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Toxic mix in Rochester and Strood byelection
Chas Berry, Socialist Party North Kent
As we go to press, Ukip is widely expected to win the Rochester and Strood parliamentary byelection, overturning a Tory majority of nearly 10,000 polled by Tory MP defector Mark Reckless.
The result will serve to deepen splits among Tory MPs over the party leadership's perceived 'softness' on a referendum to leave the European Union and on further restricting migrant workers.
The absence of a genuine alternative to the policies of austerity put forward by the big business parties has seen the most reactionary forces trying to out-do each other on the right during the election campaign.
Tory candidate Kelly Tolhurst promised to stop access to social housing for migrants for five years while saying nothing about the local Tory council's failure to build any houses for local people in all the time she has been a councillor.
At the same time the residents of Strood, one of the poorer areas of the constituency, had to endure the insults of visiting Tory MPs who described the area as the 'benefits street of the South East'.
Labour's campaign was lacklustre and did nothing to address the issues of poverty pay and cuts in local services that are blighting the lives of thousands in the constituency. Instead, Labour kept a low profile and was incapable of turning the widespread anger at attacks on local facilities such as Strood Library into a positive force for change.
Even worse it pandered to stoked up fears about immigration, promising tougher border controls, restrictions on benefits for migrants and forcing new arrivals to learn English.
Shamefully, Labour's candidate Naushaba Khan, whose leaflet stated: "I will never duck the real issues that matter in Rochester and Strood", did just the opposite. She ignored requests to meet with local trade unionists to discuss her stance on trade union rights, the living wage, cuts in public services and privatisation.
Into this mix stepped the far-right group Britain First. Their Facebook page showed a video of their candidate Jayda Fransen haranguing elderly worshipers at a local mosque and she was pictured in the local press posing alongside Ukip activists. Fortunately, local residents mobilised twice in large numbers to prevent planned BF demonstrations along Rochester High Street.
Ukip, the Tories and Labour must share responsibility for allowing this toxic atmosphere to take hold. It has been left to Socialist Party activists and supporters of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to put forward a convincing anti-austerity strategy.
Our banner has been prominent on the High Street and our message of 'help us build an election alternative' places us in a stronger position to fight the real elections in May 2015.
In The Socialist 19 November 2014:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns