As the UK gears up for the polls, what is life like in Britain's only Ukip-controlled town?
And can it clean up in the county elections? We ask councillor Peter Reeve, who volunteered to clean loos to save money for Ramsey
Wednesday 01 May 2013
The people of Ramsey are in a muddle. Who can blame them? They live in a town that doesn't even know what county it's in. Some call it Cambridgeshire, others say this is Huntingdonshire. But Ramsey's position on the political landscape is all too clear. This is the home of Britain's Ukip's revolution.
Two years ago, Ramsey became the first town to be controlled by the anti-Europe party. Nine of the 17 town council seats went to Ukip candidates. They also have three representatives on the 50-strong district council. Now, with Ukip beating the Liberal Democrats in nationwide polls, dozens more councils across Britain could follow in tomorrow's 2 May local elections. So what does life look like inside the Nigel Farage dream?
For one thing, Ramsey's not exactly buzzing. Untroubled by the railway network, and given a wide berth by the M1, this fading town hovers on the fens somewhere between Peterborough and Huntingdon. One thing everyone can agree on is that Ramsey is "quiet". "There's nothing here any more," says Rose Kilby, 87, who runs the Local Hospital Charity Shop. "It used to be a lovely little town."
This is a common complaint, with the out-of-town Tescos blamed for closing small shops, and the poor bus service meaning the 6,000 residents are stranded. "There's no entertainment," confirms Brian Doughty, 57, a retired taxi driver. "There used to be a snooker hall, and now the cinema's closed."
And yet, for all the complaints, there must be something they like about it. Billboards in neat gardens demand to "put Britain first". Rows of purple and yellow Ukip posters far outweigh the Conservative blues. There's a lot of pride. I don't find a single orange or red poster. Some see Ukip as the rise of a loony right-wing fringe, but pick away at the thinking , and you find Ukip is hoovering up votes from all parties.
Take Ian Curtis, 60. He's one of Ramsey's nine Ukip town councillors. Formerly a Labour or Lib Dem voter, Mr Curtis lost faith in the politicians in Westminster, and after a charismatic local Lib Dem councillor retired, found there was no-one he wanted to vote for. He was bothered by drunk youths snapping wing-mirrors off cars, so he took to pounding the streets on Friday and Saturday nights.
This happened to coincide with a drive by Ukip to take local issues into their own hands. The party is all about localism, and had parachuted two of its rising stars into the town. Meet Peter Reeve and Lisa Duffy. The Ukip power couple moved here in 2007, because the housing is cheap and it's centrally located for the east of England - Peter works for the regional Ukip MEP. They hit the streets and made themselves known, and by the local elections in 2011, they were voted into power. They now control the town's £150,000 annual budget, and have shaved £20 off each household council tax bill.
Mr Reeve, 36, clearly finds more than just political inspiration from Nigel Farage. Just before we meet, he pops home to put on his tribute outfit - tweedy three piece suit, fancy white-collared shirt and Ukip tie. It's a striking look. And it works. Everyone round here knows Peter, and they like him. They know where he lives, and they can call him if there's a problem.
He's a man of the people. He proves this every day, by cleaning the public loos. It's a brilliant gimmick, and, once he has hidden an abandoned can of breakfast Special Brew, he lets our photographer snap him at it. By cleaning the bogs himself, he says he saves the town £6,000 a year. Who can argue with that?
"Most people in Ukip are not politically ambitious," says Peter. "We're in it because we really want to make a difference, we want to make the country better. If it all takes off, who knows? Ukip could form a government, and I fully believe that. But most of us will gladly step out of politics and get real jobs!"
So Ukip isn't just about Europe. And it's certainly not about racism. Peter proudly points out that former members of BNP are unable to join the party. But immigration is a big Ukip theme, because it's the only party that dares talk about it. And for the people of Ramsey, that's a bonus. "There's a website in Portugal that tells them eactly how to fill out the forms," says Mr Curtis. "But our son can't get a house with his girlfriend."
The complaints are common to many parts of Britain. But why Ramsey? "This part of the world has a history of thinking outside of the box," says Mr Reeve. "The revolution against the king started here. The pub was owned by Crowmell's borther. If something's going wrong, people will tolerate so much from their political class. But they hit a point where, actually, they're not putting up with it any more." Quite what they refuse to put up with remains unclear. But if the question is muddled, the answer seems to be Ukip.
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