UKIP's efforts to win in the North East were undermined last night as it emerged they wanted to run a man based in China as a Newcastle candidate.
The party selected Tom Magen to fight a Newcastle seat after he had emailed them to say that while his work takes him to China, he still has an Elswick address and would be happy to stand “as a paper candidate”.
The claims emerged after a would-be party agent withdrew from the UK Independence Party amid fears local issues were not being prioritised.
Mr Magen said he was in discussions with UKIP before he knew the extent of his work commitments, and subsequently withdrew his offer.
Emails seen by The Journal show that in September last year Mr Magen was asked if he would stand, with local party organisers aware of his China links at this time.
Mr Magen told organisers: “I am not sure if you are aware, but I am actually based in China. My UK home address is indeed in Elswick, but I am away for most of the year for work. “I am happy to stand as a paper candidate but I doubt I will even have time to collect the 10 signatures needed to stand. The run-up to May is always an extremely busy time for me. I am not daunted by the prospect of standing at all.”
In reply local party chiefs told him: “Your offer to stand as a paper candidate is very welcome. We would be happy to collect the signatures for you. I quite understand that you will be too busy to campaign.”
In November last year an email was sent to party members naming Mr Magen among those selected to fight a ward.
News of the party selection emerged after independent grouping Newcastle First announced it was ending a merger with UKIP.
Ernie Shorton, Newcastle First leader, said: “The Newcastle upon Tyne Community First Party agreed to join forces with UKIP because we took a similar position on a number of significant issues, such as tackling uncontrolled immigration, the EU and opposition to high speed rail which will be disastrous for Newcastle’s economy.
“We have discovered that UKIP in Newcastle and Gateshead are a shambles, fielding candidates with little or no experience of campaigning with the regional infrastructure acting as a huge barrier. They selected some candidates they have never met – and one of them was based in China.”
Mr Magen said he had not got to the point of having his name formally listed with the council as a candidate, saying: “As I am based abroad for most of the year, I felt it would be wrong to stand as a candidate and informed the team. I confirm, I have never stood as a UKIP candidate nor have I had any contact with anyone from Newcastle First.”
The would-be candidate has previously stood for the Conservatives, in 2006 in Newcastle. In September last year Mr Magen, director of North East International Education Development, said that having been helped by UKTI to establish the business’ overseas links, it had brought its first cohort of Chinese students to the region for study.
Labour have seized on the spat as “proof” of UKIP’s indifference to local issues.
David Stockdale, vice chair of the local Labour group, said: “This debacle is proof if it were needed that UKIP don’t represent Newcastle’s best interests.”
A spokesman for UKIP said: “We regret that matters with Mr Shorton did not work out as we might have hoped. We wish him all the best for the future.
“The potential UKIP candidate to whom he refers had some links to China at the time he was selected. As soon as it became clear that his work would require him to take up residence in China, he immediately resigned as a candidate. This was the correct decision. There is no story here.”