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The Clacton Charade Will Give Us Half a Clue...

09/09/2014 09:19 BST | Updated 08/11/2014 10:59 GMT

As the political circus rolls into Clacton in the South of Essex, a lot has been made of Nigel Farage's appeal to working class voters. A year ago, conventional political wisdom suggested Ukip were essentially taking votes off disgruntled Tories, splitting the vote significantly enough to allow Labour to come through the middle and win on low turnouts and with marginal majorities.

Many people, including myself, within the Labour movement, were sceptical of such orthodoxy and warned that it was only a matter of time before Ukip made inroads into working class areas, manifested in what we saw in the local election results of 22 May.

As someone who worked on construction sites for most of my working life prior to my election, I have long identified the soft underbelly of right-wing politics and low level/casual racism bubbling beneath the surface and sometimes bandied around as 'banter' by a significant minority of my fellow building workers, who to a man (I didn't work with any women during my time on site) claimed they were not racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, but just concerned at what they saw as the "sheer numbers coming over here taking our jobs!"

The arguments around immigration primarily focused on legitimate concerns about the effect it had on their living standards such as the undercutting of workers' wages, British jobs advertised solely abroad, the casualisation of the industry and rise in insecure employment, zero hours contracts and gangmasters, housing and health pressures, which led to an increased anxiety amongst traditional Labour voters over the EU and "uncontrolled migration".

To some, Farage's 'one-size-fits-all' solution sounded tempting. The way he said it with a pint in his hand and a fag in his mouth made it sound even more alluring. Many believed the hype and saw Nige as an ordinary bloke. The sort you'd meet having a Sunday roast down the pub in any English town.

In fact let's go further. His solution, the way he articulates it in ordinary understandable non-PC language, the pint, the fag AND the endless coverage he receives in the press makes him sound eminently believable, even politically irresistible.

However, what we are now expected to believe from Farage and the mainstream press, is that in the space of just five months, he has morphed from the guy who is more accustomed to the life depicted in the movie Wolf of Wall Street, (where greed is a virtue rather than a vice), into an Owenian character from Robert Tressell's Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

This from the man who idolised the Iron Lady and claimed he was the only politician keeping the flame of Thatchersim alive!

To expose the duplicity of his position we need to ask 'what does Nige know about a hand-to-mouth existence?' Quite simply, he has never had a poor day in his life, but is somehow able to make-believe he understands the pain of living on the breadline.

Farage is posher than Cameron, but shiny-faced Dave hasn't been able to pull off the 'I feel your pain' charade anything like Nige. That is because he is a consummate politician with an anecdote for every eventuality - and he drinks pints in a boozer. What could be more ordinary than that?! From Eddie the Eagle to Bumbling Boris, the country loves a character. But, let's face it - the obsession with Farage masks the real issue which is: 'what level of interest does UKIP really have in solving working class peoples' problems'?

To find the answer, you have to look at what governs Farage's political outlook - his experiences and his upbringing - but also the policies he and his party have advocated during the last twenty-two years.

When the Trade Union group TULO produced a leaflet entitled, 'The Truth About UKIP; what really lies behind Nigel's Smile', his activists went potty and he quickly ditched his 2010 manifesto commitments. The irony in his abandonment of this policy document (something he had promoted for decades) amidst the height of his political fame, has never been lost on me by the way.

In fact he not only disowned the 2010 manifesto, he distanced himself from policies he described as "obviously nonsense" when on the Daily Politics in January.

It begs the question then; if he felt that strongly that the policies of his party which included a plan to privatise the NHS, charges to see GPs, scrapping rights to four-weeks paid holiday, doing away with sick pay and cutting maternity leave, and to raise taxes for lowest earners with a flat 31% rate, were so wrong and abhorrent, why did he resign as the leader of Ukip in 2009 so he could devote himself to the promotion of these very same policies in his 2010 General Election campaign in Buckingham?

The reality, of course, is that former stockbroker Farage believes passionately in far-right policies but is cognisant of the fact that such 'loony tune' politics would make his party unelectable. In a perverse twist of rhetoric over reality, around three quarters of Ukip supporters want to see the renationalisation of the energy companies and railways, but obviously don't understand that such 'Marxist ideology' is anathema within the ranks of Ukip policymakers. In fact Ukip supporters' hopes of a fairer Britain are lost on such free market zealots, but they still put an X in the Ukip box to show their disdain of political indiscretions in Westminster.

The sophistry can only last so long. Having said that, I suspect his Ukip manifest to launch in Doncaster in a few weeks time will be littered with populist policies that he will hope keeps his vote strong and delivers his first ex-Tory MP on 9 October. In other words, Farage et al hope to cash in on the current monopoly they hold on the protest vote and hopes to assume the role of the Lib Dems in 2015 - telling the electorate what they want to hear in the hope that enough of them are gullible enough to believe it. Tuition fees anyone?

What's clear is that he doesn't have the serious answers to the serious issues facing ordinary working people on a daily basis. The old mantra of "it's all Europe's fault" to every issue raised; viewing everything through the prism of a vehemently anti-immigration political discourse and blaming it all on Johnny Foreigner is their get out of jail free card, disguises the vacuity of their policy offer, but can't be sustained in the long term. However it resonates - and was effective earlier this year. Despite the county being an overwhelming white British population, results in Clacton, Castlepoint, Basildon and Thurrock attest to the growing appeal that Farage is building. The European question and immigration issues aren't going away soon.

Ordinary working class people, dabbling with the thought of using Ukip as a vehicle for their protest vote should be wary - to Ukip, austerity isn't just a current necessity, but an ideological goal. They would like the public to believe the financial crisis was the fault of the European Union as an institution - rather than greedy global financial institutions to bash the EU, instead of the bankers that actually caused the crash in the first place.

But the reality is Ukip would roll back working class people's hard fought employment rights quicker than Nick Clegg's u-turn on tuition fees if they were given the reins of power. Ukip have demonstrated for the past twenty-two years that they are no friend to the ordinary working people of this country. A leopard doesn't change its spots on the back of one successful national election. Ukip's real identity is to the working class what a steak dinner is to a vegetarian...unpalatable, but the real red meat of Ukip policies is hidden beneath a layer of honey coated rhetoric and mixed-leaf promise.

On the core issues surrounding immigration, the Labour Party has been brave enough to apologise for past mistakes and confront the concerns that people have. We rightly acknowledge that immigration has been of huge benefit to our country, whilst accepting that it cannot go unchecked.

Labour's polices to prevent British construction workers from being undercut by foreign migrant labour will ensure money goes into the pockets of British workers. The people I worked with on building sites didn't care if the other lads were Polish, Australian or even Mancunian, as there was a level playing field for all.

A Labour government would outlaw the practice of job opportunities in this country being advertised abroad, which exclude British workers from applying. When my constituency is home to the ninth highest unemployment rate in the country, I cannot stand by and allow jobseekers in Liverpool to be frozen out of the application process by bosses who want to exploit cheap foreign labour and even more so, the unscrupulous employers from confiscating passports, paying below minimum wage rates to immigrant labour, and turning a blind eye to health and safety violations in order to cut corners to get the job done quickly at any cost. All three practices have to stop and only Labour have policies in this area.

Regardless of immigration, the next government must adopt the most ambitious house building programme of any administration in British peacetime history. Labour's plan to build 200,000 homes a year will give construction workers and tradespeople guaranteed jobs and long-term financial security for themselves and their families which in time will help to ease some of the integration issues that exist around European immigration in many parts of the country.

Despite his protestations, ordinary Nige has been a part of the establishment most of his adult life. Will he be victorious in his bid to take working class voters with him and ensure that the 2015 election is as focused on immigration and the EU as it is on the economy and NHS? Well this Clacton charade should give us half a clue, but the landslide victory predicted may well be the zenith of his party's popularity and not its launchpad to General Election success.

Like many working class Labour supporters who see Nige for what he really is, I will be watching with great interest.