The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) holds its Spring conference Friday amid a glow of optimism, with the anti-immigration, Eurosceptic party riding high in the polls ahead of this year’s general election.
Peter Whittle, a former arts journalist who now runs a small business, is one of the party’s candidates hoping to get elected when voters head to the ballot boxes in May.
“I grew up in this constituency, I don’t live very far, I just live in Woolwich, which is next door,” he tells FRANCE 24 as he campaigns in Eltham, southeast London.
“It’s interesting, at the moment this is held by the Labour party, but it’s a marginal, they only hold it by a small amount.”
A firm Eurosceptic, Whittle, like many of the party’s supporters, joined UKIP after becoming disillusioned with mainstream politics.
“Our main plank in UKIP is actually to have a referendum on leaving Europe. I think it is only because we have done so astonishingly well, that this is even being talked about.”
Since last summer, two members of parliament have left the ruling Conservatives to join UKIP, while Whittle himself once stood as a Tory candidate in local elections.
With every ballot cast in UKIP’s favour likely to damage the Conservative’s chances of re-election come May, the party’s rise has already pressured Prime Minister David Cameron into promising a referendum on British membership of the European Union in 2017.
For Peter’s friends and family – a key part of his campaign team – taking Britain out of Europe is their main priority.
“I feel very passionately about keeping our identity, about keeping our country, from becoming more controlled by something we didn’t even elect,” says campaigner Jo-Anne Mullins.
But Whittle has his work cut out if he is to make a significant impact on the outcome of the vote in Eltham – a Labour stronghold where UKIP took just 2 percent at the ballot box in the last general election.
And despite UKIP’s recent rise in the polls, frequent accusations of xenophobia and racism continue to dog the controversial party.
“They are a racist party, they want to shut down the NHS,” says Richard Newton, a medical photographer, on the streets of Eltham shortly after he rejects Whittle’s offer of a party leaflet.
“Are you joking, UKIP, where's your black members? Any black members?” he asks the UKIP candidate.
After a weekend of campaigning, Peter’s team gather their thoughts at a local pub. They can take comfort from the opinion polls – they rank UKIP as the third-most popular party in Britain.
This would give the party a handful of seats in the House of Commons and an important say in what is set to be an extremely close general election.
Date created : 2015-02-27