This is a difficult blog to write, and I need to ask all liberals/left-of-centres to bear with me, withhold judgement, and read to the end. You may not like what I am about to say, but I will not hold back on the truth, no matter how difficult that may be.
I voted UKIP. I know that may come as a shock to many of you, indeed it does to me, but before we cast judgement on others who vote this way, I think it’s important to understand exactly why this comes about.
Of course, I cannot speak on behalf of others, simply myself. I know that many of my thoughts and feelings are shared by others, but I am not suggesting that they are representative.
It was 2001. I was living in Leicester. I’d just returned from three years at the University of Northampton, and I was disenchanted with the world. I was on the verge of graduating and I had no idea where life was going to lead me. My last year at university had been challenging, and I longed to returned to the familiarity of home. As soon as my last exam was finished, I moved back in with my Dad.
Leicester is a strange place. It’s multicultural to the extreme – yet surprisingly harmonious. The school that I attended is now attended by a majority of BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) students, and it was around 50/50 when I was there.
I was used to being around Asian people. I saw that they were different to me, their culture, values and upbringing did not resonate with mine, but I always judged individuals on on a case-by-case basis. I had prejudiced views about Asian people – at this stage I knew no difference between Indian and Pakistani, and I knew no difference between Hindu, Muslim or Sikh – but I never let it affect my personal relationships.
What I was born into, however, was an environment of fear. I was surrounded by people who blamed BAME people for taking jobs. People who complained ten Asian adults were living in a three-bedroom house. People who looked at the number of cars outside the house and compared their apparent “success” to their own lives. People who wanted someone to blame. People who had seen people from BAME backgrounds come to the UK and make themselves comfortable.
Now interestingly, I wasn’t too affected by this. I grew up around people from BAME backgrounds that were born in this country, and I knew that they were as British as me.
However, what happened as result of me growing up in this environment was that I too wanted someone to blame. I didn’t feel right blaming people from BAME backgrounds, so I developed a bee in my bonnet about Europe.
We didn’t have national newspapers in the house during the week, and at the time I just used the internet for football and music news. But on Sundays, we would have a copy of the People. I would also deliver the Leicester Mercury every day until I was 18. You won’t be surprised to hear that the Mercury is owned by the same group as the Daily Mail.
Reading the Mercury, I loved reading the letters to the editor. There were two or three names that appeared regularly – serial complainers. I never took them seriously, as they’d always be complaining about something silly like the behaviour of a dog, or the fact they were expected to sort their own recycling out. I can’t actually remember specifics – it was always nonsense.
Reading the People, I loved reading the problem pages. Vernon Coleman wrote a column that I always found myself nodding along to. He was a very judgemental ‘agony uncle’ and discussed everything from sex to politics. I admired his staunch beliefs and his unwavering sense of righteousness against “liberals”. And I loved reading about everything corrupt about the EU. I even bought his book “What They Won’t Tell You About the EU”. It was great. I felt armed with my ammunition in case anyone ever started an argument with me about it.
Of course, they didn’t. No one I knew was interested in politics. So I kept what I “knew” to myself and read more about it online.
I became obsessed with this idea that Britain should be British. That we should be independent of the EU, and that we most definitely should not surrender the pound.
I didn’t take any further interest in politics. I wasn’t interested in the major parties. At this point I probably couldn’t even have told you which party was in power. I did though, understand that Margaret Thatcher and John Major were bastards, but I couldn’t have told you why.
So I voted for the only party I knew anything about. UKIP.
Oh, I missed the embarrassing part. At the time I was working evenings, so I watched a lot of daytime television. I LOVED watching Kilroy-Silk. So when he joined the party, that sealed the deal for me.
So I guess what I’m saying is that we’re all products of our environment, and we make choices based on what we know. People planning to vote UKIP now will no doubt have found something that connects them with the party. I’m not condoning that in any way, I’m just saying that no amount of “Don’t Vote UKIP” noise on social media is going to convince them otherwise.
Had I not moved away from Leicester, I think there’s a strong chance that I would be considering voting for them again this year.
Of course, there is nothing further from my mind.
So let me tell you how I got to where I am now.
I didn’t vote in the 2005 general election. I had no interest at all. Let’s be honest, it was probably for the best.
In 2008 I moved to Brighton. I started to meet new people, discuss new ideas, and I started to find myself in situations that I’d never been in before.
I started to hang around with people who weren’t bitter. People who said “you can do that” instead of “don’t be stupid”. People who lived in hope, not caught up in hate.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was starting to rub off on me. I was immediately more comfortable in Brighton than I’d ever been in Leicester or Northampton, and for the first time in my life I felt like I could do anything I wanted.
It took some time for me shake some of my prejudices, but I soon started to realise that living without fear was far more appealing than distrusting everyone.
I got a job supporting vulnerable adults who were setting up their own businesses. For the first time, my eyes were opened to the reality facing the vulnerable in society. They weren’t the lazy, scrounging scum that I’d always been led to believe they were. They were other human-beings going through a rough time.
Shortly afterwards I started supporting people with mental health support needs with their job searches. Many of these people had additional needs as well – difficulties at home, histories of abuse, physical disabilities etc. and I saw first-hand how hard they were trying, only to be knocked back time after time.
Towards the end of 2009, I had a horrid feeling. I had a horrid feeling that the Tories were going to get in. I still didn’t know much about politics, but enough people that I respected had aired their fears that I knew I had to do something at the next election. I started reading. I read up as much as I could on all the parties. I read up on how the system works, and how the local elections worked, and who had the realistic chance of getting in.
Then I watched in pain for six months, as Labour slowly lost public confidence, while Rupert Murdoch and the Mail told everyone to vote Tory.
In 2010 I voted Labour. I was living in Brighton Pavilion and I’d met Nancy Platts a few times. I liked her a lot, and I didn’t think much of the Greens at the time. I also wasn’t aware of the strength of support for them in Brighton, and I didn’t think much of their policies.
I realise now that that was because I was still holding on to some of that hate. I hadn’t quite embraced hope and positivity at this point, and I still maintained a slight resentment towards “liberals”.
This year, however, I will be voting for Caroline Lucas. There is no doubt about it. My ideal vote would be for a party that works towards the goals of the Venus Project, but in the absence of that, the Greens are the only party that is genuinely humanitarian. Talk about the economy, and putting numeric values on human lives, is inhumane. Especially when we live in a “rich” country, and a world with enough resources to go around.
I have no country. I am a citizen of the world.
My hate has gone. My need to blame has gone. My prejudices have gone. I have hope for the future.
The world has changed. Politics has changed. I know that we need a progressive government. I know that Labour cannot deliver that – they still pander to the same sponsors as the Tory party. I know that Caroline Lucas will at least hold them to account in any form of coalition.
Caroline Lucas is the only MP who has not only done what she said she would do – but been arrested for it.
Hate only breeds hate. I don’t hate UKIP. I don’t hate UKIP supporters. I don’t hate people with different views to me.
I try to understand them.
I try to understand myself.
It’s only once you’ve let go of your own fear, your own prejudices, your own resentment, that you can see how you truly can change the world.
It’s not by blaming others.