UKIP: Solidarity with Corringham

In December 2008 the BNP arrived in West Cumbria – almost out of nowhere. A County Council by-election was taking place in Kells & Sandwith – historically Labour’s safest ward in the county. It was a brutal by-election campaign. One Anti-BNP activist had his car vandalised twice and there was an enormous amount of intimidation of leafleters. Labour won that by-election – but only by 12 votes. A close shave if ever there was one.

The BNP tactics had a profound impact on the Anti-BNP strategy in the County Council elections of May 2009 which I was involved in. The basic problem was that no-one wanted to leaflet Kells & Sandwith. All sorts of discussions took place about when and how to leaflet. Through the night when the trouble-makers were asleep? (but what if they came back late from a hard night drinking?) During the day when they were at work? (but did they have jobs?) While we were figuring out our strategy for Kells & Sandwith, we continued to leaflet other places. During this time we made a surprising discovery. When women went out leafleting, they fared better than men. The misogyny of the BNP skinheads was such that they didn’t have the guts to intimidate us.

In the 2010 General Election I put out a lot of Anti BNP material myself on Kells & Sandwith over the course of the Easter weekend. Even the Greenbank estate – perhaps the most notorious corner of the division. For me, it was a journey – and also a statement. If we allowed the BNP to stop us campaigning then their tactics would have succeeded. “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men”. I was determined to break the spell.

In one respect it was easy to campaign against the BNP. “Forget their views on immigration which you might actually agree with: look at their campaign tactics. Do you really want to be associated with that?” UKIP, on the other hand, were more of a worry. The BNP without the skinheads: a more palatable version acceptable to respectable, law abiding folk. For this reason, I have always seen UKIP as a political challenge to Labour – even before it became fashionable to say so.

And so it was with a great deal of sadness that I heard of the events in Corringham yesterday when a group claiming to be UKIP activists trashed a Labour Party stall and caused injuries to activists in the Basildon & East Thurrock constituency. UKIP activists have been out in force on social media branding the Labour candidate, Mike Le Surf, a liar for making up the allegations.

I don’t think it’s an accident that the BNP vote has disappeared at the same time as the UKIP vote has increased. But I know that along with former BNP voters, there are a lot of very decent people who have genuine concerns on a specific range of policy issues who are voting UKIP to express those concerns. My message to you is simple: I plead with you to publicly distance yourself from political activity that trades on the politics of fear and intimidation.

And to the Labour activists of Corringham I say this: don’t stop fighting, don’t stop campaigning. Don’t let evil triumph.