Donald Macintyre's Sketch: The only way is Ukip as fresh-faced Nigel Farage plays matinee idol


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Indy Politics

The choice of Canvey Island’s Movie Starr cinema for Nigel Farage’s first big speech of the year was no accident. For, if not exactly a Hollywood beefcake, this was the sleek new Farage, lean and meaningful after his “dry January”.

The cinema’s Ukip-supporting owner had even produced a suitably 1940s-style cine-poster, complete with pictures of the leader and local parliamentary candidate Jamie Huntman, which proclaimed: “Coming to A Democratic Sovereignty Near You: BELIEVE in BRITAIN, starring...”, etc.

You can tell Ukip thinks it’s on a roll by the amiable bouncer types ensuring the leader’s security. And by the time it kept the press waiting outside the doors. No downwardly mobile party like the Conservatives or Labour would do that.

A woman came out and announced: “I’m after David with the red fleece”. David eventually turned up and was admitted while the rest of us waited. Which also showed Ukip’s professionalism, because he turned out to be a local reporter, and this is the hot Essex Ukip target seat of Castle Point. By now we were almost ready to chant the catchphrase on the candidate’s election leaflet: “I’ve had enough, have you?” 

Once we were inside, though, Huntman, a timber merchant, explained this mantra. Denouncing mainstream politicians’ broken promises, he said: “Here in South Essex where our word is our bond, we take a dim view.” Farage’s own pitch, meanwhile, went beyond scrupulously honest South Essex.

Possibly nervous that former BNP supporters might be alienated by his announcement that Ukip had “crossed the class barrier” and was digging “quite deep into some of the ethnic communities”, he plugged the “unashamedly patriotic” new “Believe in Britain” theme. And on Lord Fink, his fairly relaxed view was that if it was legal it was OK.

Ukip would not make a pact with Labour to keep it in power because of its refusal to hold a referendum on EU membership (it’s just as well Labour hasn’t exactly been counting on that). And it would not have a coalition with anybody. On policy he explained, “We will do specifics at subsequent meetings.”

Perhaps inevitably, the sharpest question was asked by David (with the red fleece). What about the internecine strife between Ukip members in some parts of Essex, including Southend, where four councillors have been expelled for disowning the local parliamentary candidate?

Farage explained airily that this was the price of success which was bound to generate “ambition”. This was reassuring. But perhaps David shouldn’t bank on preferential treatment next time – it might just be worth him getting another fleece.