Angela Rayner Accused Nigel Farage Of Dog-Whistling Racism Last Night, But What Exactly Is Dog-Whistling?

Politics is littered with it, pun intended.

Angela Rayner

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

Last night’s Question Time: Under 30s Special saw more than a few heated moments arise between party representatives. Most notably, when Labour’s Angela Rayner accused Nigel Farage of dog-whistle racism when he famously posed in front of a migrants with the tag line ‘breaking point’.

In 2016, Farage campaigned to Leave the EU using a poster that showed hundreds of people, most of non-white ethnicities, in a queue. ‘Breaking point, the EU has failed us all,’ the poster read – implying the people were migrants or refugees. The image – taken in Slovenia – was reported to the police for alleged racism and compared to Nazi propaganda.

‘You were trying to dog-whistle racism and you’re a disgrace,’ Rayner – the Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne – told Farage in reference to the poster. Farage continued to defend the picture as ‘the truth’ however a number of MPs on the panel chastised him for lying.

Nigel Farage
©Getty Images

The accusation of dog-whistling racism is not the first for Farage. But what exactly does dog-whistling mean?

Essentially, dog-whistling is when someone uses coded language. While they may make a general statement or say something that would appear to mean one thing, there is a second layer to it – a sub text if you will. It allows people to say seemingly innocuous things while appealing to a subset of people with an insidious undertone or implication.

The analogy is to a dog-whistle, which is an ultrasonic tone heard by dogs but inaudible to humans. It is common in politics but can be difficult to spot because they are judged on a case by case basis. Because, only in knowing about Farage’s previous racist comments would you know him making a general statement about migrants is probably layered with racism.

For example, Boris Johnson was accused of dog-whistle racism this week when he said EU migrants have ‘treat the UK as if it's part of their own country’. Because, while that statement may appear simplistic to some given migrants were not born in this country, his statement implies that non-British citizens use and abuse the UK’s services and do not belong here. These are people that have often spent decades contributing to our economy, paying taxes and building families and friendships here – but they are essentially being told to go home.

Of course, it’s not just racism that is often dog-whistled in politics, it’s all prejudices. And it’s endemic, because politics is littered with half-truths, implied meaning and lies – dog-whistling is just one of many things politicians can use to avoid accountability for outright prejudice.

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