Over the past few years, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has become a big deal in British politics. Their anti-immigration policies and opposition to the European Union have won them two seats in the House of Parliament and may get them a few more if right-wing Conservative party members defect before next year's election. However, the party's critics say that the populism the UKIP espouses can lend itself to xenophobia or racism.
On Tuesday, the BBC's "Daily Politics" show attempted to address the controversy, by holding a straw poll in London and asking random members of the public if UKIP leader Nigel Farage had what it takes to be prime minister. It soon became an embarrassment for UKIP, but not for the reasons you might expect.
— DailySunday Politics (@daily_politics) November 25, 2014
You can see the BBC's segment here:
UKIP now has two MPs and has been rising in the polls, but do people see the party as a serious political force... http://t.co/dDhct2B7U6
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) November 25, 2014
As you can see, the "no" vote wins. That's not that surprising: It's hardly a vigorous poll, and UKIP has struggled in London.
UKIP was apparently not pleased with the story. A Twitter account run by the party's South Thanet branch responded by asking why the poll had been held outside of "a mosque."
— Chris D'Agorne (@Chris_DAgorne) November 25, 2014
The problem was that this wasn't a mosque. It was, in fact, a cathedral. And not just any cathedral, but Westminster Cathedral, the most important Catholic cathedral in the entire country.
The building's Neo-Byzantine style is, to be fair, relatively rare for a church in Britain. But it is definitely not a mosque.
The next day, Alex Andreou, an actor and writer, decided to point out some other things that are not mosques. The hashtag #thingsthatarenotmosques soon became popular on Twitter.
— Alex Andreou (@sturdyAlex) November 26, 2014
— Tart of Darkness (@soapachu) November 26, 2014
— Steven Moore (@MrStevenMoore) November 26, 2014
— Edward James (@edwardajames) November 26, 2014
— Scott Taylor (@SCO_77) November 26, 2014
— Abdul-Azim Ahmed (@AbdulAzim) November 26, 2014
— Hayley Webster (@HayleyBooks) November 26, 2014
— Jayke Harrison (@JaykeHarrison) November 27, 2014
The meme even found itself on Wikipedia.
— Adam Taylor (@mradamtaylor) November 27, 2014
For many, the case of mistaken identity highlighted one of the biggest criticisms of UKIP: That their anti-immigration policies can sometimes verge into Islamophobia. Just six month ago, the party was forced to suspend one candidate after he tweeted a blanket statement of "Islam is evil." In 2013, the left-wing magazine the New Statesman examined their policies and came to the conclusion that UKIP stood for "bigotry light," in part due to candidates' repeated negative comments about Islam.
UKIP leader Farage was himself forced to explain the situation. "Why don't your members in Thanet know the difference between a mosque and the premier Catholic cathedral in the country?" the BBC's Andrew Neill asked Farage on Thursday. "Well the people's army are not all wholly trained," Farage said, with a smile. "They are enthusiastic volunteers, and volunteers make mistakes!"
Still, given that one British opposition MP was forced to resign recently for a three-word tweet, UKIP may be thinking about more training for their people's army before next year's big election.