Ukip policies “are directly against working class people” according to South East Labour MEP candidate Anneliese Dodds.
Dodds, who was speaking at a European Elections husting’s organised by Eastleigh Southern Parishes Older Peoples Forum explained:
“They (Ukip) say working class people should pay the same rate of tax as the richest millionaires they say there shouldn’t be any employment protections” said the university lecturer.
Meanwhile Labour came in for criticism from Diane James –Ukip’s PPC for Eastleigh last year – who while attending a public meeting in Southampton told Eastleigh News that Labour needed to ‘get real’ over their pledge to hold a referendum:
“If they have their way the UK will not get a referendum for a least five years – that’s far too late”.
The European (and local) elections are just a month away and last week Ukip kicked off its Euro campaign by unveiling a series of controversial posters linking EU immigrants with unemployment.
Until recently Ukip had drawn most of its support from disaffected Conservatives but since the Eastleigh by-election it has been making solid inroads into traditional Labour support.
Ukip’s Southampton branch held a well-attended public meeting in Portswood – a traditionally strong Labour ward – and during the meeting introduced it’s candidates for the city council elections.
Among these was Alan Kebble who described himself as a former Labour supporter but is now standing in Southampton’s Bassett ward for Ukip.
Kebble told me his concerns over the impact of open-door EU immigration on housing and jobs had caused him to switch his affiliation.
Last Monday during Ukip’s national campaign launch, party leader Nigel Farage told reporters that the party was now tactically targeting Labour voters:
“At the moment Ed Miliband says he wont give us a referendum part of our campaign is to go for Labour votes to force Labour into giving the British people a choice”.
Fellow MEP candidate Ray Finch, who is currently a leader of the Ukip group on Hampshire County Council, joined Diane James at the Portswood meeting.
Finch, Ukip’s PPC in Eastleigh in 2010, is also a former Labour supporter and said the Labour party no longer appealed to working class voters.
“When I was growing up a Labour MP would be a miner, a fisherman, a dock worker.
“Nowadays they all went to the same school, they are all lawyers or they have come straight through working as a spad (special advisor) for an MP.
“People are looking for a party that has real people in it, people who have had a job and know what it is like to have had a job and know what it’s like to pay a mortgage or to meet the bills at the end of the week”.
Finch said Ukip was the only party that believed in social mobility “in this country if you are born poor you die poor”.
A former grammar schoolboy himself, Finch said Ukip policy on re-introducing selective education with grammar and technical schools, would enable children from poorer families to escape the poverty trap.
Cllr Finch also told me if he was returned as an MEP he would not give up his seat on the County Council saying his colleagues there would “help keep me grounded”.
Diane James also said that young Europeans from the continent were taking places from English students and not paying their way:
“All they (young Brits) see is Europeans coming here taking the places at colleges and universities that they might want and not actually paying their fees”.
James said of Labour’s referendum pledge:
“We have had 40 years of change they are not even prepared to recognise the degree of change that has taken place already we have had over this period
“They are not prepared to listen to the voters or the businesses both of which are in a very large proportion demanding a referendum much sooner”.
Ray Finch also represented Ukip at the ESPOPF husting’s at Bursledon Community Centre along with Conservative candidate Richard Robinson and Labour’s Anneliese Dodds.
Because of the proportionally based voting system used in the Euro Elections, as Dodds tops Labour’s list of candidates she is virtually certain to become one of our MEP’s.
Dodds said that membership of the EU was vital for jobs in the region:
“In this part of the region there many jobs associated with our docks with the transport industry also with areas like language learning and manufacturing and in these cases they all depend on trade with Europe and if we have barriers towards that trade then we would have companies pulling out”.
Dodds said that she was told on a recent visit to the BMW mini plant at Oxford that if the company didn’t have access to the European market they would reconsider investment.
“To turn our backs on the rest of the world is not going to work – its not going to be good for Britain”.
Dodds explained that Labour would hold a referendum “if it looked like Britain’s relationship with the EU was going to change” but committing to a date, as the Conservatives had only caused “uncertainty” which was “damaging business”.
Conservative candidate Richard Robinson rejected the idea that the European Parliament was just a pointless talking shop, with no legal powers:
“That was true twenty years ago but after the Lisbon treaty every law passed in Europe has to go thorugh the European parliament – laws that determine the quality of the air we breathe or the food we eat; laws that determine how many hours we work or what we can do with our domestic waste or the quality of the medicines we take – it is important that we have representatives that we trust in Brussels”.
Robinson said that EU regulation was a barrier to small business’s taking on staff and that attempts by Brussels to regulate the financial institutions in the city could ‘destroy’ jobs.
“In my business I deal with small businesses across Europe they tell me one of the reasons they don’t take on new staff is because of the level of regulation involved.
“Much of that regulation does come from Brussels.
“A hundred thousand people work in the city of London in financial services; the financial services industry is under attack form Brussels at the moment whether it’s bankers bonuses or the financial transactions tax, Brussels is trying to regulate the City of London in a way that will destroy jobs not create them”.
Robinson said he supported the conservative proposals for an ‘in out’ referendum on EU membership before 2017 “absolutely”.
In 2008 Robinson had organised a ‘we want a referendum’ campaign in Eastleigh and he said he had been struck by the number of people who had told him:
“This is not what we voted for. We voted to join a common market not a country called Europe.
“Looking back over the last 20 years the EU has changed and nobody has asked if they want that change or whether they approve of it I think its time that they were”.
Robinson added that he thought only the Conservative party could deliver an EU referendum:
“Ukip can’t deliver what the people want they can’t deliver what people are asking for”.
Members of the public I spoke to after the meeting, largely ESPOPF members, told me that their main concerns were more about pensions and the NHS rather than immigration or the EU but they still found the husting’s interesting.
Although Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has recently criticised Labour and Conservatives for going ‘missing in action’ in the debate on EU membership and immigration with Ukip there were no Lib Dem’s present on the panel despite having been invited.
The latest opinion polls show Labour as most likely to win the EU elections in the UK.
The Sun’s YouGov poll show Labour predicted to win 25 seats (up 12) with 30% of the vote and Ukip close second with 21 seats (Up 8) on 27%, pushing the Conservatives down into third place.
According to UK polling report the Conservatives should win 15 seats (down 11) on 22% and the Lib Dems are on course for 5 seats (loss of 6).
The Green Party should get 1 seat (down 1) and the BNP look set to lose both their existing seats.