EU Referendum

Rotherham: a missed opportunity for UKIP


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Despite claims that the Rotherham by-election could have given it its first seat in Westminster, UKIP has again walked away empty-handed, albeit that Labour, with an unpopular candidate and dysfunctional campaign, delivered a record low majority. It polled 9,866 votes - less than MacShane's last majority - taking votes from only 15.6 percent of the electorate to win the seat.

UKIP, which has had an unusually high profile during the election after the "child snatching" case, has only managed a distant second with 4,648 votes. BNP was third with 1,804. Respect took 1,778, followed by the Conservative party with 1,157. The Lib-Dims came eighth. 

And, while the media believe UKIP has cause to celebrate, a more sanguine analysis suggests that this was a major defeat for the party. This was a contest that UKIP could and should have won.

Certainly, before the election, party supporters were claiming that a win was possible. Candidate Jane Collins was "already expected to rock the boat before the child snatchers at Rotherham social services took three children off their foster parents because they were UKIP members".

One is not sure from the context whether it was the foster parents or the children who were UKIP members, although, even if we didn't know otherwise, we might have guessed it was the parents. But what has not yet emerged publicly is that the children were Slovakian Roma, their natural parents recent immigrants to this country.

Nevertheless, UKIP – and especially Farage – have benefited enormously from the publicity over these children, but say his supporters, "It seems slightly distasteful to be profiting from the misfortune of three innocent children and their foster parents". But, they say, "it means we get a UKIP MP to help stop this sort of thing happening again then at least something positive has come out of it".

The publicity, it is claimed, was not "planned or instigated by the party" which is not exactly true, as it was Farage personally who was first contacted by the foster parents and who broke the story as an "exclusive" to the Telegraph.

Placing the story was a publicity coup, par excellence, and Farage did everything he could to exploit it, sending in his activists into the City "to capitalise on public anger over the council's decision", telling them the party had an "historic" opportunity to win its first seat in the House of Commons.

However, while the story may have been exploited, UKIP have done very little to make it appeal to the indigenous citizens of Rotherham. Despite the children having been removed from the foster parents because of the UKIP policy of opposing "multiculturalism", making this the headline issue, the UKIP campaign has not focused on the extent of multiculturalism in the constituency, in such a way that it could have given the party the edge.

Instead, the UKIP campaign has been largely run on familiar lines, "based on limiting migration, allowing landlords to choose whether drinkers can smoke in their pubs, and the restoration of grammar schools to rebuild social mobility". Terrified of being branded a racist, Farage focused on the "decent people", who were "fed up with the nannying, pettifogging overlordship of the grey bureaucracies".

That was supposed to resonate with people in the deprived areas of Rotherham, challenging Labour hegemony which has sent MPs to parliament ever since 1933. But what Farage failed to understand - or avoided saying - was that by far the most deprived areas are those occupied by migrants, in a district torn apart by migration. 

According to a remarkable report produced by the council, Rotherham has seen a rapid growth in Slovakian and Czech Roma communities following EU enlargement in 2004. It has grown from nil in 2003/4 to 3,700 in 2011/12, to become the dumping ground of South Yorkshire, making a huge demand on local services.

Roma are now the fastest growing minority ethnic group in Rotherham and the second-largest black and minority ethnic community in the borough. This troubled and impoverished community has created ghettos in three central areas of Rotherham, taking over whole streets, where there is not a local face to be seen. 

In official terms, these slums are now "the most disadvantaged areas in the borough", with one area being among the three per cent most deprived areas in England. Any successful appeal to the electorate, therefore, might have been expected to concentrate on this explosion of the migrant population, and especially the Roma, and the damage it has done to the district, the cost, the disruption - and the crime.  

And what makes it an ideal battleground for UKIP is that the central and local government has thrown public money at the migrants, turning multiculturalism into a major industry, supporting the jobs of hundreds of officials in the public and "voluntary" sector.  Dozens of new agencies in the Labour-controlled district council have been created, while the needs of the indigenous population have been largely ignored.

Even Rotherham officials admit that "in common with Roma people from many parts of Europe", Roma new migrants to Rotherham "come from a background of extreme poverty, discrimination, exclusion and denial of rights". They have been flooding into the district, " to escape this background and to build a better life for their families", displacing Yorkshire people.

What drives the "industry", therefore, is that the migrants "bring with them needs and experiences". To deal with them, the raft of expensive new "partner agencies" and other jobsworths spend fortunes on integrating "this new community", largely to the detriment of the established population. 

Rapid demographic change, we are told, "has brought with it many challenges, both for local residents and for local services". For example, the population in the Eastwood Village area has increased by 20 percent in five years due to inward migration.

Given that no new houses have been built in the area, this is a large increase in population density over a short time, which the local infrastructure simply cannot absorb. Furthermore, the age structure of the area is young, with 30 percent of the population being under sixteen. This has put enormous stress on education services, swamping local children who are confronted with huge numbers of incomers who do not have English as their first language.

As the locals have become more and more marginalised, the "multi-cult industry" still concentrates on setting up support services for the migrants. Particularly active are such entities as the "Rotherham Partnership", and a "local strategic partnership" (LSP) comprising public sector, voluntary and community sector and private sector partners.

These have come together "to develop a coordinated response to managing the impact of new Roma migration to Rotherham". Council services "are developing innovative responses to community needs, working with police, health services, children's services, community organisations, housing landlords, Jobcentre Plus and Rotherham United Football Club". Everything has been done, it seems, to make these problem migrants welcome, and even to encourage more of them to come.

For instance, advice is offered on non criminal law such as "employment, benefits entitlement including working tax credits, child tax credits, debt, immigration and asylum, and housing".  Helping out is the Rotherham Ethnic Minority Alliance (REMA), which welcomes migrants to Rotherham and "looks forward" to "supporting" them so that they can "enjoy living and working" in the city.

REMA, in fact, is a voluntary organisation "which supports new and existing ethnic communities, for example Polish, Slovakian, Czech, Roma, African, Chinese, Irish, Yemeni, Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri". It claims to help people from similar backgrounds to meet each other as well as people from other communities. No such "support" is offered to the indigenous population.

Instead, the "team" supports the flood of migrants, encouraging them "to learn more about your employment, cultural, educational and social opportunities in Rotherham", telling them that they can "have a say about how to improve local services such as health services, schools, housing, council services and the police so that they can better meet your needs, for example your right to an interpreter".

Despite this, unemployment is soaring, having risen from 5.7 percent in 2007 to 11.4 percent in 2012, leaving more than 14,000 people currently looking for work.  Youth unemployment is endemic, with low-paid unskilled work having been scooped up by the migrants, leaving the local, indigenous youth in an unfavourable position, as opportunities decline.   

This stressed environment, which is at the cutting edge of unrestricted migration from the EU, should have been the natural territory for UKIP, and its most successful recruiting ground. If the Party cannot win here, it cannot win anywhere. 

But, through the campaign, where UKIP candidate was only a recent presence, none of the migrant issues were properly aired. Failing to understand what was really going on, UKIP pulled its punches, and picked the wrong targets, not in any way tapping in to the massive undercurrent of discontent. 

In fact, the campaign completely failed to enthuse the electorate, delivering a mere 33.89 percent turnout.  And nor did UKIP dent the core vote. In the 2010 general election, UKIP and BNP polled a combined vote of 6,126, with an independent getting 2,366 votes. This time, between them, UKIP and BNP gained 6,452 votes.   

All that happened yesterday was a redistribution of the protest vote, which stayed firm. UKIP has taken votes from BNP, swapping places with the nationalist party, while the supporters of the main parties stayed at home.

Yet, wrote another supporter on the UKIP website, before the result, "UKIP's astonishing and sustained surge should not be written off as splitting the Tory vote – it is the emergence of a new political force". A force it may be, but surge there is not, at least, not in Rotherham, having taken a mere 7.3 percent of the available vote, from an electorate of 63,131.

That makes UKIP a force that never quite delivers. Unable to campaign effectively, even on its own core issues, it risks becoming a spent force. It is able to pick up votes in the euro-elections but is unable to capitalise on the support where it matters, in the Westminster elections. It can disrupt, but it can't construct.