Labour likens Ukip to BNP as South Thanet election fight gets bitter

Ukip Bus 3

Labour is planning to send out thousands of letters comparing Ukip to the British National party in the seat being targeted by the rightwing party’s leader, Nigel Farage.

In a combative move, the party will target up to 16,000 voters in South Thanet, saying: “The one thing that the BNP [in Barking] had in common with Ukip was the way in which they denigrated the area and the people living there.”

The letter is part of Labour’s strategy of trying to get “soft” Tory supporters to vote tactically for their candidate to keep out Farage, because the Conservative choice, Craig Mackinlay, is a former Ukip leader.

In the letters, signed by Labour candidate Will Scobie and to be sent out this weekend, residents of the Kent constituency are invited to meet Margaret Hodge, the senior Labour MP who is known for her work on the Commons public accounts committee. She will be giving a talk in Broadstairs, a seaside town in the constituency, about how she helped see off the BNP in her seat of Barking and Dagenham.

“For me, the highlight of the last general election in May 2010 was when Margaret Hodge won her seat in Barking and sent the BNP [British National party] into meltdown,” the letter from Scobie says. “Quite right too, some of the thugs that inhabited that party wouldn’t have been out of place in Germany in 1939.

“The one thing that the BNP had in common with Ukip was the way in which they denigrated the area and the people living there. Something Margaret Hodge fought against and in the end managed to bring communities together and start to find solutions to the problems in Barking.”

A senior Ukip aide said the letter was a “disgusting smear against millions of voters who are choosing Ukip at this election”.

“It will not go unnoticed, especially by the swaths of former Labour supporters who are choosing Ukip as the patriotic working man and woman’s party.

“It is precisely smears like this that push Labour voters towards Ukip because they know there is only one party to thank for the demise of the BNP and the return of moderate democratic patriotism in this country.”

The race for South Thanet is a tight three-way fight between Ukip, Labour and the Conservatives, with polls giving a mixed picture about who is in the lead.

The stakes have recently been raised since Farage said he would step down as Ukip leader if he loses, leading Labour and the Conservatives to throw extra effort into the seat.

Lord Oakeshott, the independent peer and former Liberal Democrat who has donated thousands to Labour candidates, called on progressives to vote tactically for Scobie to keep out Farage. He said: “Voters have three options: Nigel Farage’s bitter brew; the non-alcoholic, Ukip-lite version from the Conservative candidate,
Craig Mackinlay, an ex-leader and deputy leader of Ukip and twice Ukip candidate for Gillingham; or progressive, local Will Scobie for Labour.

“I’m calling on all Liberal Democrat, Green, moderate Conservative and progressive voters in South Thanet to unite behind Scobie – if they do, Will will win.”

The contest in South Thanet has become particularly bitter and divisive in recent weeks, with Farage’s supporters and detractors both saying they have been subject to intimidation and dirty tactics.

Norman Thomas, editor of a community magazine, Thanet Watch, claims there has been campaign of intimidation against people publicly opposing Ukip.

Thomas, whose magazine has been critical of Ukip, said: “We have received anonymous letters covered in swastikas threatening action against our magazine and the shops which stock it.”

He called on Farage to “condemn them and tell them to stop intimidating people attempting to exercise their democratic rights”.

Ukip supporters in the area have also been targeted by vandalism and protests, with one Ramsgate councillor having his garage defaced three times in recent weeks.

On Friday, Farage blamed unfair insinuations by the media that Ukip is racist for whipping up opposition to his party. “The constant media lies about Ukip, the constant hectoring, the constant hypocrisy when it comes to covering Ukip’s bad eggs and not those of the other parties is leaving [members] feeling exposed and intimidated,” he wrote in his Independent column.

In recent days, one anonymous opponent of Ukip has bolted welcome mats to a billboard showing escalators running up the white cliffs of Dover to warn about high levels of immigration.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Friday 17th April 2015 16.08 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010