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Unease About Immigration at Core of UK Election Campaign

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Boston is a typical English town — ancient church, traditional shops, Polish supermarkets, Baltic bakeries. Amid the bargain-hunting crowds on market day, eastern European languages are almost as common as the local Lincolnshire accent.

Immigration has transformed Boston in the last decade. At least one in eight residents comes from eastern Europe, and the population is growing at double the national rate.

The change Boston is seeing is not unique — and unhappiness about Britain's transformation is reshaping the political landscape as voters prepare to choose a new government, fueling support for outsider politicians focused on immigration. With no party firmly in the lead, the race for the May 7 election looks set to produce a fragmented Parliament for a fractured nation.

"I think there are a few too many of the foreign brigade here at the moment," said butcher Nigel Lote. His customers come almost exclusively from the long-settled English population of Boston, a town of about 65,000 that gave its name and its Pilgrim heritage to the Massachusetts city.

"It's getting to the stage where there's them and us," he said. "We don't mingle."

A short walk away is West Street, a once-declining commercial strip now lined with grocery stores, delis and information centers for the eastern European community. Shelves are packed with pickled vegetables and canned fish. Notices advertise rooms to rent, used cars and agricultural jobs in the fields around Boston.

Karolina Mediancevaite, serving customers in a Lithuanian bakery, paused when asked if the locals are friendly.

"Some," she said. "It would be better if they talked to you and not look at you like 'You are not from this country.'"

Robin Hunter-Clarke, local candidate for the U.K. Independence Party, said Boston has "huge social problems."

"There are some streets that local people won't walk down because they feel uncomfortable," he said. "And I think that's sad. And that's because of the sheer number of people that have entered one small market town."

 UKIP, which has risen rapidly from ragtag band of right-wing dissidents to serious political force, is the main beneficiary of Britain's unease about immigration.

The party wants Britain to leave the European Union — closing the door to EU citizens, who currently can work freely in the U.K. — and create a more restrictive immigration system geared to Britain's labor needs.

 UKIP denies being racist or anti-foreigner, but its symbolism is rarely subtle. On Tuesday, party leader Nigel Farage unveiled a campaign poster promising to cut immigration, under an image of the White Cliffs of Dover scaled by escalators.

UKIP says it's giving voice to long-stifled concerns; opponents claim the party is fueling social divisions. Either way, it's working. Nationally, UKIP is running third in the polls and hopes to win a clutch of seats along the eastern fringe of England, in towns like Boston where many voters feel neglected by what they see as London-centric politicians and metropolitan elites.

Bookmakers have shortened the odds to 50-50 that Hunter-Clarke, a 22-year-old county councilor, might overturn the constituency's large Conservative majority.

"People are angry. People are looking for somebody to vote for, and they are choosing UKIP," Hunter-Clarke said.

Source: ABC News

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