Jackie Walker, Thanet Stand Up To UKIP (TSUTU) member, describes one of the few victories snatched from the jaws of election defeat.
SOUTH THANET, WHERE NIGEL FARAGE was expected to take a parliamentary seat, is my campaign ground. Many underestimated the danger UKIP presented both to national politics and the labour movement. I was told repeatedly I was exaggerating the UKIP problem. But in the north, in particular, Labour lost crucial seats because working class voters went over to UKIP. Whatever their parliamentary strength, UKIP have dragged the political debate to the right. William Cash, UKIP candidate in Warwickshire North, was in no doubt: “The reason the Tories have won the key battleground of the Midlands is that UKIP came to their rescue… I had Tory workers coming up and hugging me.”
From the time we heard Farage was standing, a group of mainly middle-aged women began to organise to oppose UKIP. Most people said we didn’t stand a chance and, truth is, through the long winter campaign of meetings, social media, drama, leafleting and standing on street corners, it felt like a Herculean or, should I say, an Amazonian task.
We decided to stay independent, locally driven and non-aligned, though many of us, including me, are Labour Party members. We partnered ourselves to a national campaign, Stand Up To UKIP (SUTU), and became TSUTU. We decided early on to have no leader. The fact that one of us, Bunny La Roche (or, as she became known, the blue haired shouty lady), after she interrupted Farage during a televised Question Time, was often mistakenly identified as our leader, was a mixed blessing, both for her individually and for TSUTU. What followed was a torrent of abuse, threats and support, as well as admiration. This set the scene for the campaign that followed. We were criticised by all local political parties. We kept in touch via email, social media, phone and, in the last month of the campaign, by weekly meetings. Each step was carefully managed. We debated and came to decisions quickly while never forming an executive body. If you turned up to a meeting or responded to emails, you had a say. This structure, or lack of it, meant we could respond rapidly to events in the cat and mouse, dirty campaign that Farage ran. Our speed of response became crucial in getting, nurturing and maintaining media attention. The media began to trust what we said… and that was crucial.
It was the dirtiest election I’ve known. Farage avoided public hustings. His other so-called public meetings were by ticket – and you had to prove your identity. Even after I did, I was initially locked out at a meeting where National Front UKIP supporters were welcomed. We organised creative, highly visible forms of action, like a continental breakfast protest outside UKIP offices where UKIP supporters were offered a choice of tea, coffee or croissants as they scurried into the entrance – and they were suddenly on the run. Farage began to mention TSUTU at his rallies and, as that occurred, the verbal abuse became physical. TSUTU members, and Labour Party canvassers, were attacked by well-known National Front members, some of the same who had previously been seen in UKIP meetings. Hate mail was pushed through our doors.
We became more determined. Solidarity with each other and focus on our aims became the backbone of the group. When we heard a UKIP meeting was planned, often at short notice, the call would go out and whoever could get there, did – as long as there were at least two people. International and national media response, from TV and newspapers, became intense, as did criticism from TSUTU’s opponents. We stayed calm, stood resolute, often in the face of racial and verbal abuse.
What now? The story continues. Yes, TSUTU contributed to the defeat of Farage but UKIP took control of Thanet District Council. The reasons are complex. TSUTU remains in the fore of opposition to UKIP in Thanet, most recently breaking the story of UKIP spies and their incitement to violence during the campaign. Our intention is to continue, to become a focus for local anti-austerity campaigning, a continuing UKIP monitoring group and a support for others doing similar work.
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