Naked Politics Blogger
Although my neutral accent does a good job of masking it, I was born in Stoke-on-Trent. I grew up in a house in Etruria, I went to school in Penkhull and when I turned 16, I got my first proper job in Festival Park. If you don’t know anything about Stoke, these places are mere names ,removed from your own experiences. But to me, they each represent strong memories from my childhood.
When I was in primary school, one of my earliest memories was learning how to count in Urdu. Before the closet racists reading this start crying out about British values and the islamification of children in our schools, I should add that it wasn’t one of my teachers who taught me this. In fact, one afternoon, I remember sitting on a table in a classroom during break whilst one of my friends, whose family were from Pakistan, taught me the first 10 numbers. It was a moment in my life where culture, religion and identity existed in a kind of borderless state, where differences were merely starting point of unity.
Back then, I knew nothing of politics (perhaps mercifully) and I certainly could never have foreseen that years after this experience, a party that represents intolerance and division would attempt to make my hometown its new epicentre through the by-election triggered by the resignation of the Labour MP, Tristram Hunt.
Claiming that UKIP won’t win Stoke Central is a much bolder claim than it should be. After all, the party managed to come second in the last general election with a 22.7 vote share although Labour’s Hunt held the seat with a clear margin. This said, Stoke-on-Trent is inherently different to many of UKIP’s former battlegrounds.
One important fact about Stoke is its higher than average minority population — which stands at 14.8% vs 12.8% national average (ONS 2011). The highest minority group in Stoke-on-Trent is made up of those from Asian and British Asian backgrounds, the vast majority of whom would fight tooth and nail against the possibility of UKIP succeeding in the upcoming by-election. Indeed, UKIP’s leader and candidate for Stoke-on-Trent central, Paul Nutall, has himself supported calls to ban the burqa in public places. This element of diversity may not be a decisive nail in the flailing party’s coffin, but it will provide a hurdle for Nutall to overcome if he hopes to better UKIP’s 2015 result.
Secondly, the prospect of UKIP success in Stoke-on-Trent would do a considerable amount of damage to investment prospects in the city — according to a tweet by prominent Labour MP, Barry Sheerman quoted below — and in a city with higher than average unemployment, this would be an act of economic irrationality to level Brexit.
This aside though, its evident that euroscepticism is rife within Stoke. In the EU Referendum, the city voted by 69.4% in favour of Brexit, making it one of the highest leave strongholds nationally. This figure goes someway to explaining the UKIP-ian wet dreams about riding a wave of post Brexit energy to electoral success in Stoke, but referendums are fundamentally different to votes to elect an MP.
One important quality of an MP is surely the prevailing representation of constituents at every possible opportunity — but Paul Nutall has woefully failed to achieve this as a member of the European Parliament. In fact, Nuttall ranked 736th out of 756 MEP when it came to attendance in 2013. If this is UKIP’s idea of representation, it follows that the people of Stoke-on-Trent will demand more of an MP and cast their votes more carefully than they might in an issue based referendum.
Lastly, and most importantly perhaps, Stoke is a city unlike any other in the UK. Made up of 6 individual towns which historically came together during the industrial revolution, Stoke-on-Trent is one of a small handful of polycentric cities in the world — cities with no single centre, but several. The city came together through a shared concept of unity, with each town decided to join something bigger than themselves alone.
When I visit Stoke, I feel many things for the city, but most often, I feel a sense of connection and openness amongst the people there. UKIP are a party that deal in ignorance and fear, viciously exploiting our differences and flying a false flag of patriotism. In Stoke-on-Trent, the party will undoubtedly have some success, but electing Paul Nuttall would open the door to a party who do not understand our unique sense of unity and betray our core values as a city.
Sometimes, I wish I could return to that childhood memory of cultural exchange and unity in my school classroom. What I didn’t realise then was that people across the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent have been breaking down cultural barriers and uniting for their entire histories, and that my single experience, whilst relevant to me, wasn’t really that special in a city built on unity.
Whether you vote, tweet, or even campaign, please get out and make sure you too are part of something bigger and better than the politics of hate and division.