Today’s campaigning was my second visit to Blyth Market; I didn’t think it was possible to get a better reaction than the last time. But what was surprising was how quickly Correx boards and window posters were being taken. People didn’t just want to vote UKIP, they wanted to show that they were voting UKIP.
The most interesting one was a young couple (mid-20s perhaps), who didn’t know very much about UKIP but wanted to hear more. The girl was concerned about unlimited immigration, having lost out on a job in catering to someone from Poland prepared to work longer hours than a standard week (which she couldn’t do with a young child) for lower wages. The guy worked in security, lamenting that due to immigration he now often has to work for minimum wage. I asked what he used to be paid a few years ago; he said that he’d often been on £15/hour.
Labour often point out that the percentage of foreign-born workers in the North East was low in the last census; the data for that is now over 3 years old. Regardless, the figure is misleading: it only takes a few percent increase in population from people competing for low-paid work to make a big impact on the employment market.
But they weren’t in any way racist – in fact, they gave me a good grilling to check I wasn’t a racist in any way. Their eyes lit up when I mentioned we should have a proper points-based system like Australia.
They pointed to the sign on the minibus about ‘make sentences mean what they say’ and asked about that; I said that criminals are often out having served just half of their sentences.
What happened next was a real eye-opener for me. She told me that she had been attacked by someone on licence from prison, who had been released after serving less than half of a 10-year sentence for a very serious assault which left someone in a coma. At one point, those with sentences under 4 years had to serve half – and those with sentences over 4 years had to serve two-thirds – before they could be considered for parole. After she was attacked, the aggressor got just 18 months (presumably will be out in 9). That doesn’t even take him close to the end of the original 10-year sentence. They felt badly let down by the criminal justice system, and felt (from a victim’s perspective) that the system hadn’t protected them.
It wasn’t ‘right-wing’ politics either from them, just their own personal experiences. Words like ‘right’ and ‘left’ weren’t mentioned, and I had the impression those words would mean little to them.
They knew someone else who’d been convicted for armed robbery, who has now (thankfully) turned his life around. They were pretty positive about that – they didn’t come with a political philosophy or political agenda. I got the impression that the girl, at least, was a previous non-voter. They were just an ordinary couple trying to bring up a child in a difficult economic climate.
UKIP offers three things which would address their concerns:
1. Controlling immigration to the UK
2. No tax on minimum wage
3. Making prison sentences mean what they say
These are simple, practical measures which address those concerns. They went away enthusiastic for the first time about voting, feeling they finally had a party that represented people like them.
I found myself wondering, what could Labour or Lib Dems or Conservatives have in their policies that would impact on any of the issues raised? The answer is probably nothing.