“We’re not fruit cakes and loonies” Sergi Singh, the UKIP candidate for Hull North reassuringly tells me as he makes me a coffee in a backroom of his corner shop.
Singh’s unprompted comment- referring to David Cameron’s dismissal of members of the anti-European Union party in an interview in 2006 – points to a wider frustration he feels towards a political class which he believes neglects him and many of his corner shop’s customers.
With coffee in hand- but no fruitcake- we walk into another office at the back at the shop. The room, filled with newspaper cut outs from local papers, election leaflets and maps of the different council wards in the constituency, acts as a UKIP “satellite office” to complement the campaigning activities of the party in Hull. Joining me and Singh was Councillor Richard Barrett, the sole UKIP Councillor in the city’s council who won in May 2014.
Unsurprisingly, conversation quickly gravitated to the European Union, with both men fiercely criticising the freedom of movement of people within the EU. Singh cited the fact that if his relatives from India were to migrate to the UK they would need “substantial money in the bank, a work permit, and medical insurance cover”. He was keen that the same model be applied to people from all countries who wished to move to the UK.
“British Asians are fighting for places in the workforce” Singh remarked, his observation was that a new generation of “British Asian children have moved on from the retail sector”- the sector he works in- and that many are faced with unemployment due to competition from workers from other countries in the EU.
“We need to look after our own.” both men asserted, listing issues they felt had been caused by European Union migrants moving to Hull. “Communities changed overnight” Barrett perceived, adding “there’s an issue of wage compression”.
A former Labour supporter – “I voted for them because my dad did” – and a British Asian, Singh does not fit with a sometimes lazily applied assessment that UKIP is a party simply comprised of disaffected Conservative voters, and enjoys support exclusively from white voters in the south. Instead, he is representative of a section of the Eurosceptic party whose support stems from dissatisfaction with a political elite – including Labour – who seem to voters as distant and unaccountable.
“We’ve been left behind.” commented Singh, a phrase which I’ve heard on the doorsteps across the UK on 50for15 travels. The perception of neglect is particularly pertinent to Hull, exemplified when Barrett referred to the city as “the largest cul-de-sac in the UK”.
“If you look at the other side of the country,” Singh said, referring to Manchester, “it has great infrastructure development. Hull, York, Scarborough, Scunthorpe- we could be a power house too but we haven’t had the same investment.”
“We’ve had three Labour MPs in Hull for the last 66 years… what have they done for the city?” asked Singh. Referring to his own business, he said that the city needs “more enterprise… Labour is not geared up to that attitude. UKIP wants to have less red-tape and help people get money from the bank more easily”.
It was difficult to keep up with the speed at which he criticised the party he used to vote for: “The NHS: Labour love it when they’re in opposition and it’s in a crisis, but when they were in charge they increased the middle management and renegotiated contracts with GPs. UKIP’s policy on the NHS is simple: free at the first point of delivery for British citizens and to end health tourism.”
There were significant, if not sizeable achievements made by UKIP in the recent city council elections. It was a Labour councillor- what’s more a former Lord Mayor who had served as a councillor for 26 years- who Barrett defeated to win his seat. Newly elected, Barrett’s efforts have concentrated on promoting training opportunities for people in the city as a way of increasing employment.
I asked why Barrett was the only UKIP Councillor elected to Hull City Council, when North East Lincolnshire District Council- on the opposite side of the Humber, including Great Grimsby and Cleethorpes– had eight elected UKIP councillors.
“We didn’t have a full team out” replied Singh, pointing to the fact that UKIP only ran in a handful of wards in the election. He suggests that the European election results- where the party polled top in the city– are a better indicator of UKIP’s support in Hull.
I posited that UKIP tends to do better in ‘second-order elections’ – such as European Parliament elections and council elections – where people feel like they have a free protest vote, and then return to previous voting patterns in the general election. Unsurprisingly, Singh disagreed, confidently asserting that UKIP and Labour are “neck and neck” for the election in May.
But what if Singh actually does get elected in May?
“If we get into Parliament, we’ll go into every room and ask what each person is doing and make sure we are getting our money’s worth.”
And with that, Singh showed me pictures of the UKIP truck he is driving around the constituency in on the campaign trail. It seems then that the difficult manoeuvres Singh will have to make at the end of the ‘cul-de-sac’ are not only political.