What Makes A 19-Year-Old Student Nurse Join UKIP?

To say Laura Howard isn't a stereotypical UKIP supporter is an understatement - the 19-year-old student nurse from Birmingham comes from a family of Labour supporters. So why does she think Nigel Farage should be our next Prime Minister?


by Rosamund Urwin |
Published on

When I ask Laura Howard what first attracted her to UKIP, I expect her to say its stance on immigration or the European Union. Instead, it’s fishing.

‘I’m a vegetarian and massively into animal rights,’ she tells me. ‘So it was the common fisheries policy [rules for managing fishing fleets]. The EU used to allow dead fish that had been caught to be chucked back into the sea. I just thought that was awful.’

To say Laura isn’t your stereotypical UKIP supporter is an understatement. She’s 19 and a student nurse who lives in Birmingham. And although her father used to vote Conservative, her mother and grandparents were always Labour supporters (the whole family now votes UKIP). Laura joined UKIP aged 17, and is the national secretary of Young Independence, the party’s youth wing. In May, she stood to be a councillor in Quinton in Birmingham and was out leafleting five nights a week.


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‘I’ve always been interested in current affairs, but it was only during the last general election that I really got into politics, and I found out about UKIP the same year,’ she says. ‘I just really agreed with a lot of their policies.’ That does include being against the EU: ‘I am anti-the EU because I’m pro-democracy. We are effectively giving away our democracy.’ She wouldn’t vote Tory because ‘David Cameron is very pro-EU’ and because she opposes the bedroom tax. She also considers Labour too pro-Europe, but was also against the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war under Tony Blair.

I don’t think UKIP are “left” or “right” – I think they’re just something different

Interestingly, Laura doesn’t consider UKIP a right-wing party: ‘You get people from each side of the political spectrum joining – ex-Tories, ex-Labour, people who haven’t voted before. I don’t think UKIP are “left” or “right” – I think they’re just something different.’ She thinks so many young people are apathetic about politics because it appears dull: ‘Look at Miliband, Cameron and Clegg – they are very similar and not very engaging speakers. I also think young people are very naive and don't understand why it is so important to vote.’

UKIP voters have traditionally been older than average, but the party’s support is growing among the young. Earlier this month, the party held its second annual conference of Young Independence in Birmingham. ‘When I first got involved, my branch meetings were mostly full of older men. Now there are lots of women and young people. In Birmingham, about 150 young people turned up. Many of them were female, and from ethnic backgrounds. We’re not a bunch of old white men anymore.’ She adds that its tough stance on immigration is actually a selling point. ‘Immigration affects jobs and house prices – those are things that really affect young people today.’

To engage young people more, she believes all political parties need more policies that engage the young – such as on housing and the cost of living, while activists need to explain to young people why it’s important to vote.

When she first joined UKIP, Laura says her friends didn’t really react because they weren’t interested in politics, but her best friend now supports the party. She lives in a house with eight other young women and says they are ‘neutral’ about it. Does she ever try to convert friends? She laughs. ‘I don’t sit there and preach to them, but obviously at election time, I say: “this is why you should vote UKIP”.’

Her boyfriend also isn’t a UKIP voter – but the pair have never fallen out over politics. Laura is only annoyed that he didn’t vote in the European elections: ‘I’m doing all these things to try to get young people to vote, and he didn’t.’

In Birmingham, about 150 young people turned up. Many of them were female, and from ethnic backgrounds. We’re not a bunch of old white men anymore.

When she’s out door-knocking, Laura says the reaction is mostly positive. Although she admits some people object to UKIP – with one man even chasing her down the street to hand her back a leaflet – Laura says some others can be won round: ‘They’re not as negative when they’ve actually spoken to you and realise you’re a real person, and not one of these stories that hits the headlines.’

Ah, the media. Laura passionately believes the coverage of UKIP is unfair. ‘The other parties are well-established and they’ve got people at the top who’ve got money, so the [media] is negative towards us because we’re anti-establishment and they want to keep the status quo… I don’t want to sound suspicious but we rarely get positive coverage.’ UKIP, critics might note, gives the media plenty to work with. Earlier this month, The Mail on Sunday reported that UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge had told candidates that Hitler was a ‘magnetic and forceful public speaker’ who ‘achieved a great deal’, ‘That’s from a very Tory paper,’ Laura responds. ‘They’re scared of us so they’re just twisting things – as per usual… It was from a training day on public speaking. Bill mentioned lots of figures – Tony Blair, Gandhi – and all he was saying was that this is an example of public speaking. He didn’t say: go out and speak like Hitler.’

The criticism that dogs UKIP, though, is that it is racist. Laura disagrees: ‘Our immigration policy is the least racist immigration policy of any of the parties. Currently, if you’re in Europe, you can come here regardless of your skill set, whereas if you’re an engineer from Kenya, it’s much more difficult.’ I mention Sanya-Jeet Thandi, who had been considered a rising star of the party, but who resigned, accusing UKIP of descending ‘into a form of racist populism’. Laura has no time for such views. ‘I think Sanya was in politics for herself and we were wrong to promote her as much as we did. [Party supporters] weren’t bothered about her quitting, apart from feeling that she was a bit of a traitor.’

READ MORE: UKIP's Poster Girl Says She's Leaving The Party Because Of Racism

UKIP’s record on women is almost as questionable. In January, Nigel Farage said that mothers are 'worth less' to City employers than men. I ask if Laura would call herself a feminist. ‘No.’ Why not? ‘No one should be discriminated against because of their sex, but the way I see modern feminism is it’s gone almost beyond equality: they want women to have more rights than men. They want quotas for women in businesses and I don’t agree with that.’

The way I see modern feminism is it’s gone almost beyond equality: they want women to have more rights than men.

But company boards are still very male. Shouldn’t we try to address that? ‘I think the main reason behind that is that women want to have children and a family life.’

Similarly, she thinks it isn’t discrimination that prevents more women getting into politics. ‘The problem I think we’ve got is that fewer women are interested in politics: look at the percentage of female MPs, or female members of other political parties.’ But perhaps that’s because sexism is stopping them getting to the top? ‘If you look at someone like Theresa May, she’s a really well-established politician. I just think women aren’t as interested as sad as that is.’

Laura certainly isn’t evidence for her own argument. She intends to stand again as a councillor in the future – and doesn’t rule out running for Parliament. ‘It’s not that I’m in it for myself, it’s that I care about people – I’m a student nurse. People are really getting a bad end of the stick at the moment, especially young people.’

Follow Rosamund on Twitter @RosamundUrwin

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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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