Ukip candidate says political class face a tectonic shift
The anti-EU party seems impervious to charges of racism and dodgy finances
Ukip candidate Jim Carver, pictured at home in Gloucestershire with his partner,Armagh-born Ann Silcock, is set to take a European Parliament seat in the election on May 22nd.
Jim Carver makes umbrellas at his home in Brooms Green in Gloucestershire, the ones used by bookmakers to hold off blustery rain at race tracks throughout Britain and Ireland.
“Some of my best clients are members of the Irish Bookmakers Association,” he tells The Irish Times in his conservatory, while three Jack Russells chase a ball in the garden outside.
Barring mishaps, and the mishaps would have to be substantial, Carver will be a member of the European Parliament for the UK Independence Party in a few weeks’ time.
For weeks, Ukip has faced one charge after another from opponents, newspapers and TV stations about displays of racism by its candidates and dodgy expense claims by the party’s leader, Nigel Farage.
Yet Ukip’s support seems impervious to attack. Throughout the UK, Ukip could win the largest share of the vote in the European election on May 22nd. If not, it is likely to take second.
The election uses a list system: people vote for a party, rather than an individual. This benefits Ukip since it has few recognisable faces outside of Farage.
Carver is no last-minute Ukip convert. “I joined in 1996. I was frustrated by the political class after Maastricht, it was clear what way things were going.”
In the West Midlands, where Carver is running, Ukip had two MEPs elected in 2009 and took 300,000 votes, just over a fifth of all those who bothered to vote.
This time out, a poll found 52 per cent of voters in West Midlands plan vote for Ukip. Across Britain, Ukip now leads Labour, the polls say.
Just a third of voters cast a ballot in 2009, so the fortunes of all parties will be decided partly by who votes.
Later, during a canvass in Hazle Close, an estate on the edge of Ledbury in Gloucestershire, Carver comes face-to-face with strong support, a lack of interest and, in one case, downright hostility.
Standing outside his front door, Falicki Piotr, a Polish painter and decorator who has been in Britain for nine years, is one of the first to meet the Ukip candidate.
For him, the idea that immigrants are taking British jobs is mildly amusing: “There is work if you want to work, I want to work. Some British don’t.”
Next door, Carver meets another Pole, Adam Kocieba, who works for a packaging firm in Ledbury. The two engage in lengthy, friendly discussion on the merits of immigration.
Carver insists Ukip is not against immigration, but rather wants Britain to be able to set its own rules. Kocieba understands that some British feel “overwhelmed”.
British have lost out to Poles prepared to work for the minimum wage, Kocieba says. Now, however, Poles are starting to lose out to Bulgarians and Romanians: “Yes, they are coming,” he says.
The solution is not in the UK’s own hands: “It has to be actions by the European Union together. The UK can’t do this on its own,” he tells Carver.
Moving on, Carver knocks on the doors of homes occupied by British people: “I’m not from here, I’m from Croydon, but I’ll be voting Ukip, I can tell you,” says one man enthusiastically.
Two doors on, a resident opens the door, recognises the purple-and-yellow rosette and grimaces. “You disgust me, you do,” he says firmly, before closing the door in Carver’s face.
Just minutes later, the reception veers 180 degrees once more, when a teenager opens the door and calls out “Mum!”, when she sees it is a canvasser.
“Mum” calls her husband, who quickly declares his support after Carver asks about his views on the EU. He always asks that question before asking about immigration.
For some of its opponents, a strong Ukip performance this month, though unwelcome, is a kick at the establishment by angry voters in an election that most believe matters little.
However, Carver insists the tectonic plates in British politics are moving – where local elections to be held on the same day offer Ukip the chance to build on the ground.
“Look what the Liberal Democrats did, they built a base in every street in a constituency in local elections before challenging for the Commons – even if it has gone wrong for them now,” he says.
For now, Carver, whose maternal grandfather was a Polish Jew and paternal grandmother was a Romany Gypsy, accepts that the odds point to his being elected, since he is number two on Ukip’s West Midlands list.
However, no chickens are being counted. Four years ago, he lost his wife Carmen to scleroderma, an autoimmune disease: “That has taught me never to take anything for granted, nothing.”