Thursday 4 December 2014

The problem with the yoof of today

The media is biased: It's so unfair
Blogger and Ukipist, Katabasis, is in full apoplexy over the Leaders live debate. Outside the Ukip bubble, it wasn't that bad. When you're inside the cult every opinion that is not in keeping with your own is an example of media bias. But this was actually one of those vary rare television debates that was measured, fairly comprehensive, and one where Nigel Farage was allowed to speak without interruption - and exchanged views with some not untypical yoof with views fairly representative of their ilk.

Clearly the opinions of these youngsters is received wisdom, informed by popular media but that's the state of play we find ourselves in. The outrage over the imagined bias is one of the many reasons Ukipists come over as tinfoil hatters. These perceptions of Ukip do exist, are not uncommon, and here Farage is getting all the opportunity he could possibly want to make his case.

It's not an unreasonable observation that Ukip does indeed attract the support of some pretty unsavory people, including Nick Griffin. The accusation was put to Farage and he was allowed to speak. Similarly, it's not unreasonable to question sources of Ukip funding either. You would think Farage would welcome the opportunity to set these matters straight. In fact, it would be refreshing if so-called "adult" debates were conducted in a similar way. Which begs the question, what exactly do Ukipists want? Do they want Farage on television being thrown softball questions? Are they so worried that people cannot listen and make up their own minds? You can argue that the other parties get an easier ride of it, but it was always going to be this way.

But there's a more important consideration here. While these youths and their received opinions are the product of our media they are also exposed to the same Ukip advertising as the rest of us, which has been immigration obsessed since May. The "29 million people are after your job" poster was brought up. Farage and his followers can try and spin it any which way they choose, but no rational person could say that such was not implied both by the text and the imagery.

Communicating nuanced policy in the white noise of modern media is difficult, so it becomes about brand, image and the message, and the Ukip brand and image is now in inextricably linked to those posters where the message wholly self-evident, and quite obviously designed to be controversial. Consequently, when people speak of Ukip, that is where they draw their perceptions from. And there's a price for that.

The programme was divided into four sections yet immigration dominated over half the show with the EU barely getting a look in. And these young people are (in my view rightly) not imbued by the Ukip message. That was entirely predictable. Kids are raised in a politically correct environment and that is the sea in which Ukip must swim, whether it thinks it's fair or not. Temper tantrums that reality is not as we would wish it are entirely redundant. Ukip made the bed in which is has to lie - and nobody can say this programme did not allow Farage to make a rebuttal. In fact, it would have been somewhat negligent of the producers not to have explored these issues.

What this demonstrates is that Ukip has not considered the environment in which it must fight. You can hardly blame these kids for thinking the party wants to privatise the NHS in some way because the party has always leaned in that direction (to some extent) until very very recently. Similarly Farage's lack of awareness of what Ukip education policy is speaks to the overall policy confusion within the party, and why would the public have a more accurate idea of what Ukip is about if their own leader does not know? Claiming bias in such circumstances is akin with blaming a rape victim for wearing a short skirt. The confusion and misinformation about Ukip is everything to do with its own confusion.

And this takes me to the point about the 1975 referendum. The deck was stacked then in media debates, as it has been throughout, and will be more so should we get a referendum in 2018. Every opportunity must be taken to reframe and inform the debate, but here Farage failed. Those kids will walk away from that debate as blissfully unaware as Farage that the EU is not the single market and jobs and trade not depend on the single market and not the EU. It's a large distinction and it matters. If Ukip had a Brexit policy most of the criticisms leveled at them could be put to bed.

Instead it's still going to be a debate bogged down in the usual dry and hackneyed memes about immigration with both sides talking past each other. And given that's exactly what the establishment wants to happen, and that's why they will keep wheeling out Nigel. He's the one who has to fight from a negative premise and is instantaneously on the defensive. The EU debate will now be entirely one about immigration, and while Ukipists will never be appeased by Cameron's package of reforms, there's a good chance the public will. They've bought bigger whoppers than that before.

The media, in their fog of incomprehension, will dutifully report it in the way explained to them with no further analysis, and Ukip will have nothing in the box apart from a temper tantrum about bias. Instead of leading the field with viable and credible alternatives, muting the traditional europhile arguments, Ukip has put as all exactly where we didn't want to be - fending off cries of racism and fascism, against a media who will lend no help in correcting that perception.

I don't deny there's a war we need to have against the system and the media that produces such youth, that is part of a wider culture war, and one that will take a  generation to fix. Now was not the time to pick that battle when we have a more immediate and important battle on our hands in leaving the EU. Now our forces are divided and at odds with eachother, with Ukip making the overall objective all the more harder to achieve. Cry that it's not a fair fight if you will, but nobody here said it would be. We won't start to win until Ukip recognises the war it needs to be fighting.

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