Image - Listening to the debate at a Thanet Fabians meeting.

The Fabian view from Thanet

The Fabian Society is Britain’s oldest political think tank. Founded in 1884, the Society has and continues to be at the forefront of developing political ideas and public policy on the left. In 2015 Thanet Fabians was launched to provide a forum for local debate. In March this year I was invited to write a piece for the national Fabians publication about the exciting political scene in our corner of the UK. That article is reproduced below.

Details of Thanet Fabians can be found on our website at

The Fight For Thanet South

It’s been an exciting year in South Thanet for the Fabians, Labour and the left. In the spring of 2015, South Thanet was rocked when Nigel Farage’s charabanc rolled into town. Most residents would not have anticipated the scale and ambition of UKIP’s leader, let alone have foreseen the ways in which the people of the Kent constituency would unite in solidarity against him.

Months earlier in the Newark by-election, where UKIP spent an estimated £1.2m on their campaign, Farage expertly used the media, building up hype and expectations about whether he would choose to stand there. Unfortunately for him, he chose South Thanet.

The Georgian towns of Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate were rudely awakened, as a global avalanche of media, press, politico’s, bloggers, filmmakers, comedians, and other political ‘wannabes’ fought for centre stage. Hotels and Airbnbers were delighted with the influx.  British and European TV news crews could be seen on every street corner. The restaurant trade boomed. UKIP certainly knew how to splash the cash with more than twice the Newark budget estimated to have been spent in South Thanet.

Farage was set on becoming MP for South Thanet. It was a strategic choice. He desperately needed a parliamentary seat in order to continue to have a powerful voice and to authentically lead UKIP. Why choose South Thanet? It’s a community marred by costal poverty and despair containing the poorest and most deprived wards in the south east, indeed in England.  Sowing the seeds of hatred, despair and racism in such a desperate community might, they imagined, have been an easy undertaking. With wage rates well below the regional and national average, diminishing access to decent social housing and a stagnant labour market, Farage must have thought his simple vitriol would work. But it didn’t.

UKIP founder turned Tory, Craig MacKinlay, won. It’s fair to acknowledge that those tactical voters absolutely desperate not to allow Farage a foothold significantly bolstered MacKinlay’s votes.

It’s also fair to say that the energy created clearly demonstrated a need & opportunity for debate & discussion. This was a Spring board to set up Thanet Fabian’s. It felt like a natural progression. We had held a series of public events – setting up & constituting a branch was a a great way to bring people together. It’s proved popular.  

It was a relief to see Farage lose but UKIP had invested heavily in hastily building a new community of local politicians. And so while Farage stormed off stage defeated at the election count on May 21stLabour lost the district council to UKIP. It was poor result for Labour; only four councilors from 56 remained, replaced by an almost entirely novice array of UKIP councilors. Elected as they were on a highly divisive and much ridiculed Save Manston Airport platform, UKIP had sold themselves to the voting public on a highly simplistic solution to complex economic problem. Their plan was to issue a compulsory purchase order (CPO) to save a financially unviable, privately owned and closedairport.

Working for Labour I had fought and lost our previously strong ward of Newington. After the election came frustration as the issues associated with the CPO became widely apparent and cracks in the UKIP camp started to show

Then UKIP’s councillor in Newington, Vince Munday,resigned. Perhaps the offence that Janice Atkinson MEP had caused by describing Mundays wife, Fa, as a “ting tong from somewhere” played its part in hisdecision to emigrate to Thailand. A by-election was called for January 2016.

Newington was important. Labour needed to demonstrate its core values of care and equality and needed to reconnect with an impoverished, isolated and cynical community. Labour did this through a doorstep campaign, demonstrating Labour valuesand emphasising Labour as a realistic, hopeful option. UKIP proved themselves to be fatally disorganised and highly factionalised. Within weeks of election UKIP councillors were breaking away to form an independent group, the ‘Diggers’. Others joined the Tories. Ineffectual at ‘case work’, nothing was getting done at a local level.

Despite campaigning during bitter cold, Labourpulled together a strong strategy and ran a tight ship. Many said it was the most enjoyable and friendly campaign they’d been involved with. Support came from everywhere – the hardworking stalwarts, new members, Fabian’s, Momentum members, trade unions, and neighbouring constituents. Labour members of all stripes came together, fuelled on bread-based snacks and team spirit in freezing conditions, to secure votes on the doorstep. 

UKIP in Thanet are in terminal decline. Their politics of hate and despair are in tatters, as people realise that simply blaming others is futile. In Thanet this means no UKIP MP, no UKIP controlled council. As our fight back continues, we are acutely aware that the real enemy is the Conservative Party. They are demonstrating all too powerfully their dehumanising scorched earth policies. Labour’s efforts must now be concentrated on exposing the Tories for their punishing, ideological callousness. With UKIP out the picture for now, South Thanet MP Craig MacKinlay is the focus.

Today South Thanet is again in the spotlight. This time over election expensesIt remains to be seen how Labour will fare should investigations result in election re-runs, but for now we are hopeful and energised by defeating UKIP and by setting up Thanet Fabian’s. 

Cllr Karen Constantine

Chair of Thanet Fabians.

Regional Head of RCM.

Image - Karen Constantine addresses Thanet Fabians in Ramsgate
Karen Constantine addresses Thanet Fabians in Ramsgate