When I heard that UKIP had forged an alliance with a Polish MEP who was, amongst other things, a Holocaust denier, a man who joked about beating wives and beating children, who thought disabled people shouldn’t be on TV, and that had described Hitler as a ‘rascal’, my first reaction was to sigh. Not because these things aren’t terrible – but because they are, and they’re sadly typical of something I see in so many places. It’s about a failure to place value on the human, but instead only on certain people.
The whole nature of the Holocaust was about that – and so is Holocaust denial. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think UKIP is a party of Holocaust deniers – though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were a few in UKIP’s ranks – but that they don’t think Holocaust denial is such a big deal. Certainly not a ‘deal breaker’, as they’ve demonstrated by making their deal. Why would you not think it was a big deal? The most obvious reason is that the millions of deaths, the brutal and systematic nature of those deaths – not just of Jews but of Roma, of Slavs, of disabled people and others – simply don’t matter that much to you. For some people such an attitude is almost inconceivable – but for others, it seems long ago, those ‘people’ don’t really register as important enough to make a difference. They’re not valued.
Holocaust denial is one of the most obvious, but the failure to place value in the human is in all those other things. You can only joke about ‘wife beating’ if you don’t really value women – they don’t quite class as human, somewhere in your mind. The same for beating children. Saying that disabled people shouldn’t appear on TV can only really be because disabled people don’t count as quite, well, people. Human. And it’s part of a bigger pattern. Racism, ultimately, means thinking that people of one race are less valuable than others. Xenophobia, of the kind demonstrated by UKIP towards Romanians and Bulgarians, for example, says the same. ‘You know the difference’, as Nigel Farage said to James O’Brien, comparing Romanians to his German wife, is about valuing one kind of human above another.
It’s not just UKIP. Lord Freud’s comments about some disabled people being ‘worth’ less than the minimum wage has the same origin – and in some ways a more pernicious one. It takes the idea of value to a more calculated level, treating people not as humans but as ‘assets’ whose only ‘worth’ is their ability to contribute as productive economic units – and as a result finds them wanting. It’s not just treating disabled people as less than human – it’s treating all of us as less than human. It’s not valuing humanity at all. Labour’s Rachel Reeves gets in on the act too. In her recent speech on social security began by talking about ‘decent, hardworking people’ – which implies that there are some people who are not as valuable. Not decent. Not working hard enough – and hence not as valuable, not as worthy. That would include people who can’t work as hard – disabled people for example, older people, kids – and people whose lives are not filled with what is commonly described as ‘work’: carers are perhaps the most obvious example, the majority of whom are women. These people, the indecent, non-‘hardworking’ people are seen as less ‘valuable’ than the decent, hardworking people, who ‘deserve’ support. The value’s in the ‘decency’ and the ‘hardworking’, not the ‘people’. Not the human.
That’s also why the Tories can see an attack on ‘human rights’ as something that’s not just politically acceptable but politically valuable. Many people seem to think that there isn’t any value in the human, just in certain kinds of human. That’s why the recent survey that suggests many more Britons think that they should have the right to work anywhere in Europe than think Europeans should have the right to work in the UK. It makes sense – if you understand that we Brits are inherently more valuable, more worthy, more trustworthy than all those dodgy foreigners. We brought civilisation to the world, you know, of course we’re better than those Europeans – particularly those dodgy Romanians and Bulgarians, who are mostly beggars and thieves anyway. Even if people don’t articulate it in those terms, that’s what underlies it. ‘We’ are better than ‘them’.
We seem to see just the differences, and use them to ascribe value. We forget the human, and undervalue it. That’s why UKIP can just shrug off the Holocaust denial and the wife beating jokes. That’s why the casual racism inherent in the UKIP Calypso doesn’t matter – and why even if Lord Freud does eventually lose his job, the attitudes towards disabled people are seen by far too many as just common sense and economic reality. That, to me, is deeply sad.