THE BLOG
31/03/2015 14:01 BST | Updated 31/05/2015 06:59 BST

Ukip's Rhetoric on Localism Belies a Rotten Borough Approach to Democracy

The weekend just gone has seen two negative articles about South Thanet - the seat where I'm standing for Labour against Nigel Farage. The first, written by Thanet resident Marina O'Loughlin, declares that "something nasty" is stirring in the area as a result of the attention by Ukip. But it was a second article, by Camilla Long in The Sunday Times, which really inspired anger. It described Thanet in unabashedly elitist terms, as a Chernobyl-like "erupted spleen", whose residents were characterised by "bellicose small-mindedness".

Long's article dripped with cappuccino condescension, and as someone who has lived in Thanet my whole life I was appalled by it. It now seems to have been taken down, and I have written to ask Camilla Long to visit the area a second time so that I can show her around properly - an offer I hope she'll take me up on.

Long writes about Thanet as if it was a distant country, light years from the privileges of London - not 76 minutes on the train. What her article really reflects is Britain's two-speed economy, in which the capital increasingly has the loudest voice and the most purchasing power.

The 'London Vs The Rest' inequality means that now, more than ever before, poorer parts of Britain need strong advocates; committed, local politicians whose main goal is to champion their constituents and stop communities becoming marginalised. This makes it all the more frustrating that the person currently leading the race to be the South Thanet's next MP is Nigel Farage - a veteran of the political bubble, who is this May looking to complete his two decade transition from City of London banker to Palace of Westminster politician. The economic pulling away of London has opened up a gap in the political market, which Ukip have been quick to exploit.

Farage and co. may have learned the idiom of localism, but nothing going on on the ground in South Thanet suggests they are really willing to engage with local people. Farage has missed the last three hustings, and at the most recent one - organised by Age UK - he sent a "silent deputy", who introduced himself, remained mute for a full hour, and then left early. Rather than attending town hall debates Ukip's chosen mode of "engagement" is through ticketed events with the kind of vetted audiences usually reserved for incumbent US Presidents! Dissenters are often turned way at the door.

Supporters of Farage say this is to protect him from the abuse opponents of Ukip often give him - and I agree that critics of his occasionally cross the line. As a father of two I was could never condone the treatment he was given while trying to have a family meal a couple of weeks ago. But these instances are very rare. For me there's something deeply galling about seeing the leader of the so called "people's army" already seeking refuge in the armour of high office.

Farage is not the only Ukip candidate guilty of empty-chairing himself - reports suggest that Ukip candidate Tim Aker has been a virtual non-presence in Thurrock - and the impression you get is that we're approaching a new form of absconder politics by Ukip. Tweed-clad candidates, many of whom have spent years as truant MEPs, now have their eyes fixed on Westminster.

Farage believes he will "probably" win South Thanet, and thus become an absentee MP in just as he has been an absentee MEP. This outcome would, I believe, consign the area to economic neglect, and lead to more Camilla Long-style castigation. As the only local candidate and the person currently second to Farage in the polls, my view is a majority of people here do not want to see this happen. We will not let South Thanet become Britain's first rotten borough since 1832.