Thanet has the highest unemployment rate in Kent. And more than a quarter of its children live in poverty. Politicians from different parties have failed to make any real changes to ordinary people’s lives.
And now Ukip leader Nigel Farage hopes to capitalise on the poverty and disillusion in the South Thanet constituency to get elected MP in May.
In Ramsgate, one of the biggest towns in the constituency, there’s a steady flow of people into the job centre. Farage likes to blame migrants for unemployment.
But not everyone has bought his racist rhetoric.
Angelina Hammond has been out of work for seven months.
“I don’t like Nigel Farage at all,” she told Socialist Worker. “All the stuff about immigration does my head in.
“What about people seeking refuge from other countries? If wars were going on here, we’d want other countries to help us.”
Steve is also out of work in Ramsgate. He told Socialist Worker, “I think Farage is a Hitler-type person.
“The way he’s blaming Muslims and foreigners for everything. It’s all about divide and conquer.”
Ukip has repeatedly claimed that it is not racist. But not everyone is convinced.
Mary Knott works in a charity shop three doors up from Ukip’s Ramsgate office, which stands empty. She told Socialist Worker, “I have great
reservations about Ukip. There’s an undercurrent of something a bit sinister there.”
Mary remembers Ukip MEP Janice Atkinson calling a local Thai woman a “ting tong”. “It tells you something about the party,” she said.
People in Ramsgate face real problems. Steve described how he’d had no money for nine months after his benefits were cut off.
“I had to beg and borrow to get by,” he said. “They treat you like a piece of meat.”
John has been out of work for nearly six months. “There’s no industry here anymore,” he told Socialist Worker.
“There used to be manufacturing and Pfizer. That’s gone. The docks shut and so has the airport. I used to work in a shop but it closed down.”
John added that things were even worse for young people in Ramsgate. “The youngsters down here have got nothing,” he said. “I feel sorry for them.”
Politicians tell us that anyone can find work if they try hard enough and right wing papers repeat this line.
Some of those struggling to get by themselves have accepted this rhetoric—and have been persuaded to lash out at others in the same boat.
Sharon told Socialist Worker, “This is a really recessed area. But people can find jobs if they wanted to.”
Yet Sharon only works ten hours a week, cut from 12, because she can’t find anything else. “I need to be working 30 hours a week,” she said. “I’m looking for more work.”
Many have similar stories.
Paris Shabazz has been unemployed for seven months. In that time he has had one job interview—where he was offered just two hours’ work a week.
“You see jobs advertised but then you find out the job is not there,” he told Socialist Worker.
“It’s very hard to find work. And sometimes I’m told I’m overqualified as I have two degrees.”
Theresa Martin said living on benefits is “shit”.
“By the time you’ve paid your bills and your food, the money’s gone,” she told Socialist Worker. “My daughter has to give me clothes because I can’t buy any.
“Sometimes I don’t eat.”
Theresa was angry at politicians who target benefit claimants. “They should try it and see how they cope,” she said.
But she also claimed that migrants make it harder to find work.
John complained of walking down the street hearing people who “don’t speak English”.
It’s clear that the potential is there for Farage to divert bitterness at poverty and unemployment towards migrants.
And racists seem emboldened by his presence. Paris told Socialist Worker, “One man said to a friend of mine, ‘Wait until Farage gets in. You nig nogs will be out’.”
He added that Farage is “very conniving”.
“There is an opportunity for him to get in because people want something to change,” he said. But voting for him will just make things worse.”
The idea that migrants are to blame for unemployment is nonsense.
In Ramsgate the idea that “migrants are taking all the jobs” makes even less sense—over 95 percent of the population is UK-born. Migrants make an easy scapegoat, especially with the constant scare stories from media and politicians.
“The media is scaring people,” said Paris. “Sometimes people blame migrants out of ignorance.
“But it’s also peer pressure. People say things they think they should say.
“But if you talk to that individual you can find that their views are very different.”
Many in the town are rightly worried about the impact of a Farage victory. Paris said Ukip is “dangerous” and could cause a big “upset” in society.
Mary said, “This has been a very tolerant country. My parents weren’t British—they came here to escape during the Second World War.
“I think cultural differences are a good thing. No racism in Thanet please.”
‘We’ve a chance to stop Farage becoming an MP’
Aram Rawf came to Britain seeking asylum from Iraq in 1999.
He lives in Broadstairs, part of the South Thanet constituency, and has been involved in the Stand Up To Ukip campaign since it began.
Aram told Socialist Worker, “At the start Ukip had more support in the area.
“But over time more scandals have come out that show what they really think.
“A lot of the younger generation are clear they want to oppose Ukip. The mainstream media gives the wrong impression.
“They come to Thanet and interview people at the Ukip office.
“Then they say everyone in South Thanet is for Ukip. It isn’t true.”
Aram’s own history shows that South Thanet is not a racist monolith.
When the authorities tried to deport him in 2006 local people launched a big campaign to defend him—and won.
But he said that many people in South Thanet are sick of mainstream politicians and want an alternative.
“Basically people are looking for a change,” he said. “But Ukip isn’t it. It is trying to break society apart.”
Aram is in no doubt about Ukip’s racism. He describes going to one of their first meetings in Margate and hearing Ukip members talk of “no-go” areas for white people.
“Ukip has definitely made racists more confident,” he added.“It’s dangerous.”
But Aram thinks that campaigners can stop Ukip and urges others to get involved.
“I’m going to speak at the Stand Up To Ukip demonstration in Margate on 28 February,” he said.
“I’m proud to speak at it. We’ve got a chance to stop Nigel Farage going to parliament. It will be a big victory.”
‘Immigrants didn’t cause Thanet to be a poor area’
Norman Thomas is editor of ThanetWatch, which is campaigning against Ukip along with Stand Up To Ukip.
He spoke to Socialist Worker about the real reasons for unemployment in Thanet.
“I came to live here in 1991. There were almost no migrants. And we had the same huge problem of unemployment then as we do now.
“Thanet has been let down by both the Tories and Labour.
“Migrants didn’t cause unemployment or cause Thanet to be a poor area.
“A lot of people who lived in Thanet used to work in the Kent mines or had family who did—that’s all gone. Thatcher destroyed huge chunks of the economy.
“Now some who are disillusioned see Ukip as a protest vote. But there’s nothing new about them.
“Farage is a Thatcherite. Ukip is a racist, nasty party made up of the worst kind of ex-Tories.”
Protest at Ukip’s spring conference in Margate
Saturday 28 February, Assemble 12 noon,
Margate train station
Called by Stand Up to Ukip
For more details go to standuptoukip.org