ‘man of the people’ schtick) we end up worrying about which country our neighbour comes from. Instead of asking why banks continue to pay eye-watering bonuses after having been comprehensively bailed out by the taxpayer, we worry about whether we can ‘afford’ our precious NHS. Instead of focussing our attention on the urgent need for change to protect our planet and our ecosystems, UKIP supports fracking and an end to green energy subsidies. Instead of directing our righteous anger at the violence meted out to women, children and gay people around the world, they fuel debate about whether women should be ‘allowed’ to hold senior posts or whether gay marriage should be sanctioned.
Last week, I went to the Leavers Ceremony at my old college, UWC Atlantic College, where I’m now proud to be a governor and trustee. Its mission – “…committed to making education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future” – and how it is expressed in practice through the students and alumni, is inspiring. The model of education practiced here, and in the 12 other United World Colleges around the world, is based on Kurt Hahn’s post war vision for education ‘to engage young people from all nations in finding peaceful means to bring together a world divided by political, racial and socio-economic barriers by learning with and from one another.‘ It’s a rigorous and demanding education, delivered through the International Baccalaureate and an experiential component focussed on service, self-discovery and personal challenge. Central to the curriculum is the requirement to develop curious and critical thinking; to question taken-for-granted assumptions and mindsets and to value and celebrate differences, challenging prejudice and valuing enquiry and robust evidence.
And so back to the BBC and it’s role in the current political situation. The BBC’s mission is “to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.” Seems to me that BBC’s fixation with Farage is more about entertainment than information and education…
In my view, it’s high time the BBC took this part of their mission seriously again and applied a rigorous, critical stance to UKIP and its policies. Education does not exist in a neutered political vacuum. Education privileges serious enquiry and proper evidence. It’s time to challenge the bitter, cynical, nasty and dangerous narrative UKIP puts out into the world and to shine a light instead on the many examples of optimistic, generous, positive and generative alternatives which are presently ignored and thus silenced.