Donald Macintyre's Sketch: You can tell it’s going badly when a candidate calls his seat ‘a dump’
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt.
Tuesday 20 May 2014
It remains to be seen whether Winston McKenzie’s description of Croydon – “unsafe” and “a dump” were only part of it – will win him votes as a Ukip candidate in the council elections. In Croydon. But no doubt he needed such terms to explain the unscheduled non-appearance of Nigel Farage at what had been billed as a “carnival rally” in the precincts of the Whitgift shopping centre.
OK, not everything had gone to plan. The Endurance steel band – engaged to demonstrate that the party was not racist – packed up when the leader, Marlon Hibbert, discovered they were here for Ukip, which McKenzie, himself black, had omitted to mention when he hired them. There was a small group of East European women, brandishing signs declaring “We are Romanians, and we don’t feel comfortable with your racism”, and the pithier: “Ukip modern Nazi party”. And though both groups were outnumbered by journalists there were almost as many opponents as supporters noisily waiting for the supposed front-runner.
And waiting. Nigel Farage had been due at 2.30pm. But it was around 3.40pm when the voluble McKenzie announced that “Mr Farage, my leader, has weighed up the situation… and probably decided not to come down here today.” He explained that Croydon had “progressively deteriorated” and had under the Coalition “descended into depravity”. We looked around; one or two bystanders might have enjoyed a lunchtime drink. But this seemed over the top. However he added: “He wouldn’t have felt safe, and can you blame him?”
Given a police presence, this was surely doubtful. A more likely explanation was the embarrassment of Endurance Steel cancelling their gig. The dignified Hibbert, 22, said quietly that his parents “came over from Jamaica to work. If Ukip had their way I would not be here. The country would be not so diverse.”
Whatever the reason, Farage’s absence triggered an intensity of street-level political argument that would have shamed a party leaders’ TV debate. In one vigorous exchange with Colin Perera, a local Ukip-supporting businessman who said he was married to a Pole and used East European contractors, a Romanian woman said immigrants came here because this was “rich country” and added: “These people are desperate and everything they want is to come here and clean your toilets.”
And in a running argument with McKenzie, who to his credit ignored the advice of other Ukip supporters not to engage, Anthony St Croix, 26, working in black community radio on a career break from a local bank, was contemptuous of Ukip’s recruitment of “one or two” Afro-Caribbeans. “This is divide and conquer. But there are young people here who are smart and educated. They will not follow them like sheep.”
Farage was rumoured to be lurking nearby. One white middle-aged Ukip supporter repeatedly said his car was in the shopping centre car park. But it hardly mattered. Say what you like about the Ukip leader. There are few British politicians who could arrange such an interesting afternoon by not showing up.
- 2 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
'Fire at every person you see': Israeli soldiers reveal they were ordered to shoot to kill in Gaza – even if the targets may have been civilians
Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
Who should I vote for? The Independent quiz matches best political party for undecided voters ahead of the general election
First-time buyers in London 'need to earn at least £77,000'
General Election 2015: Photographic history of Bullingdon Club tracked down - including new picture of David Cameron in his finery
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...
£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...
£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...