Hundreds of demonstrators have protested against Ukip outside Doncaster racecourse, where their party conference is being held. John Westmoreland reports
Nigel Farage must feeling pretty pleased with himself this weekend. Despite the government taking us into another unwinnable war in the Middle East, Farage has kept himself securely in the headlines. Holding the conference in the Labour territory of Doncaster, in Farage’s words, parked ‘Ukip’s tanks on Labour’s front lawn’. The Ukip farrago was neatly timed between the Labour and Tory conferences and was in itself a clever political stunt, helping people to forget Miliband’s timid promises while driving another wedge into Cameron’s beleaguered leadership.
Farage has set out to take votes from Labour in the north and the Tories in the south. In the north Ukip will be fronting its offensive against Labour with a mixture of left sounding policies on protecting the NHS and taxing luxury goods, while at the same time using the Rotherham grooming scandal in an utterly opportunist form of racist baiting against the failure of Labour in office.
The defection of Tory MPs Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, the latter from the conference stage, was a master stroke for Farage that has got Cameron on the ropes before the Tory get together in Birminham. This is extremely important. As politics in the UK enters a period of sharp realignment Farage is looking to position himself and Ukip as the authentic voice of anti-Westminster protest, a party in touch with the people and a straight-talking and refreshing change from the ‘Westminster elite’. Farage already is attractive to the Conservative right who simultaneously deplore Cameron’s near disastrous campaign for the ‘No’ vote in Scotland, which was saved in the end by Labour’s Gordon Brown.
The demise of the Tory party may be a delight to see but the prospect of Labour voters putting their cross next to Ukip is a different matter. Tragically Labour seem unable to see that if they want to save their political skins they need to move decisively to the left on the simplest issues that Ukip are pretending to support – tax the rich and stop backing wars, defend the NHS - and then go further and renationalise our railways, services and utilities. They could learn much from the Yes campaign in Scotland who made the social agenda central to their mobilisation of the working class vote.
However, the reality in Labour’s heartlands is far from radical. I was at the Doncaster Council cabinet meeting when the campaigners against the closure of Doncaster’s care homes handed in their petition with the demand that the homes stay open. Peter, their main spokesperson, told the cabinet, “I am a miner’s son, a Labour voter, and we want you to show that you are with the people of Doncaster. In the May elections the entire Labour vote was less than 27,000. We have nearly 28,000 signatures on this petition. If you want to prevent Labour voters turning to other parties you must keep the homes open”. But his wise words fell on deaf ears and DMBC voted to close the homes in the name of ‘modernisation’. Ukip now have two councillors in Doncaster.
A group of largely Labour supporters had intended to run a multicultural event in Doncaster at the time of Ukip’s conference. It was to be called ‘Doncaster 4 All’ (DN4All) and gathered wide interest from trade unions and entertainers as well as local businesses who were willing to put on food and host their own acts. Big campaigning organisations were also showing interest such as Amnesty. It promised to bring thousands to Doncaster and more importantly to mobilise the Doncaster community itself. However, the Labour group on the council blocked the event and let the Ukip conference go unchallenged. They seem to believe that to acknowledge the threat of Ukip is somehow giving in to them.
However, Ukip are very vulnerable to a concerted and well organised campaign. Their main selling point is Farage himself who looms over the rest of his party. There is little doubt he is a vote winner for Ukip. Yet once the spotlight falls on the audience it becomes clear that this party while not actually fascist is simply anti-working class, with values that show utter hatred to all forms of equality. A mass party of the working class they will never be.
Journalists attending the conference told us that the proceedings were laughable. There was every kind of crank and fruitcake there and the main job of Farage’s enforcers was to stop them speaking so the lid cannot be lifted on what dwells below. The delegates were variously homophobic, sexist, anti-environmentalist, and racist and on most issues utterly divided. Farage will need to impose iron discipline to control this crew during the elections.
John, a Labour party member, was handing out 38 Degrees leaflets on the NHS. He described the weirdest gathering he has ever leafleted thus:
“…a strange mix of Bufton Tuftons, John McCriricks, with loud pinstripe suits and patent leather shoes, lots of banker types. There were Bullingdon younger men in shabby chic moleskins and Rupert Bear waist coats, with floppy hair and well-scrubbed pink cheeked Steve Bell Cameron Condom cartoon faces. All were extremely pleasant and good mannered in taking leaflets and quite a few said they were 38 Degrees members. There were a few hrrrrrrumphs or "not today thenk yoo" from the women who were a distinct minority.”
The anti-Westminster protest is driven by the issues of the left. The shower of misfits at the Ukip conference are driven by the politics of the far right. Farage’s balancing act can be short-lived.
Stand Up To Ukip Demo
The one display of opposition to Ukip in Doncaster was the demonstration organised by Stand Up To Ukip. The demonstration brought together activists from across the country. There were a good number of trade union banners although the delegations were quite small. SUTU put in a lot of work to build the demonstration and it was good to see the Care UK strikers marching along with workers from the Barnet Unison dispute. There were also a good number of young Doncaster muslims who have been central to the Palestine Solidarity Group that formed last month. They created their own placards and banners and it brought home to the public that Ukip are a racist party.
However, what was missing from the demonstration was the local Labour movement. There were two Labour councillors and a handful of Labour party members but clearly the vast numbers of Labour voters in Doncaster were not there. The demonstration numbered some 1,000 people according to SUTU and attracted some very good speakers, notably Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.
While the demo was a good start we need to engage the wider Labour voters about who Farage is and what Ukip represents. Rebuilding the Left will involve bringing together the fight over war and austerity with the anti-Ukip work. The TUC demonstration on 18th October looks like a good place to start.
John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.
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