Patrick Mercer pictured leaving his parliamentary office in 2007. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Patrick Mercer resigns and triggers by-election - is this Ukip's moment?

If Farage chooses to stand, his party could have a genuine chance of winning a Westminster seat for the first time.

After the decision of the Standards Committee to suspend him from parliament for six months over cash-for-questions allegations, former Tory MP Patrick Mercer, who currently sits as an independent, has just announced his resignation. He told reporters on College Green:

I'm an ex-soldier and I believe that when I've got something wrong, you've got to fess up and get on with it, no point in shilly-shallying, what's happened has happened and I'm ashamed of it.

Therefore, I'm going to do what I can to put it right for the constituency of Newark, I'm a Newark man, I haven't lived in Newark for any political expediency, to put it right for my family, my wife, who's been under such pressure for the last year, and to make it quite clear that I argue with nothing that the committee has said, or may not have said, because I still don't know officially what has been said.

But with a great heaviness of heart, and I'm hoping that the people of Newark in Nottinghamshire will be able to tolerate me in the future, I'm hoping that they will, I'm going to resign my seat in God's county of Nottinghamshire in the town of Newark, and I hope that my successor, who has been well and carefully chosen, will be the Conservative candidate. Thank you very much indeed, ladies and gentlemen, thank you.

We can now look forward to what politicos have been craving for months: a by-election in a Conservative-held seat that Ukip could conceivably win. Nigel Farage has already hinted that he is prepared to stand, provided that the contest does not take place on the same day as the European elections. Since it is too late for the writ to be moved in time for 22 May, this condition will be met (the earliest possible date for the by-election is 5 June).

Mercer currently has a comfortable majority of 16,152 (31.5 per cent) in the seat, which the Tories have held since 2001 (Labour won it in 1997), and Ukip polled just 3.8 per cent, finishing fourth, in 2010. But the dramatic surge in support for the party since then, and the circumstances of Mercer's resignation, mean an upset cannot be ruled out. In last year's county council elections, Ukip won 17.1 per cent of the vote in the Newark & Sherwood District. If Farage does go for the seat, harnessing the momentum that would follow a Ukip victory in the European elections, his party could have a genuine chance of winning a Westminster seat for the first time.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

kerim44 at Wikimedia Commons
Show Hide image

Xenophobic graffiti at a London Polish centre is a dark sign of post-Brexit Britain

The centre's chairwoman says an incident of this kind has never happened before, and police are treating it as a hate crime. 

Early on Sunday morning, staff arriving at the Polish Social and Cultural (POSK) centre in west London's leafy Ravenscourt Park were met with a nasty shock: a xenophobic obscenity smeared across the front of the building in bright yellow paint. 

“It was a standard, unpleasant way of saying ‘go away’ – I'll leave that to your interpretation,” Joanna Mludzinska, chairwoman of the centre, says the next morning as news crews buzz around the centre’s foyer. The message was cleaned off as soon as the staff took photo evidence – “we didn’t want people to walk down and be confronted by it” – but the sting of an unprecedented attack on the centre hasn’t abated.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” Mludzinska tells me, shaking her head. “Never.”

The news comes as part of a wash of social media posts and police reports of xenophobic and racist attacks since Friday’s referendum result. It’s of course difficult to pin down the motivation for specific acts, but many of these reports feature Brits telling others to “leave” or “get out” – which strongly implies that they are linked to the public's decision on Friday to leave the European Union. 

Hammersmith and Fulham, the voting area where the centre is based, voted by a 40-point margin to remain in the UK, which meant the attack was particularly unexpected. “The police are treating this as a one-off, which we hope it is,” Mludzinska tells me. They are currently investigating the incident as a hate crime. 

“But we have anecdotal evidence of more personal things happening outside London. They’ve received messages calling them vermin, scum [in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire]. It’s very frightening.” As one local Polish woman told the Mirror, there are fears that the referendum has “let an evil genie out of a bottle”. 

For those unsure whether they will even be able to stay in Britain post-referendum, the attacks are particularly distressing, as they imply that the decision to leave was, in part, motivated by hatred of non-British citizens. 

Ironically, it is looking more and more likely that we might preserve free movement within the EU even if we leave it; Brexit campaigners including Boris Johnson are now claiming immigration and anti-European feeling were not a central part of the campaign. For those perpetrating the attacks, though, it's obvious that they were: “Clearly, these kind of people think all the foreigners should go tomorrow, end of,” Mludzinska says.

She believes politicians must make clear quickly that Europeans and other groups are welcome in the UK: “We need reassurance to the EU communities that they’re not going to be thrown out and they are welcome. That’s certainly my message to the Polish community – don’t feel that all English people are against you, it’s not the case.” 

When I note that the attack must have been very depressing, Mludzinska corrects me, gesturing at the vases of flowers dotted around the foyer: “It’s depressing, but also heartening. We’ve received lots and lots of messages and flowers from English people who are not afraid to say I’m sorry, I apologise that people are saying things like that. It’s a very British, very wonderful thing.”

Beyond Hammersmith

Labour MP Jess Phillips has submitted a parliamentary question on how many racist and xenophobic attacks took place this weekend, compared to the weekends preceding the result. Until this is answered, though, we only have anecdotal evidence of the rise of hate crime over the past few days. From social media and police reports, it seems clear that the abuse has been directed at Europeans and other minorities alike. 

Twitter users are sending out reports of incidents like those listed below under the hashtag #PostBrexitRacism:

Facebook users have also collated reports in an album titled Worrying Signs:

Police are currently investigating mutiple hate crime reports. If you see or experience anything like this yourself, you should report it to police (including the British Transport Police, who have a direct text number to report abuse, 61016) or the charity Stop Hate UK.

HOPE not hate, an advocacy group that campaigns against racism in elections, has released a statement on the upsurge of hatred” post-referendum, calling on the government to give reassurance to these communities and on police to bring the full force of the law” to bear against perpetrators.

The group notes that the referendum, cannot be a green light for racism and xenophobic attacks. Such an outpouring of hate is both despicable and wrong.

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.