How seriously should we take Nigel Farage? He’s an exceptional politician but when UKIP did so well at Eastleigh I suspected they may have peaked. I went along to test my theory at a UKIP rally in Worcester last week, expecting to find a few hardline Eurosceptics huddled together in a room and I wondered how the audience would compare with that of the old BNP rallies. What I found was quite different: it was mobbed, Farage spoke very well – speaking about housing, unemployment, school places – essentially, UKIP is trying to reposition as a patriotic party of the working class. I write about this in my Telegraph column today. Here are my main points.
- The Worcester rally’s popularity… My plan was to sneak in half an hour early for the 7pm rally, but by 6.30pm seats were taken and an overflow room was being hastily arranged, with seats gathered around a loudspeaker. By 6.50pm even these seats had been taken. The picture, right, is the overflow room, which Farage addressed separately speaking Evita-style from the balcony. He spoke about immigration a lot, but made a point of welcoming skilled immigrants of any creed or colour: to do so is the British way, he said. Welcoming unskilled immigrants at a time of mass youth unemployment is madness. There was much agreement on this point.
- …and the mix of its audience. What struck me most was the mix of people. Young couples, a single guy who’d come along because he thought it’d be better than “a night of EastEnders”. Not a political obsessive, but a fairly ordinary voter who, for whatever reason, had his interest pricked and wanted to attend a rally. That doesn’t happen much in Britain. Farage is on to something and it goes beyond Europe.
- Farage’s language is crude, but he’d argue that Thatcher’s was too.