As forty or so protesters mobbed the pavement outside UKIP’s Rotherham shop on Friday morning, another piece of democracy in the Yorkshire town, which I represent in the European Parliament, died at the hands of mob rule.
Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader was paying a long planned visit to open my campaign shop in the town. Only the media and a few local UKIP candidates had been invited to the low-key event.
Despite police assurances to the contrary, protesters were allowed to converge on the shop in an attempt to disrupt Mr Farage’s visit, with what he told journalists was, “undemocratic and anti-British protests aimed at stopping UKIP speaking”.
Friday’s protest followed the release on Wednesday, of Louise Casey’s long awaited report into the role of the local council in Rotherham’s CSE scandal. This branded the Labour dominated council, “not fit for purpose” due to a culture of “bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced political correctness”.
The Casey report came as no surprise to many of Rotherham’s residents, who have been dealing with these issues in solitude for years. But it was sufficiently damning to threaten Labour’s eighty-year stranglehold on power.
To glance at the protesters present on Friday, they looked like the usual ragtag bunch that makes every effort to disrupt UKIP events wherever they can. However, Friday’s protest was different in that it was a centrally orchestrated, union funded event in itself.
Among the chanting, placard-waving “local” protesters surrounding the only entrance to the shop, were several former Labour Rotherham councillors and a union press officer. The protesters were quick to accuse Nigel Farage of scoring political points by “rubbernecking” at CSE victims, despite his visit being planned long before the Casey Report’s release. However, it was soon established by the media that despite the protesters claims, few of the protesters were local people. Instead, they were union members keen to block the UKIP leader from speaking. Essentially mob rule.
Vocal, but ineffectual local Labour MP, Sarah Champion, soon joined in the orchestrated effort, tweeting; “Hilarious Farage is trapped inside #Rotherham UKIP shop by people objecting to him coming to rubber neck at victims.”
Champion was quick to delete the tweet, when she realised she had misjudged the public mood on this issue and had received criticism from other Twitter users and BBC Daily Politics host, Andrew Neil, for supporting mob rule and stifling the democratic process.
This is the very same Sarah Champion who has had two years since her election to tackle the CSE problem in the town, but has failed to do so. Instead she prefers to use media sound bites to highlight how she is not responsible for the town’s problems.
It’s also the same Sarah Champion who recently asked Government for new powers to limit protests in the town, in order to lessen the impact to local businesses. It didn’t seem to matter so much to her on Friday.
The simple fact is this protest was nothing more than mob rule in action; born out of a fear of something different, a fear of something which threatens to break Labour’s strangle hold on local people. I am a great supporter of democratic protest and would have no problem if these were townspeople. The fact is these protesters were union foot soldiers rather than local people.
UKIP have been accused of trying to politicise CSE in Rotherham. Looking at this situation, it is the unions and Labour making CSE a political issue, in order to stifle democratic debate.
These people are not the real people of Rotherham: they are members of the Labour party running scared, trying to shut down any voice of opposition and making UKIP look like they don’t have supporters in this part of the world. Well, I’ve news for you, Labour: UKIP are rising and we are not going anywhere.
I hope that in the next few months of the campaign, the other candidates standing in Rotherham can manage to behave themselves better than Ms Champion and her rag tag rent-a-mob.
Jane Collins is the UKIP PPC for Rotherham