Migrants in Britain a decade on: ‘It’s natural to vote for different people’, says Pole standing for Ukip
One upwardly mobile Polish banker is campaigning for a party which faces claims of xenophobia
Emily Dugan is Social Affairs Editor for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards. Emily is on sabbatical until March 2015
Thursday 24 April 2014
Przemek Skwirczynski is not a name you would typically expect to find next to the Ukip logo on a ballot paper. But next month Mr Skwirczynski, who grew up in the central Polish city of Lodz, will be listed as the party’s candidate for Norbury ward in Croydon, south London.
In October Mr Skwirczynski, 31, became the founding chairman of Friends of Poland in Ukip, a group which already has around 120 members. He says that Poles are being drawn to the party despite its reputation for xenophobia.
“We’ve just picked up a lot of new members, around 20 or so. A lot like Ukip because of the attitude to tax. A lot of Poles that come here are upwardly mobile and they don’t like the tax system that penalises you for success.”
Mr Skwirczynski came to Britain in 1999, when he studied for his A-Levels at Wellington College in Berkshire. From there he went to the London School of Economics and has since been working in London as a banker.
Sitting in a Canary Wharf sushi restaurant with slicked back hair and a pressed striped shirt, he looks a lot more presentable than many of Ukip’s candidates.
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“I was always Eurosceptic,” he explains. “Obviously I believe in free trade but the EU has evolved over and above what it was supposed to be. They’ve created too many regulations which have nothing to do with business and you ask yourself how it’s beneficial.”
He says his reasons for setting up the Polish Ukip group are “geopolitical rather than local,” and goes on to detail how a distancing from the EU could help with shale gas exploration.
He fails to see any irony in being a Polish candidate for a party that holds many members who would like to see eastern Europeans kicked out of the country. “In my case I wouldn’t say Polish accession to the EU has had a major impact,” he says.
“For some reason everyone seems to bunch the Poles together but there are lots of us who come here for different reasons at different times and it’s natural that we should want to vote for different people.”
He also dismisses any concerns about xenophobia in the party. “There might be a worry, but it seems to be present in all the other parties as well. The Conservatives and Labour make anti-Polish comments but Ukip hasn’t said anything anti-Polish per se.”
Mr Skwirczynski believes that Ukip is not dissimilar to several opposition parties in Poland, such as Kongres Nowej Prawicy (Congress of The New Right) which stands against the EU and red tape. A “poll of Poles” living in the UK found that one in 10 would vote for Ukip in the European elections.
Tomasz Zajaczkowski, 30, is a management consultant who was also ready to stand as a Ukip candidate in the local elections. He planned to run in east London’s Tower Hamlets but discovered he was not eligible as he had not been living in the borough for a full year.
Mr Zajaczkowski says there were initially some raised eyebrows when he joined the party. “Some of my friends think it’s a little bit strange but as soon as we sit down and have a discussion I manage to convince many that it’s not so much of an issue.
“Since I can remember I’ve leaned towards libertarian values and politics,” he says. “Ukip was the closest party to what I believe in terms of the role of the government and personal freedoms. Ukip is not really anti-immigration per se, they just say they are against uncontrolled immigration. Even as a Pole I see what’s happening and at some point you can’t manage the people coming in at the rate at which they’re coming.”
He admits he would like the party to start discussing other issues, however. “I do wish Ukip talked about other things than just immigration and EU membership because I see them as a libertarian party.”
When asked if he is happy about the party’s poster campaign stoking fears about migrant workers stealing “British” jobs, he pauses. “The posters aren’t saying something that’s not true,” he says, cautiously.
“For low-skilled workers in the UK it is likely that whatever job you had your wages are deflated or it’s harder to get a job. But would I put that on a poster? Maybe not.”
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