Should Nigel Farage have stuck to his guns? Newark might just have voted him in
Nigel Farage will never know whether Newark was set to join the ranks of Bermondsey, Hamilton or Bradford West in the political atlas of great by-election upsets.
Yet if the mood in the Nottinghamshire town’s Georgian Market Place was anything to go by yesterday the decision not to contest the vacant seat could go down as one of missed opportunity rather than inspired tactical retreat.
Butcher Michael Thorne, 48, was an unabashed fan of Mr Farage having spent 15 minutes in the Ukip leader’s company at a recent market day.
“He is a down-to-earth bloke and he doesn’t beat around the bush. It’s about time we had someone like that,” he said. “It’s about British people for British jobs as far as I’m concerned. We need to support as many local people as we can,” he added.
Customer Terence Dilger, 65, was pondering what to have for his dinner. He was less equivocal in voicing his support for Mr Farage.
“I think he is right on immigration – it is as simple as that,” he said. “When I first came to Newark it was an ordinary town. Now it is a League of Nations. You feel like a stranger in your own town. Even if he didn’t win he would have got his message across.”
According to the 2011 Census figures Newark and neighbouring Sherwood remain remarkably homogenous. From a population of 114,000 some 94 per cent describe themselves as white British. The number of residents from EU accession states was just 1.8 per cent – just over 2,000 people and lower than the English average. But that is not the perception.
Shopper Yvonne Mastin, 61, was happy to repeat one of Ukip’s slogans she had read on a leaflet recently put through her door. “We do want Britain back to how it used to be. It’s got totally out of hand,” she said. “I believe in immigration if they have got something to bring,” she said.
Over at his stall selling mobility scooters was Kevin Walker, 54, also a Farage fan. “A vote for him is a vote not for the other two,” he said. “There are too many of them [immigrants]. Whoever said they are not taking our jobs is talking rubbish. If you go to the fields around here see how many of them speak English.
“It’s the same anywhere you go now. I do a lot of care homes and they are all foreign staff. It’s not because we won’t do the jobs it’s because they won’t kick up a fuss and they are cheaper. They will work long hours, but it is not right,” he added.
Ukip is currently looking for a candidate to stand in the seat in which it came fourth with just 3.8 per cent of the vote in 2010.
The Conservatives have selected Robert Jenrick – international business director at Christie’s - in November following the Panorama sting on the Tory incumbent Patrick Mercer. He was unavailable for comment today.
Doing media in the town centre however was Labour’s Michael Payne, a Nottinghamshire councillor. The party won the seat in 1997 but the following year the winning candidate Fiona Jones became the first MP for 115 years to be excluded from the House of Commons due to electoral fraud – a conviction that was quashed by the Court of Appeal.
Mr Payne said he was unconcerned by Ukip’s calculations. “It makes no difference to me whether Farage stands or the deputy leader. The simple point is the policies remain the same,” he said.
But the Farage phenomenon was not playing well with everyone. Angela Ptaszynska, 26, had moved with her family from Lodz in central Poland eight years ago. She now ran her own business and her partner worked in a factory.
“I don’t know him [Farage] actually. I don’t watch English TV,” she said. Although she regarded Newark people as “very nice” she could sense change. “It worries me a little bit. I am worried about how it will be in the future - especially for my son.”
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