Ukip surfs the rising tide of protest in South

Nigel Farage's party lost two of its MEPs to scandal, but it doesn't seem to matter in the stockbroker belt, Andy McSmith reports

Nigel Farage looks every bit as eccentric as you would expect the leader of the UK Independence Party to be.

Dressed in a dark pinstripe suit on a balmy day on Caterham High Street, in the heart of the Surrey stockbroker belt, Mr Farage bounces down the street touting for votes.

But this energetic, extroverted man has gone a long way towards clearing out the racism and nastiness that lurked on the fingers of UKIP, when The Independent appropriately described its members as "the BNP in blazers".

Mr Farage thinks that phrase did more damage to his party than any other, even more than David Cameron's famous outburst, when he described UKIP's members as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly".

Others misfortunes have beset UKIP since their spectacular success in the European elections five years ago, when they secured 12 seats in the European Parliament. They have parted company with three of their 12 MEPs, for different reasons. The best known, Robert Kilroy Silk, was not a team-player and set up a rival organisation. Ashley Mote was jailed for nine months for benefit fraud. He has lodged an appeal. And Tom Wise has been charged with fraud and false accounting.

Not long ago, it seemed that internal rifts and assorted scandals had almost finished UKIP, but now it is back, with one weekend poll suggesting it could beat Labour in the election on Thursday. This revival owes much to Mr Farage's reassuring brand of quintessential middle-class Englishness.

His father was a well-known character in the Stock Exchange, one of the last of that breed who went to work daily in a pinstriped suit with a rolled-up brolly and bowler hat. The only reason Mr Farage did not follow him into the City was that he did not want to live in his father's shadow, so he made his pile in the more congenial and noisier London Metal Exchange.

He is as extroverted as his father must have been. One year, when Barbados was hosting the Test series, Farage descended on the islands, kitted out with pith helmet to spend five days sitting among the islanders, drinking and absorbing the day's play, looking – to quote his own description of himself – "like the captain of the Barmy Army".

Mr Farage has said time and again that UKIP will not tolerate racists in its ranks. He never utters a word that sounds aggressive or threatening and proudly boasts that UKIP now has candidates and volunteers from the ethnic minorities. He leads a party which would pull up the drawbridges, ban foreigners from entering the country and make sure that foreign politicians from Brussels or anyone else on the Continent can no longer make laws that apply in the UK – but it would do it all in the politest possible way.

His message is what a lot of the shoppers in Caterham wanted to hear.

"I was for UKIP right at the very start, but then I wavered," said Mary Trowbridge. "There was something I didn't quite like on the fringes. Extremists, I think I'd call them. They were using the cause for their own ends." Now she believes those extremists have been seen off and is returning to UKIP.

Dave Makiah, who met Mr Farage in the street, is a retired, Labour-voting NHS nurse who immigrated from Mauritius in the 1970s. He would "certainly" vote UKIP.

Mr Farage said: "A lot of ethnic voters are very positive about our immigration message. They are the ones who sense that vast numbers of Poles and other East Europeans coming are unsettling for race relations. I don't think anybody believes there is a racist message in UKIP."

In the two hours he spent approaching shoppers, Mr Farage came upon people who identified themselves as having been Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat or BNP in the past, but who were all switching to UKIP.

One woman said she had planned to vote BNP but was switching to UKIP, apparently because they give voice to her prejudices in more acceptable language. Another, who gave her name but asked for it not to be used, said she was a Liberal Democrat voter "through and through" said that she was "seriously considering" voting UKIP.

Audrey Hoy, another switcher to UKIP, said: "I've voted Labour all my life, and I'm 81, but I'm fed up with what's going in the country. There are no jobs." Rosalind Chute, from Croydon, is a decorator who normally votes Tory. "We have traditions that make this country special, and they are all being swept aside. I feel that no one is supporting the English, or England as we lose all our laws to Europe," she said. "Not David Cameron – he just wants to be pals, 'call me Dave.' I'm English and I'm proud to be English. Let's keep the country as it is."

Mr Farage also approached a white-haired man in a pinstripe suit every bit as smart as Mr Farage's. He was Peregrine Lavington, a Conservative parish councillor. Despite their party differences, the two men quickly found things on which they could agree – the money wasted by Brussels, how difficult it is to discuss immigration as a political issue without being accused of racism, and so on. Though he did not persuade the councillor to switch votes, Mr Farage made a good impression.

"I am a loyal Conservative voter, but it's quite clear that [Farage] is going to benefit from the public disillusionment," Mr Lavington said.

A loyal Labour voter told Mr Farage "If you don't do well now, you'll never do well", and Mr Farage agreed. So do the opinion polls. When the votes are counted, one story to emerge will doubtless be the resurgence of UKIP. Mr Farage has made his party a safe repository for a certain kind of protest vote.

News
news
Voices
voicesThe Ukip leader on why he's done nothing illegal
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Sport
video
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
News
Supermarkets are running out of Easter Eggs
Deals make eggs cheaper than normal chocolate
Arts & Entertainment
artYouth club owner says mural is 'gift from the sky' so he can prevent closure of venue
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?