Yet also stretching belief are opinion polls suggesting the party is set for success in the European parliamentary elections now less than a month away. Indeed, the latest poll by YouGov suggests that the party is now in the lead in the election contest, recording 31 per cent support – three points ahead of Labour, with the Conservatives third on 19 per cent.
This might be treated as a serious reflection of voter concerns on the EU were it not for a continuing series of appalling comments. The latest, by a Ukip council election candidate concerning the popular comedian Lenny Henry, did not just cross a line of acceptability but conveyed a distinctly racist tone. The remarks were abhorrent and must leave many wondering how, after all the improvements in race relations in the past 30 years, such views have been able to survive.
This follows similar outbursts by Ukip candidates and hard on the heels of the launch of the party’s provocative anti-immigration election posters which were uncomfortably close in their appeal to the rantings of the BNP.
The party claims it is being singled out for intense scrutiny by a combination of critics from the major political parties – representatives of what it claims to be the “corrupt Westminster elite” which is now under serious challenge. But this scrutiny has long been part of political life in a democracy, part of the process by which parties and their representatives are probed and tested to prove their fitness for office.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage now needs to do something more than airily dismiss these outbursts as the work of mavericks or as unrepresentative of his party. The incidents keep coming. This suggests either that his leadership is weak or that these views are more representative of his candidates’ views than he is willing to admit.
Support for Ukip has risen in recent months as Prime Minister David Cameron’s difficulties with the European Union have mounted. Senior Brussels officials have given him little ground for hope that his ambitions to reform the EU or alter the UK’s terms of membership will amount to much. At the same time, evidence of increasing encroachment in UK affairs continues to mount.
If Ukip wishes its critique of the EU to be taken seriously and its claim to be “a non-racist, non-sectarian party whose members are expected to uphold these values” to have any credibility, the party leader must condemn the latest outbursts forcefully and remove the individual whose remarks gave great offence last week from his candidacy – both as a punishment and as a deterrent.
Even that may not be enough to remove the serious doubts that party representatives have themselves promoted as to the party’s suitability for political office.
E-cigarettes deserve cautious welcome
GIVEN the power of smoking addiction, there is a case for a cautious welcome to be extended to the increasing popularity of electronic or e-cigarettes. These are battery-powered devices that resemble cigarettes but avoid some of the harmful carcinogenics associated with smoking, together with the offensive smoke and odour. Many smokers, it seems, are prepared to give them a try. Poll findings suggest that the percentage of adult smokers who said they used e-cigarettes rose from 3 per cent in 2010 to 17 per cent this year.
But they are not without controversy. Sheila Duffy, head of anti-smoking group ASH Scotland, says they are not harmless, as some supporters suggest and there needs to be “a vigorous public debate” about their use. A major concern is that they encourage young non-smokers to take up the habit. But the survey found that use of e-cigarettes among those who have never smoked was negligible.
And there is by no means carte blanche to use e-cigarettes in public. ScotRail, Starbucks and pubs groups have banned them.
However, there is some evidence to suggest that the devices help smokers to give up, and to this extent anti-smoking campaigners must take care that they are not blocking off an effective escape route for those seeking help to change to a more healthy lifestyle. And it is not as if these products are being developed and sold without checks. Last year UK medical watchdogs said e-cigarettes would be classed as medicines from 2016, meaning they will face stringent controls. So long as these are effectively policed, banning e-cigarettes would seem to be unduly punitive – as well as risking the move away from smoking in public.