Nick O’Brien, from anti-racist group We Are Norwich, reports on Norfolk, where Labour and the Greens held on in Norwich, but in the surrounding area UKIP made gains.
Over 540, 000 people voted for UKIP in the East of England. Their share of the vote in the Eastern region rose to 34.5%, an increase of 14.9%, which meant that they defended the two seats they had and added a coveted third. The newly elected MEP Patrick O’Flynn remarked “It’s been a fantastic night for us. We have beaten the mighty Conservative party in one of its heartland areas of the country”. Patrick O’Flynn was of course Political Editor for the Daily Express before starting work for this so-called anti-establishment party!
With the BNP vote dropping from 97,000 in 2009 to 12,500 this year and the strong probability of some Tory voters putting their cross in the UKIP box, it is clear that plenty of votes came from the right. However, it is also highly likely that red votes went purple as well, especially if the local elections are anything to go by, in which the Labour vote went to UKIP in places like Essex, Harlow and Great Yarmouth. Whilst it’s true that the Labour vote in the East looked much improved with a 50% increase, the reality is that this followed an appalling result in the last European elections. The increase came from a very low base.
But Norwich itself stood firm. In the local elections, Labour kept control of Norwich City Council after an election count which finally ended up with the status quo. Fourteen seats were up for grabs, but not one of them changed political hue. Labour held eight seats, the Greens five and the Liberal Democrats kept one. Norfolk may be historically blue, but Norwich continues to buck the trend. The situation was different outside of the city however, most notably in Great Yarmouth where Farage’s party started the day with no seats on the council but ended the day with ten of the thirteen wards available. This strong showing tipped the balance of power at the previously Labour controlled 39-seat borough council to fifteen Labour, fourteen Conservative and ten UKIP. Great Yarmouth must be a focus for anti-racists in the lead up to the General Election in 2015.
So what is to be done? The good news is that anti-racists in Norwich have been organised for some time. We are Norwich was formed when the English Defence League announced its intention to march in Norwich in the summer of 2012. In response, the local community decided to form a diverse and inclusive coalition of trade unions, trades councils, politicians, individuals, anti-racists, anti-fascists, community groups and faith groups. Over twenty five groups and hundreds of individuals pledged their support. When 80 EDL supporters did march in November 2012, WAN organised a peaceful counter-demonstration and over 2,000 came out to protect their city and celebrate diversity.
We are Norwich has continued to be active in the city and the local area organising leafleting and cultural events, including a very well supported gig and poetry evening featuring poet Hollie McNish last November. We are open to all and believe very much in unity in action. This has led to our coalition being featured in the excellent recent TUC publication Truth, Lies and Migrants. Following the elections we have immediately released a unity statement and asked a wide range of our original signatories to pledge to stand strongly against a drift to the right and instead send out positive messages about migrants. The whole Norwich Green Party group and both Labour candidates in the General Election immediately signed as well as local trade union branches and community groups. This is just a first step however and we will also work to arm activists with up to date leaflets that expose UKIP and their policies whilst continuing to be wary of the EDL and other far-right street movements like Britain First. Finally, it’s also vital that we work with others to provide political answers to the crisis for all those that turn to UKIP in anger and despair. Every anti-racist should be fully engaged in building for the People’s Assembly demonstration in London at the end of June.