UKIP have called their national conference - not in the expected major city, but in the former mining town of Doncaster. Incidentally, I also live there. Still bruised from the closure of pretty much the only industry around here, mining, another nail was hammered into the coffin when the railways were privatised. My dad lasted just under three months before being laid off.
What UKIP have done is exploited the pain that remains in the aftermath. The distrust of immigrants which is fuelled mainly by insecurity in the workplace and concerns over money has allowed many previously solid labour areas to become malleable to UKIP’s cause. The party members have developed a huge victim complex, insisting that every negative article is a smear or part of a planned (and EU-backed, obviously) attack on the only party that can restore all that is great about Great Britain. In addition, it has certainly been aided by news outlets such as the BBC regularly using Nigel Farage's face as a screensaver.
The only two real policies that UKIP hold concern the EU and immigration. They have been pushed so much, and have connected with so many people who are right to be angry, but act much like I did in my youth; misdiagnosing the illness and blaming the wrong thing.
What these policies do provide for UKIP, however, is a smoke screen to hide their nastier policies, such as Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall’s support for privatisation of the NHS, or their flat rate tax (which may or may not be policy any more, after Farage dropped the idea mid-Question Time), which would result in the lower-banding tax payers being hiked up to 31% tax. Or their glorious U-turn on same sex marriage, which ended up with a large section of the youth wing either leaving or being thrown out and most of the elected leadership of the youth wing being removed, resigned and marked for smearing within the party. Just look how they treated the former chairman, Olly Neville.
When it isn’t policies that would make the Tories think twice that are being hidden, it is the huge undertones of racism, sexism, Islamophobia and homophobia that are getting a near-free run. From a major donor saying women shouldn’t wear trousers, a town councillor saying gays “baffle” him, a council candidate demanding the abortion of foetuses showing early signs of Downs' Syndrome, partnering with far-right MEPs in Europe, an MEP claiming women in small businesses who have children are “disasters”, Farage openly admitting he thinks “Working mothers are worth less than men”, and ordinary UKIP members saying everything from “poofs should be shot” to shouting that getting rid of Section 28 was a “tragedy”.
Don’t just take it from the media. I was a UKIP member and I saw huge levels of sexism within the party, including female members being asked “What right do you have to say that?” when giving their contributions, a Muslim woman being verbally abused by two UKIP activists during the Rotherham by-election, and a senior party official telling me “not to interact with their sort” when I had a polite chat with a RESPECT member. The list is practically endless, but sadly I have a word limit.
UKIP are gaining ground, fresh out of winning their battle with the BNP. I feel all too often that the same tactics have been applied to a different fight, and we’ve paid the price. Going forward, it is vitally important that we all act to stop UKIP from collecting more council seats from where they can push their worse-than-Thatcherite policies, and most crucially stop them from gaining a foothold in the House of Commons.
Where better to start than the UKIP conference in Doncaster? I’m on the steering committee for the counter-protest and we’ve been working our arses off to ensure we bring Doncaster to a halt with the biggest protest the town has seen since the Great Miners' Strike. We’ve been in Mosques and factories, union offices and community centres. We’ve held stalls in the high street and made sure there isn’t a man or woman here that hasn't learnt the truth about the dangerous populist party. Many people have been tricked into voting UKIP, but it’s our duty to counteract and inform.
You can play your part! Come to Doncaster on the 27th of September, bring a bus full of people from your area, and give us a hand in giving a lovely welcome to the tainted hate that UKIP drags with it. If that’s not worth a trip to sunny South Yorkshire, I’m not sure what is. (The pints are really cheap up here too.) One last bit of encouragement; imagine the look on Farage’s face when UKIP get put back in the “others” section on polling…
By Gareth Shanks