POLITICS
18/05/2019 00:00 BST | Updated 18/05/2019 07:30 BST

'Incensed' And 'Pissed Off', Voters Flock To Nigel Farage's Brexit Party

Anger and a buzz of excitement on the campaign trail for the former Ukip leader's new political party.

Sweat is pouring down Nigel Farage’s temples. He is beginning to turn puce with rage as he prowls the stage denouncing Westminster’s Brexit “betrayal”.

“Am I going to stand aside?” he bellows. The 1,400-strong crowd shouts back – “No!”

The call and response continues.

“And be rolled over by these people?” “No!”

“And allow 25 years of work of my adult life to turn into dust because of the sheer dishonesty and duplicity of our political class?” “No!”

“Or am I going to stand up and fight?” The crowd goes wild.

This is the Brexit Party. They are at pains to insist it’s different this time – inclusive, not racist, not right or left. They also stress this is now a “positive” mass movement.

But on the stage, and in the crowd, they are angry.

And who can blame them when three years after voting to leave the EU they are being asked to vote in European elections, which Farage and his slick Trump-esque new outfit are on course to win, topping a YouGov/Times poll six days out with 35% of the vote.

The May 23 poll is only taking place because Theresa May has been forced to delay Brexit to October 31 as MPs refuse to back her controversial Brexit deal, or an alternative, and the prime minister refuses to countenance the kind of no-deal Brexit Farage is asking for, for fear of the economic consequences. 

Wolverhampton is the setting for the latest outpouring of rage. Another sellout crowd is riled up and ready to make their voices heard. Many have never been to a political rally.

Farage and his lieutenants, led by party chairman Richard Tice, offer them a series of heads on a platter in speeches punctuated by boos and hisses and building to shouts of “liars!” and “traitors!”.

They include: “vile civil servants”, “the media commentariat”, Barack Obama, David Cameron, George Osborne, Tony Blair, Sir John Major, Change UK MP Anna Soubry, the BBC and Andrew Marr, who Farage has been viciously attacking after the political presenter questioned his record.

Farage whips up the crowd into a fervour and gives them one simple goal – vote Brexit Party and get a no-deal, or “WTO”, withdrawal from the EU.

EMPICS Entertainment
Farage's rallies echo Donald Trump's, with audience participation, 'Nigel' chants, and slick video and sound production.

Former Tory voter Tom Brown is one of those who have paid £2.50 to be in today’s audience.

He has been retired for seven years after working in the printing industry which was “abused by Europe” and regulations that he felt undercut UK firms, and imbued in him a simmering resentment.

“I am absolutely incensed by the lie that people who voted for Brexit didn’t know what they were voting for,” he says.

“I am absolutely incensed that political people won’t tell the truth about Europe and what it’s done to this country, because it’s not that hundreds of thousands of jobs are going to go, they’ve already gone.”

Brian Heywood, a 64 year-old retired salesman is attending his first ever political rally, joking that his wife was “mortified” when he booked tickets the night before.

She is sitting next to him as he explains why: “Because I’m pissed off and I think everybody is pissed off.

“I’ll get involved and I’ll help in any way I can.

“The rest of them are just liars, we’ve been lied to, let down and betrayed.”

They are sitting among an almost entirely white crowd in an events centre between Wolverhampton and Walsall, two areas with large Asian populations.

It's a question of what you do with that angerNigel Farage

Heywood admits the Asian population in the area is “massive” but says the fact that few ethnic minority people are in attendance is “not really” an issue.

“Perhaps they’re not politically motivated, who knows? You don’t know do you.

“I’ve got Asian friends and they all voted Leave.”

Farage of course quit Ukip over its increasing closeness to far-right figure Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, and its embrace of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

On stage, several party figures insist the Brexit Party is not racist and reject any allegations to the contrary. West Midlands candidates like Vishal Khatri, an Indian heritage sports agent and Laura Kevezahi, a Romanian immigrant former dental surgeon, for example, would be unlikely to stand for Ukip but feel comfortable in Farage’s new political outfit. 

But Farage still seems to attract the wrong sort of people, with several party figures quitting after allegations of racism.

And there is no escaping the fact that many Ukip supporters have switched to follow Farage.

Heywood is one of them, and says: “I think the press have got it in for Tommy Robinson myself.

“Some of his views are out there, but on the whole I haven’t seen anything would turn me off.”

But new, younger supporters know Yaxley-Lennon is toxic even if they do not entirely disagree with him.

Alex Smith, a Leave-supporting 20-year-old who works in customer service is attending the rally with a genuine desire to learn more about Brexit.

He says: “I have watched videos of (Yaxley-Lennon) online and some of the things he says, you sit there and think ‘he’s not wrong’ – but his reputation, his past history, but in a professional world he’s not someone I would like to have around and representing myself.”

Adam, a 27-year old worker in the tourism sector, previously voted Tory but is “fed up” after campaigning to leave only to see Brexit scuppered.

He was turned off by Ukip’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, but rejects the suggestion Farage has encouraged xenophobia or racism with stunts like the infamous “breaking point” poster and voicing concerns about Romanians moving in next door.

“Sometimes the rhetoric was extreme,” Adam says. “But the Brexit Party is not like that because otherwise a lot of those candidates would not have joined up.”

Karen is one of the few Asians in the crowd. A “floating voter”, she has no problem with the the fact that allegations of racism always appear to plague figures in Farage’s parties.

“I could be walking down the street and somebody could call me a name,” she says.

With her is Anika Dillon, a 29 year-old Indian heritage education worker.

Unprompted, she volunteers: “You know in America a lot of the black people normally vote Democrat, but there’s been a shift now where a lot of them are moving towards Republican because Democrat policies don’t benefit ethnic minorities.

“Trump is giving ethnic minorities jobs and prison reform.”

The next day Farage travels to Dudley to meet voters in the market.

PA Wire/PA Images
Farage meeting voters in Dudley.

Speaking to HuffPost UK as he darts between stalls, he admits there is anger among his support.

“But it’s a question of what you do with that anger,” he says.

“When those people leave our meetings they don’t leave angry, they leave uplifted, they leave believing they are part of a new political movement that’s going to change politics for good.

“Alright, we may analyse why people are angry, and yes I do think we’ve been betrayed.

“But we send them away with a positive message in their hearts.”

After a rain-soaked stump speech atop his branded bus, Farage comes down to the high street to meet voters. Like Jeremy Corbyn, he is comfortable here.

“I like meeting people,” he tells one woman. “All the others don’t.”

Middle-aged men queue up to have placards signed and selfies taken.

Farage’s reputation precedes him. “Coming for a drink Nigel?” one man shouts.

But topping the polls and starting a new party, and one which is almost entirely dictated to by him, is serious business.

“I’m trying to be good,” he tells the Dudley drinker. “I’m not always with it.”

Later, as Farage gives interviews on his bus, an aide is angry about any suggestion that the leader was “whipping up” the crowd in Wolverhampton the night before.

But another is delighted, brandishing a pollster’s map showing almost the whole of England turning Brexit Party blue to anyone who will look.

One onlooker in Dudley is unimpressed.

Albert is a black Remain-voting education and social care worker, who came from Zimbabwe “donkey’s years” ago and is now a British citizen.

“I think he’s spreading division around, he doesn’t represent me,” he says.

“Ever since the Brexit vote, if you look at racial divisions, it’s really been spiralling up.

“You can see it’s cause of this kind of rhetoric, the tone that they are spreading out there, which is not the truth really.

“The world has moved on but they want to take us back to the 1950s.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get back to those times.”