As Michael Gove prepares to investigate a council for removing foster children from Ukip-voting couple, confusion remains over whether the prime minister still thinks Ukip are mostly “closet racists”.
Rotherham council was widely criticised for its decision to remove foster children who are European migrants from a couple, after finding out they were members of the UK Independence party (Ukip).
The leader of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council said he would investigate after the Labour-run authority came under mounting condemnation from politicians including Education Secretary Michael Gove and Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Mr Gove said he would be launching his own investigation into what happened and called Ukip a “mainstream political party”.
But until this afternoon David Cameron had accused Ukip of being mostly “closet racists”. Downing Street on Saturday told Channel 4 News that Mr Cameron no longer thinks that – and then rang back to say they don’t retract the prime minister’s original comment.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage told Channel 4 News that mainstream political parties were partly to blame for Rotherham council’s decision, for creating the mood music that led social workers to believe that removing the foster children from a Ukip voting couple was acceptable.
“They’ve all tried to dampen down debate on this [immigration] by throwing out the word racist in an attempt to stop anybody having a proper conversation on this issue. And they now realise today that the game is up,” he told Channel 4 News [see video below].
The three youngsters – European migrants – were reportedly happy with the couple and there was no question mark over the care they were providing.
But the children were removed from the couple by social workers who said they were looking after the children’s “cultural and ethnic needs” after discovering the couple’s membership of Ukip, which wants withdrawal from the European Union.
Michael Gove, who heads the government department responsible for children’s services and who was himself adopted as a child, described Rotherham’s decision as “indefensible” and said he would be investigating why it was made.
He said social workers had made “the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons” and that he would be personally investigating and exploring steps to “deal with” the situation.
Mr Gove said: “Rotherham’s reasons for denying this family the chance to foster are indefensible,” he said. “The ideology behind their decision is actively harmful to children. We should not allow considerations of ethnic or cultural background to prevent children being placed with loving and stable families. We need more parents to foster, and many more to adopt.”
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, called for an urgent investigation into the case, adding: “Being a member of a political party like Ukip should not be a bar to fostering children.
“Right-thinking people across the country will think there are thousands of children who need to be looked after, who need fostering, we shouldn’t have the situation where membership of a party like UKIP excludes you from doing that.
Roger Stone, leader of Rotherham council, said the council would investigate the deicions and ensure processes were carried out professionally.
Earlier on Saturday, Joyce Thacker, strategic director of children and young people’s services at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, said the three ethnic minority children had been placed with the couple as an emergency and it was never going to be a long-term arrangement.
“Also the fact of the matter is I have to look at the children’s cultural and ethnic needs. The children have been in care proceedings before and the judge had previously criticised us for not looking after the children’s cultural and ethnic needs, and we have had to really take that into consideration with the placement that they were in,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, one of the foster parents said she asked the social workers what UKIP had to do with the decision. “Then one of them said, ‘Well, Ukip have got racist policies’. The implication was that we were racist. (The social worker) said Ukip does not like European people and wants them all out of the country to be returned to their own countries.
“I’m sat there and I’m thinking, ‘What the hell is going off here?’ because I wouldn’t have joined UKIP if they thought that.
“I’ve got mixed race in my family. I said, ‘I am absolutely offended that you could come in my house and accuse me of being a member of a racist party’.”
The wife said she told the social worker and agency official: “These kids have been loved. These kids have been treated no differently to our own children. We wouldn’t have taken these children on if we had been racist.”
UKIP leader, Nigel Farage accused the Labour-run council of bigotry. “Politically, I’m afraid not surprised at all. This is typical of the kind of bigotry we get from the Labour Party and from Labour controlled councils,” he said.
Mr Farage also appealed to voters in Rotherham, where there is a by-election next Thursday to replace Denis MacShane, who resigned over an expenses row, to make their views known at the ballot box.
All candidates for the Rotherham by-election next week:
Michael Beckett, Liberal Democrats
Clint Bristow, no description
Sarah Deborah Champion, Labour
Jane Maria Collins, UK Independence party (Ukip)
Simon Keith Copley, Independent
Paul Dickson, Independent
Ralph Dyson, Trade unionists and socialists against cuts
Marlene Guest, British National Party
Yvonne Ridley, Respect
David Basil Wildgoose, English Democrats
Simon Francis Wilson, Conservative