By Anthony Faiola, Published: March 31 | Updated: Monday, April 1, 4:46 AM
EASTLEIGH, ENGLAND — For the United Kingdom Independence Party, defeat has never looked this much like victory.
After a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Commons was jailed on criminal charges, this struggling railroad town near the English Channel held a special election to pick his successor. The anti-immigrant U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) took up the challenge, setting up offices next to a Turkish kebab shop and narrowly losing its bid to win its first elected seat in the British Parliament.
Its best-yet showing in a national race has, nevertheless, thrust into the national limelight a political movement that is part of a wave of anti-immigrant populism surging across Europe. The outcome of the Feb. 28 vote, coupled with national polls showing UKIP support at an all-time high, seemed to terrify Britain’s three traditional parties. In response, the Conservatives, the Labor Party and the Liberal Democrats are suddenly tripping over each other in a race to see who can more closely echo the Independence Party’s hard-line pledge to get tougher on immigration.
Please note the fear and loathing terms in the article, which I'll put in bold. Project much?
UKIP’s ability to spark a policy stampede without even winning a seat in Parliament underscores the increasing capability of anti-immigrant forces to set the agenda amid Europe’s economic malaise. An issue at the core of the party’s platform is the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union to stem the tide of immigration — as an E.U. member, Britain is legally bound to allow the citizens of 24 other European countries to resettle here with few restrictions — which speaks to the concerns of a continent where a debt crisis and high employment are increasingly making foreigners the target of popular rage.
That fear is surging as countries including Britain, Germany and France prepare for new flows of migrants from two of Europe’s poorest countries — Bulgaria and Romania, whose citizens will win unlimited access to the E.U.’s labor market as of Jan. 1.
With concern growing that the Independence Party will poach more and more voters from the political right, Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, last week announced a plan to make it tougher for recently arrived immigrants to claim welfare benefits. The government additionally announced a dramatic makeover of the U.K. Border Agency to deal more expeditiously — and harshly — with illegal immigrants.
Not to be outdone, Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister from Cameron’s junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, announced his own plan to control illegal immigration. In a speech less than three weeks after the vote in Eastleigh, Clegg vowed to force visitors from countries with high numbers of visa violators to post a $1,500 bond — with the cash returnable only upon their departure from Britain.
At the same time, Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labor Party, has offered a mea culpa for lax immigration policies during his party’s rule from 1997 to 2010, a period when net migration to Britain soared. In an apparent reference to then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s campaign gaffe in 2010 — when the Labor leader was caught off camera describing an elderly white woman as “bigoted” for complaining about immigration — Miliband said: “It’s not prejudiced when people worry about immigration. It’s understandable. And we were wrong in the past when we dismissed people’s concerns.”
Has anybody in America apologized over immigration policy?
Although not wholly new — Britain’s top parties have for years been leaning toward tougher immigration policies— observers say the steps taken since the Independence Party’s surge have amounted to some of the most aggressive yet.
“There is no doubting the influence of UKIP is now being felt in our immigration debate, partly because the main parties have refused to have a debate about this before,” said Keith Vaz, a Labor Party lawmaker. “We should stamp out illegal immigration, but we also need to avoid an arms race between the parties as they react to UKIP support.”
With a debt crisis and deep austerity entering their fourth year, Europe is facing a period of record unemployment that has allowed unpredictable political forces to take root. By comparison to some of these unconventional movements — such as the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece — the U.K. Independence Party is relatively mild.
The party was founded in the 1990s by British politicians furious about London’s acceptance of the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union. Today, the party is led by the spiffily dressed Nigel Farage — a savvy, speaks-in-sound-bites politician known for his dry sense of British humor. Although he is campaigning heavily for Britain to leave the E.U., his wife is a German national.
Under his leadership, the party has largely avoided the racially and religiously tinged jabs against Muslim immigrants taken by, say, the Nationalists in France.
Rather, UKIP ascribes to a school of thought always just under the surface in Britain — that this is a nation that is culturally apart from Europe and has no business being part of that exotic world across the English Channel.
Those sentiments have been exacerbated by an influx of hundreds of thousands of Europeans — mostly from the east — who over the past two decades have taken advantage of the E.U.’s open-borders policy to find jobs and resettle in Britain.
Appreciation of what Paul Johnson calls England's "island privilege" -- the ability to draw from the Continent as wished and withdraw from the Continent when needed -- has not always been kept under the surface. In fact, one Englishman spelled out this "school of thought" rather vividly in what's basically the UKIP platform:
This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
... This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.