Election 2015 England

Election 2015: The battle for South Thanet

Image caption UKIP has devoted considerable resources to its campaign in Ramsgate

When the ballot papers are counted and the election results start to come in, the coastal constituency of South Thanet will be the focus of much interest.

An unpleasant scene greeted me on my first trip to the constituency's largest town, Ramsgate.

As a young man chatted to two friends on a pavement, he noticed a woman of east Asian origin walking towards him, pushing a pram.

He adopted a mock-Chinese accent and hurled racist abuse at her as she approached. The woman tried her best to ignore him but winced as she passed.

When challenged on his outburst, the man was unapologetic.

"I was just having a laugh with my mates, I'm not racist," he said.

"If I was being racist I would say, go back to your own country".

Image caption Some parts of Ramsgate are among the poorest in the country

Ramsgate, and some of the surrounding towns and villages, has become a focus for the national media.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage is standing for the seat and polls predict he faces a three-way fight, with competition from Conservative Craig Mackinlay and Labour's Will Scobie.

Comedian Al Murray added to the headlines by standing as his alter-ego, the pub landlord.

Ramsgate has been visited several times by political big-hitters, with Boris Johnson and George Osborne being the latest to stop by.

But with polling day looming, what do residents care about?

Image caption Parts of the town's seafront parade are in need of attention
Image caption Ramsgate is the largest town in the constituency of South Thanet

The economy and unemployment are mentioned frequently in conversations with residents, but it seems immigration is the issue on most people's lips.

Whether it is true or not, many locals said they felt like they were on the "frontline", with Kent bearing the brunt of migration across the Channel.

Ted Tearle, who is a retired lorry driver who often crossed to Europe, said: "The immigration problem is terrible here - I don't understand how it's going to end.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A number of high profile politicians have visited Ramsgate ahead of polling day

"I used to have people trying to get on my lorry all the time.

"Once I brought five of them here after coming back from Ostend to Ramsgate.

"When they opened up the lorry the immigrants came out and the only English word they knew was 'asylum'."

He added: "I've never voted - what is my single vote going to do?"

Image caption Stanley Jenkins called Nigel Farage a 'demagogue'

Wards like Cliftonville West rank among the most deprived in the country and according to Kent County Council, in January 2014 Thanet had the highest unemployment rate in the county, at 5.3%.

Stanley Jenkins, who said he has voted Green and Labour in the past and moved to Ramsgate from Southern Rhodesia in 1979, blamed wealth inequality for fuelling anti-immigration sentiment.

"It's exploiting the poor by the rich and powerful," he said.

"They do it to disorganise and confuse, like smoke bombs.

"Nigel Farage is a demagogue... I hope he's not elected, but some people say you deserve the government you get."

Image caption Michael Hodder said he used to vote Labour but will now vote UKIP

Michael Hodder, who has lived in the town since he was a boy, said he used to vote Labour but has now changed his allegiance.

He said: "I'm voting UKIP this time. I think that Nigel Farage will be a good guy to have in parliament.

"He told the former EU president [Herman van Rompuy] that he was a 'damp rag' - you've got to have some bottle to say that.

"He can put pressure on the government and be a real agitator."

Mr Farage has said he will stand down as UKIP leader if he is not elected.

When the votes are counted and the dust has settled, the constituency will have its new MP. It may also have decided the future of UKIP.

South Thanet candidates

  • Zebadiah Abu-Obadiah (Al-Zebabist Nation of Ooog)
  • Nigel Askew (We Are The Reality Party)
  • Ruth Bailey (Manston Airport Independent Party)
  • Grahame Birchall (Party for a United Thanet)
  • Ian Driver (Green)
  • Nigel Farage (UKIP)
  • Craig Mackinlay (Conservative)
  • Dean McCastree (Independent)
  • Al Murray (Free United Kingdom Party)
  • Will Scobie (Labour)
  • Russell Timpson (Liberal Democrat)

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