My Immigrant Dad Is Voting UKIP
When my dad left Iran in the 1970s he came to the UK and made a new life as a doctor. Why is he planning to vote for a political party that rejects immigrants?
Dad left Iran in a hurry. See, in 1979 the Iranian Revolution happened, and everyone associated with the Shah – like Dad's family – had to leave. At first Dad thought he could go home soon. But Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic extremists had other plans for the country. So Dad settled here, an immigrant with hooded dark eyes and an endlessly mispronounced name – it's "Kayvan", not "Kevin"... definitely not "Kevin".
Thirty years passed. Dad raised a family and worked as a doctor. He kept wearing the same 1980s purple-and-green Adidas shell-suit, though.
Recently, Dad told me that he's planning on voting for UKIP in the General Election. This will be the first time he votes for them (he doesn't vote in local or European elections). He's even invited Nigel Farage down to the hospital he works at, although sadly for Dad there's been no response as yet.
My first reaction was, of course, to assume that the Old Man was having another mid-life crisis, and wonder whether pics of my Dad glad-handing Nigel Farage on Facebook would be more or less offensive than those ones of him in a tie-dye Full Moon Party t-shirt, joint in hand, that I've spent years trying to un-see.
My second reaction was more conflicted. See, I'm pretty sure my Dad's not senile (yet), so I started to question my own understanding of the party. I always thought that you were about as likely to get an immigrant voting UKIP as a turkey voting for Christmas. UKIP hates immigrants, right? As a first generation immigrant, there are several essential facts you learn growing up. The only acceptable career paths are: doctor, dentist, lawyer. Skipping PE to revise is fine. And you don't vote for parties that hate you. But now my immigrant Dad was breaking the rules – and it threw everything else into question.
UKIP has attracted some high-profile ethnic minority supporters, such as Sanya-Jeet Thandi, former UKIP Youth Chair. However, it has a problem holding onto these people: Sanya-Jeet subsequently defected, citing racism within the party. Sushil Patel, father of junior Tory Minister Priti Patel, made headlines back in 2013 when he announced he was standing, although he U-turned when the controversy threatened to damage his daughter's political career. When UKIP won the crucial Heywood by-election, black and Asian people were seen cheering in the crowd. And in Croydon last year, UKIP fielded nine black candidates for the local council elections.
WATCH: We Went to UKIP's Insane Party Conference
So, although my Dad's definitely not your conventional UKIP voter, he's not quite the only gay in the village, either. I asked the Head of Polling at a major polling institute if he could tell me how many ethnic minorities are voting UKIP. He told me that the size of BME groups in the UK is small enough that they can't be analysed in national voting intention polls as standard practice. Which is kind of ironic. There are so few British immigrants that they they don't show up in standard polling systems (Although, Operation Black Vote reckon that ethnic minority voters could wing the result in 168 marginal seats). It's almost enough to make you choke on your Halal pork scratchings.
Undeterred, I phoned Dad to find out why he was voting UKIP. He told me it was because the Tories were a "bunch of posh-boy tosspot wankers" who'd never had real jobs in their lives, and that he'd never trust Labour after the colostomy bag number they did on Iraq. When I pointed out he could still vote Lib Dem he laughed mirthlessly.
His response made me realise I'd been looking at this all wrong. Dad's decision to vote UKIP had nothing to do with the colour of his skin or the fact that he's an ethnic minority immigrant to the UK. Rather, it has everything to do with the failure of establishment politics in the UK. My Dad's voting UKIP because he's pissed off with traditional politics. UKIP's gelatinous purple blob has embraced both disaffected Tory and Labour voters. With support this diverse, is it that surprising that members of ethnic minorities are searching for a protest vote too?
Still, I wondered if my immigrant Dad was a hypocrite for being anti-immigration. After all, if it wasn't for the UK, my Dad would be in Iran, without freedom of religion or speech. It seemed kind of unfair that he was against other people having the chance to make a new life he had enjoyed. Never one to shy away from asking my Dad a difficult question (although at least this time I'm not an eight-year old asking what a condom is), I put this to him: does voting UKIP make you a hypocrite, Dad?
To his credit, he was genuinely gutted that I would think him xenophobic, or anti-immigration generally. "It's about uncontrolled immigration", he told me (more than once – we love to repeat ourselves in my family). "Uncontrolled immigration is ruining the social fabric of this country – people aren't integrating into communities anymore".
For him, it's not hypocritical to be anti-immigration when you feel that new immigrants aren't taking the same pains you took to integrate into society. And I kind of get this. Dad made a massive effort to integrate when he came over, and he's pissed off that the next generation of immigrants don't appear to him, at least, to be doing the same. Growing up, his idea of integrated is us piling into my Mum's battered old Nissan Micra to make the dutiful trek to National Trust houses in the summer holidays. Dad insisting English was spoken at home, apart from swearing (it's so much easier to swear in your native tongue). It meant my parents squashing the objections of the more conservative members of our family about how we girls dressed. It meant letting us be friends with and go out drinking with boys, even though that sort of thing would never pass muster where they came from.
And, as a doctor, he told me that he saw the effects of immigration on the over-burdened NHS daily. He told me of the amount of patients he treated from abroad on a daily basis, and of waiting lists and waiting rooms where none of the people spoke English as a first language. He's worked in the NHS for over two decades, so I understood where he was coming from, and how frustrating it must be to feel like you can't provide a decent quality of care because of the sheer volume of people you have to treat. And it's ironic that the NHS – even as it struggles to cope – is totally reliant on migrant workers. In the last year alone, it's hired up to 3,000 foreign doctors to deal with a serious staffing shortfall. I remembered that my grandparents often come over from abroad to see doctors on the NHS, even though they're not permanent residents here, and I bit my lip. His views were kind of understandable, although I told him that I didn't agree with it, more than once.
When I dug deeper, asking him how he could be a member of a party that, whichever way you look at it, contains an awful lot of members who are racists and bigots by anyone's estimation, Dad got defensive – "it's just the media portraying things like that. It's not really like that".
Later as I thought about it I realised that, in my determination to get my Dad to agree with my principles, I'd been a hypocrite too. Insisting that someone agree with your tolerant, enlightened, pro-immigration views – well, it's not that tolerant or enlightened. Isn't the whole point of this country that you can think whatever you want about immigration and it doesn't matter what you believe or what the colour of your skin is? Me insisting that Dad vote for a nice brown-people friendly party isn't very democratic. It's like saying all black people have to join the NAACP. So if the Old Man wants to vote UKIP next week, I won't stop him. I just pray those photos of him with Nigel don't show up on Facebook any time soon.
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