Dan Swain spoke to members of Thanet Stand Up to UKIP about their campaign and the demonstration this weekend against UKIP’s spring conference.
On Saturday activists in Nigel Farage’s target seat of South Thanet will be joined by others from across the country in protesting against the UKIP Spring Conference, which they have chosen to hold in the constituency.
South Thanet is a big target for Farage and UKIP. Farage wants to take the seat for himself, and UKIP also hope to win control of the council. But Thanet Stand Up to UKIP have other ideas, and have been organising sustained activity over the past few months. “As well as regular weekly stalls in Margate, we’ve organised several leafleting sessions, mainly aimed at traditional Labour voters who might vote UKIP. Our leaflets point out UKIP’s position on things like the NHS, and exposing how Farage isn’t really a man of the people,” says Kate Hamlyn, who has been involved in the campaign. “I got involved because a few months ago, when UKIP were really riding high, people felt really scared and isolated. I felt it was important to show that people who didn’t like UKIP were not alone, and it was possible to stand up to them and challenge them.”
The area is in some ways typical of UKIP’s targets – a cluster of fading seaside towns, with relatively few people from ethnic minorities. As Keith Veness, a Labour Party activist involved in the campaign puts it “they talk about other places getting boom and bust, but we only got the bust.” Keith wants to win the seat back for Labour, but he also thinks UKIP offer a special kind of threat. Broadstairs, where Keith lives, has a number of language schools where young people come from all over the world: “This can really give life to the town in the summer. They have said that if Farage was elected they would leave, because they wouldn’t want to be associated with the town.” It’s clear that a lot of UKIP’s support in the area comes from a combination of nostalgia and fear, but Keith has little time for that: “I grew up in the 1950s, and it wasn’t that great. The food wasn’t very good, and people ‘knew their place’. I don’t want to go back to that.”
Stand Up to UKIP got a big boost recently from the recent BBC 2 documentary ‘Meet the Ukippers’, which revealed one of their local councillors to be racist, and shockingly honest about it. According to Kate, the campaign was already making a difference, “but recent revelations have really strengthened people’s resolve. UKIP are revealing themselves to be even more racist than people thought.” Norman Thomas, who writes for the local magazine Thanet Watch, agrees: “There’s been a marked change in atmosphere since these documentaries came out. UKIP have revealed themselves to be racist and silly, and lots of people are seeing it. You can really feel the change.”
While the activists I spoke to may not have much enthusiasm for the other options in the election, they all see defeating Farage as vitally important. Kate has reluctantly rejoined the Labour Party, and while Keith is campaigning hard for a Labour win, he sees himself way to the left of the current leadership. Norman says: “I personally have very little enthusiasm for existing politicians, but the main hope is that UKIP will be defeated. It would be a nightmare if Thanet became a UKIP stronghold. We believe UKIP are a racist party, and having them running the council or representing us in parliament would be a disaster for civilised life.” Keith’s wife was involved in the 2010 campaign against Nick Griffin in Barking, and he sees similarities between the two campaigns. “Griffin swept in really confident, but by the end he was a man under siege. You’re starting to see that with Farage too, he goes everywhere with minders now.” He sees Thanet as being of real strategic importance: “If Farage ends up finishing third here, that’s the end of UKIP. We feel the ‘hand of history on our shoulders’. If we can stop Farage here it cuts the head off the beast.”
They all see Saturday as an opportunity for an important show of force. “I hope that on Saturday we have enough people to look like a solid force. It’s a way of saying, look, we’re here, we oppose you. It’s a good opportunity to have some solidarity. I hope it will gee us up a bit. But we won’t rest until the 7th May” says Kate. Norman agrees, “I hope on Saturday people will see an alternative, but the battle will go on afterwards, and after the election. There’s an ongoing struggle to deal with real problems – poverty housing and so on. Solving these economic problems is the key.”
- Demonstrate at UKIP’s Spring Conference. Saturday, 28th Assemble 12 noon, Margate Station.