I went to the Stand Up to UKIP demonstration in Margate yesterday and considering the foul weather I was surprised by the number of people of who turned up. The Police reckoned it was 200-250 but I would say more like 400, which makes it one the biggest demonstration Thanet has seen in a long while And so it should be because the UKIP National Conference was taking place in Margate’s Winter Garden on the same day.
The atmosphere was lively and positive and like all good demonstrations there was a chance to meet long lost friends and acquaintances, exchange news and catch up. I took lots of photographs and video which is becoming a bit of a hobby of mine and was impressed by the colourful banners, the line of marchers stretching all the way along the seafront and the noise of the drummers and the chanting. Sometimes there’s nothing like a good demonstration to lift your spirits. People motivated and passionate about a common cause coming together at the same place and the same time generates an emotional energy which you don’t find in many other human activities. If you haven’t experienced this before I strongly suggest that you go to a demo.
Things turned a bit sour outside the Winter Gardens where a group of right-wing Britain First supporters goaded the marches and caused a minor scuffle, but apart from that the march went well. Yet I must confess to having felt a bit let down by the rally at the end of the march. Maybe I am becoming more cynical as get older. Maybe I’m a miserable killjoy. But I just felt that the rally had no cutting edge, no rallying call, no focus.
True, I agreed with all the speakers about how nasty UKIPsbigoted little England vision is. I was impressed with the passion and conviction with which many of the speakers expressed their fears about how UKIPs anti-immigration crusade threatens to divide society and open the doors to very dark political developments in this country. I also agreed entirely with one of the speakers who suggested that the rise of UKIP was largely the product of the Government’s austerity programme. But there was still something missing. That was the failure to confront the fact that one of the supporters of Stand Up to UKIP, the Labour Party is, in its own way, just as anti-immigrant and just as austerity minded as the Tories and UKIP.
Three days before the Margate march and rally took place Labour’s Yvette Cooper was doing the rounds of newsrooms slagging off the Coalition Government for allowing net immigration to reach 298,000; the highest level in 10 years. She promised anyone who cared to listen that Labour would become the toughest, arse kicking, anti-immigrant party on the block. Borders would be tightened and more strictly enforced; our EU neighbours would be encouraged to do likewise; UK entry requirements would be reviewed and made much more demanding. Not a word did she utter about the well documented evidence that immigration brings major economic benefits to the UK. Nor did she talk about how immigration has added massively to the cultural wealth of our country. Not even a passing acknowledgement of the fact that on balance it’s more beneficial to have immigration than not. Nothing whatsoever was said by her to suggest that immigration had any merits whatsoever.
But what made me most angry is Labour’s lack of action about the EU’s decision to withdraw funding from the Italian Navy which had been used to patrol the Lybian coastline and rescue immigrants in danger. Using this money the Italian Navy rescued an estimated 150,000 immigrants last year and in so do doing probably saved tens of thousands of lives. Now that the funding has gone far fewer ships are patrolling and the reduced patrols are being restricted to just 30 miles off the Italian coast. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has slammed the EU for its actions. So has Amnesty international. They claim that thousands of men women and children will drown because of this decision. These are some of the most vulnerable people on our planet who have been forced out of their homes because of war, famine and poverty; who have been abused, raped and tortured; lost loved ones; and have been forced to make long and dangerous journeys across Asia and Africa to find safety in the west. Many people have described the withdrawal of funding as the most inhumane act to have ever been carried out by the EU. Others, myself included, see this decision as nothing less than the murder of innocent people by state decree. But apart from a few solitary soundbites over the past 4 months, Labour has more or less ignored this appalling human tragedy and totally failed to galvanise public opinion against this morally reprehensible act whihc is supported by our Government. Incredibly an Early Day Motion to Parliament criticising the Government for its support for the EU action submitted on 12 February has attracted the signatures of 13 Labour MPs. That’s just 5% of Labour’s 258 MPs. I wonder why?
And therein lies my unhappiness with the Stand Up To UKIP rally yesterday. Surely if you are attacking UKIP for its appalling policies on immigration, then you must also attack other parties, including Labour, who’s policies on immigration are hardly any better. Agreed UKIP is the main villain, but this should not absolve the Labour Party, who out of fear of losing Parliamentary seats to UKIP has become stridently anti-immigrant, from any criticism. And that probably explains why forces within Thanet Stand Up to UKIP tried to prevent me speaking at the rally yesterday and why Labour Parliamentary hopeful Will Scobie shamefully failed to say anything of the remotest significance about immigration at a rally who’s entire purpose was to defend immigrants from the politics of scapegoating and persecution.
If you are going to Stand Up to UKIP you must be consistent and also stand up to those parties who from lack of principles and naked electoral expediency, imitate UKIP. Which means no more keeping your gob shut and voting Labour.