Nigel Farage during the Newark by-election count. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why the Tories have picked the wrong man to take on Farage

Rather than choosing a former Ukip leader as their candidate in South Thanet, the party should have selected a liberal figure capable of winning tactical votes. 

With a whimper, rather than a bang, Nigel Farage has confirmed that he is standing for selection as Ukip's candidate in South Thanet. After the local party secretary rather unhelpfully leaked the news to the FT last week, the announcement is tucked away at the bottom of his Independent column today. He writes: "Of course I think I stand a good chance of winning. I have fought the seat before and it is in my home county of Kent and an area I have represented in the European Parliament since 1999."

Farage finished fourth when he stood in the Tory-held seat in 2005, and only managed third place when he ran in John Bercow's Buckingham constituency in 2010, but he is right to believe he can improve on both of these performances. A recent Lord Ashcroft poll put Ukip in first place in South Thanet and the party won seven out of eight seats on the county council last May, leaving the Tories without a single representative. 

Aware that Farage was likely to stand in the constituency, the Tories acted pre-emptively by selecting former Ukip leader and deputy leader Craig Mackinlay as their PPC (sitting MP Laura Sandys is standing down). The logic is clear: by choosing a robust eurosceptic as their candidate, the Tories hope to prevent right-leaning voters from defecting to the purple army.  

But the strategy is a questionable one. To win the seat, where they currently hold a 7,617 majority, the Tories would have been wiser to select a liberal candidate capable of winning tactical votes from Labour and Lib Dem supporters. In the recent Newark by-election, a significant number of centre-left voters held their noses and voted Conservative on the grounds that it was the best means of stopping Farage's party. One compared it to backing Jacques Chirac against Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 French presidential election. Another said: "I've never voted Tory in my life, but I'm not having those bastards [Ukip] getting in". 

It may be that such voters are prepared to back Mackinlay. But it is worth remembering how poorly Tory candidate Maria Hutchings performed in the Eastleigh by-election after running on a Ukip-style platform. The lesson that Tory modernisers drew was that you can't out-Ukip Ukip (as Lord Ashcroft has repeatedly warned the party). But it is not one that seems have to been applied to South Thanet. With Labour also in contention for the seat, which it held between 1997 and 2005, it is Miliband's party that could benefit if the Tories fail to attract tactical votes. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

kerim44 at Wikimedia Commons
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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.

 

Update 28/6: 

The National Police Chief's council has now released figures on the spike in hate crime reports following the referendum. Between Thursday and Sunday, 85 reports were sent to True Vision, a police-funded crime reporting service. During the same period four weeks ago, only 54 were sent - which constitutes a rise of 57 per cent. 

In a statement, Mark Hamilton, Assistant Chief Constable for the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Hate Crime, said police are "monitoring the situation closely". 

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