UK Politics

Farage forced to abandon Rotherham event amid protests

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Media captionNigel Farage pulls out of an appearance in Rotherham after noisy protests outside an office he was due to open

Nigel Farage has abandoned a public appearance in Rotherham because of protests outside his party's office.

The UKIP leader was due to cut a ribbon at the office of election candidate Jane Collins but his team said he was not coming out on police advice.

About 40 protesters gathered outside the office, shouting that the Ukip leader was not welcome in the town.

Mr Farage accused trade unions of funding "undemocratic and anti-British" protests "to stop UKIP speaking".

But local Labour MP Sarah Champion likened the UKIP leader to a "voyeuristic tourist", who she claimed was trying to win votes in Rotherham by "rubbernecking" at victims of child sexual exploitation.

She tweeted that it was "hilarious" that he had been trapped in the party's office by protesters.

She repeated the claim in a BBC interview but later deleted the original message after coming in for criticism, both from UKIP supporters and other Twitter users.

Mr Farage's visit, which had been planned for some time, was supposed to draw attention to UKIP's challenge to Labour in May's general election.

But it comes two days after a withering report into the way Labour-run Rotherham Council failed to deal with child sexual exploitation in the town.

Ahead of his visit to Rotherham, Mr Farage said "something had gone badly wrong" in the town, saying the scandal had its roots in a policy of multiculturalism that had "divided not united" the country.

'Badly wrong'

The UKIP leader was holed up in Jane Collins' office at the party's Rotherham HQ for some time giving interviews before leaving the building under a police escort.

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Media captionSarah Champion tells the BBC the sight of Nigel Farage being trapped in an office was "funny" but she later deleted a tweet making the same point

Mr Farage told BBC Look North's political editor Len Tingle that "a bit more co-operation from the police might be nice".

UKIP said in a statement that the protesters were not "the real people of Rotherham" and accused Labour of "running scared and trying to shut down any voice of opposition".

But Ms Champion, the MP for Rotherham who was elected in a by-election in 2012, said she was "disgusted" by Mr Farage's attempt to "score political points" and the focus should be on victims.

She told the BBC's Daily Politics: "It is like some sort of voyeuristic tourism that is going on... The fact he came here with his circus and has ended up barricaded in his shop with people in Rotherham saying 'we don't want you coming and trying to get elected on the back of the abuse that has been going on in our town'... I do find that funny.

"Because the people of Rotherham do know what is right and wrong."

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Image caption About 40 protesters gathered outside the UKIP office in Rotherham
Image copyright PA
Image caption The office is the headquarters of UKIP candidate Jane Collins' campaign
Image copyright PA
Image caption Nigel Farage said it was Rotherham Council not UKIP that must face questions
Image copyright PA
Image caption He also suggested Ms Champion's tweet was "disgraceful"

Labour-led Rotherham council has been accused of wholesale failings in child protection after an inquiry last year found that 1,400 children were abused by gangs of men, mainly of Pakistani origin, from 1997 to 2013, in the town.

The Labour leader of Rotherham Council and several members of his cabinet resigned en masse on Wednesday after a government-commissioned probe found the council was not "fit for purpose" and external administrators should be sent in to take it over.

'Blind eye'

Mr Farage suggested the situation in the town was a product of deeper social problems, where different groups had been afforded different treatment under the law.

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Image caption UKIP candidate Jane Collins chats with Nigel Farage in her campaign office

"For 40 years or so as a country we have pushed a policy of multiculturalism in that we actually encouraged communities to be divided," he told BBC Radio Sheffield.

"And then we have seen a collective blind eye being turned to horrible abuse for fear of being thought to be racist.

"We have to stand up, much more firmly, for the concept that I want to promote - which is intra-culturalism. We respect there are different languages and different cultures but we have to live together under one rule of law."

Change was needed to ensure "everyone was treated equally under the law and the police and social services and everybody else were told not to bend the rules and shape the law for different communities".

Mr Farage claimed such cultural problems were not just confined to Rotherham.

'Big target'

Prime Minister David Cameron has said there was evidence of "mismanagement, political correctness, bullying, sexism" at the council and that all councillors should have to stand for re-election in 2016.

Image caption Protesters chanted "say no to Farage's racism"

But Mr Farage said an all-seats election should be brought forward to 7 May, when a third of councillors are due to be elected anyway.

"Re-elect the lot on 7 May and give people the opportunity to say something. I don't see why the people of Rotherham should not have the opportunity to have their say."

UKIP is already the official opposition on Rotherham Council, having won nine seats at last year's council elections.

Mr Farage said Rotherham was now a "very big target" for his party in May's general election and rejected suggestions he was using the scandal for his own's political benefit.

Mr Farage said he had run the gauntlet of similar protests across the UK, suggesting demonstrators "needed someone to hate" now that the BNP has faded as a political force.

He suggested the Socialist Workers Party had teamed up with "Green types" and a number of former Labour councillors to disrupt Friday's event, saying "bracketing UKIP with BNP and the EDL and other extremist groups is frankly ridiculous".

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