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27 March 2015

How to fight Nigel Farage

Forget immigration or the European Union: transport is the way to fight Nigel Farage

By will Scobie

Here in South Thanet our fight against Nigel Farage is picking up steam. It’s a three-way marginal, but the Tories’ decision to field an ex-Ukip Leader essentially renders it a two-way battle – between Labour, working to ensure the area is not left behind, and the interchangeable, isolationist tendencies of the right.

Last week we had two big events in the constituency which brought this home: a visit from shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher on Thursday, and a trade union Rally for a Better Future on Saturday – with speakers including Frances O’Grady and Paul Kenny.

The response we had to both demonstrated two things. Firstly, the reception Michael received really showed the importance of transport to local people. Secondly, the excitement around Rally for a Better Future showed the appetite there is not just to for a strong counter-narrative to Ukip’s offer, but for one which offers a message of hope (rather than allowing the contest to become a competition about who can come up with the worst worst case scenario).

For me the transport issue and the need for a positive vision are intertwined. The difficulty of getting to the rest of the country has traditionally left Thanet hamstrung. For a long time it was faster to visit Manchester than Margate from London – despite Margate being nearly three times closer. Not only was it sunnier in Spain, but it was also quicker to get to.

This has bred a disillusionment which, of course, Farage has sought to exploit across a whole host of small, coastal constituencies. If you look at the other Ukip target seats they are, more often than not, places cut off transport-wise, and serviced by rickety, unreliable and overpriced rail services.

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Farage’s recent comments about hearing foreign languages on trains, as well as his public opposition to HS2, do nothing to suggest he gets the importance of transport as a way of connecting people and communities. Divisions – between Britain and Europe and between London and the rest of the country – are what Ukip thrive on, so politically he has no interest in better rail links.

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So while immigration and welfare are the topics everybody is talking about when it comes to Ukip, I say transport is the third rail; an issue which offers an optimistic vision for places like South Thanet, and a rebuff to the separatist appeals of Ukip and the Tories.

Will Scobie is the Labour candidate in South Thanet, where Nigel Farage is seeking to become the constituency’s MP.