Ukip accused of politicising child sex abuse scandal by blaming Labour
Heywood and Middleton byelection candidate John Bickley claims party betrayed girls through ‘love affair with immigration’.
The UK Independence party is being accused of exploiting the scandal of sexual grooming gangs for political gain after the party’s byelection candidate blamed the abuse of white girls mainly by Asian men on Labour’s reluctance to upset “immigrant” communities.
John Bickley, who is standing in the Greater Manchester seat of Heywood and Middleton, has used a campaign leaflet to accuse Ed Miliband’s party of betraying working-class girls and highlight Labour’s “love affair with immigration, political correctness and multiculturalism”.
His comments have drawn up new, racially charged battle lines in white working-class seats where Ukip hopes to challenge Labour’s dominance.
A BBC Countryfile presenter who won an ageism claim against the broadcaster, Miriam O’Reilly, will head a list of Labour candidates at a constituency hustings on Monday night.
Heywood and Middleton are seen as particularly volatile to issues around race and immigration. Nearby Rochdale became the centre of media attention in 2012 after a sex-trafficking gang of men of mainly Pakistani origin were found to have preyed on at least 47 girls, all of whom white. Many of the victims and their families come from Heywood.
Lee Rigby, the fusilier murdered in May 2013 by two Muslim converts near Woolwich barracks in south-east London, came from Middleton, where members of his family still live.
The election is due to be held on 9 October and Ukip hopes to overturn the 6,000 majority of the late Labour MP Jim Dobbin, who died last week aged 73. The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, has pledged to fight hard in the seat where the BNP previously won more than 3,000 votes.
The Rochdale Labour MP, Simon Danczuk, whose constituency borders Heywood and Middleton, described Bickley’s claims as incendiary and incorrect.
“It’s now clear that Ukip will try and turn grooming and the death of Lee Rigby into a political football. They’re playing politics with horrendous crimes that shocked Heywood and Middleton at a time when the wounds of these events are still healing in our town,” he said.
“They have got nothing to offer for the victims of abuse, nothing to say about how we face up to years of failure across the country to properly protect children. It’s just shameful opportunism and pathetic posturing.”
Danczuk, who first named Cyril Smith as a child abuser in the Commons and has campaigned on sexual exploitation gangs, added: “I’m very clear in that child abuse is not a party-political issue. There have been massive failings everywhere from Oxford to Rochdale and Rotherham to Peterborough. But Ukip want to politicise it.”
The leaflet, distributed by the local party in a white working-class area, blames Labour for betraying white victims for fear of upsetting immigrant communities.
Bickley is quoted in the leaflet as saying that his father was a Labour trade unionist and worked hard to give his family a good start in life.
“The Labour party of today would be unrecognisable to him,” Bickley wrote. “They have betrayed ordinary working people through their love affair with immigration, political correctness and multi-culturalism.
“Labour’s betrayal is no more apparent than with the young white working-class girls of Rotherham and Rochdale where rather than upset immigrant communities, years of abuse were ignored and complaints swept under the carpet.
“Meanwhile, the Tories have stood idly by as immigration has driven wages down, created housing shortages and made the life of ordinary people tougher every day.”
Warren Mitchell, the chair of Ukip’s Rochdale branch, denied the party was trying to exploit racial divisions in the area or the victims of grooming. “That is not something we would do,” he said.
Ukip is rising in popularity in the runup to the party conference season, according to a poll released on Friday.
The party has jumped two percentage points in the past month to stand at 15%, its equal-highest level, while the bigger parties have failed to make significant headway, Ipsos Mori found.
Miliband and David Cameron had hoped that the anti-EU party would dwindle in the polls after its victory in the local and European elections in June.
Ukip hopes to gain its first parliamentary seat on the day of the Heywood and Middleton election. It is also seeking to win a byelection in Clacton where the sitting Tory MP, Douglas Carswell, resigned after joining Farage’s party.
There is understood to be unrest among Labour activists at the way local candidates have been overlooked in favour of O’Reilly. Richard Scorer, a solicitor who represents some of the Rochdale abuse victims, has been kept off the final list.
- The Guardian,