At least 3,000 people packed into a Brexit Party rally in central London on Tuesday, two days before the European elections. Nigel Farage’s party is set to make huge gains, with several polls predicting the Brexit Party will easily win the most votes across Britain.
Some previous rallies attracted people who weren’t sure about the party and wanted to know more. This one was very much a political rally for fans of Farage.
The crowd donned the blue Brexit Party T-shirts left on their chairs, and enthusiastically held up their Brexit Party placards.
Chants of, “Nigel! Nigel!” broke out before any of the speakers had taken to the stage. Some ardent Farage fans had travelled from outside London to see him – Socialist Worker spotted a couple of people who’d attended a previous rally in Peterborough.
The London audience was overwhelmingly white and included a lot of older people. But there were younger people, and black people too.
The Brexit Party has tried hard to distance itself from the more overt racism of Ukip and Nazi Tommy Robinson. The London event was called a “rally for democracy”.
But this is a party run by Farage - who has said immigration has made some parts of Britain like a “foreign land”. The Brexit Party has attracted swathes of supporters who were deemed too Islamophobic even for the Tory party.
For all the window dressing, Farage is attracting racists and people who back Robinson.
Niall told Socialist Worker, “Farage has gone out of his way to confront people that are more extremist. I like Tommy Robinson. But Farage had to do what he did. Because you have to distance yourself from people who are seen as far right.”
Niall added that although Farage’s tactic was right “for now” he is still accused of being racist.
“The lesson is – stop playing their game,” he said. “If people want to be racist, let them speak.”
Niall said his first demonstration was last year, a rally with Robinson, alt-right blogger Milo Yiannopoulos, Ukip’s Sargon of Akkad and Mark Meechan, who trained a dog to give Nazi salutes. “It was a great fun day out,” said Neil.
Why does he like Robinson? “For 20 years or more we’ve had a dreadful problem of sexual abuse of predominantly white, working class schoolgirls,” he said. “And he’s been campaigning about this for a long time.
“The establishment hate it. It shows up the whole problem of their approach to the culture. They’d rather put down people complaining about cultural practices they don’t like.”
Others at the rally were slightly more ambivalent towards Robinson. Lorraine told Socialist Worker, “I don’t agree with the court case against him. And I think a lot of what’s said about him isn’t true.
“But he is a bit extreme and it can put people off.”
She added that Ukip leader Gerard Batten is a “really nice guy”. But as Ukip didn’t do well in recent local elections, she’s backing the Brexit Party.
Lorraine said Britain “was a far better country” before it was a member of the European Union (EU).
She mentioned housing costs, homelessness, the “state of our roads” and long working hours as some of the things she thinks the EU has made worse. “The money that we give them could be spent on the NHS,” she said.
She also said that we “didn’t have the crime problem that we have now” previously. And while people “didn’t fear the police, they did respect them”. It wasn’t spelled out how EU membership had changed crime or attitudes to the cops.
Some at the rally were former Labour members. One said it had been “traditional” to back Labour. “I don’t see Farage as racist,” he said. “There were a lot of black people in there,” he said, referring to the rally.
One black man, John, explained why he supports the Brexit Party. “Racism is fake – it doesn’t exist,” he told Socialist Worker. “It’s used to create division by telling black people to hate white people.”
He added that European empires had been a good thing. “Without Europeans conquering Africa, Arabs would’ve enslaved all of us,” he said. “People have been misinformed.”
The rally focused heavily on “democracy” and defending the right of “the people” to have a say. But it was a reactionary event that saw racists and the rich push disillusion with the system in a right wing direction.
So one of the two most deafening reactions came when Farage asked the audience if they trusted “our political class”. A thundering, “No!” was the response.
The other was when he suggested a big Brexit Party vote could get rid of left wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
People in the audience waved union jack flags, and some wore “Make America Great Again” hats, in support of racist US president Donald Trump.
Former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe won rapturous applause. The “special guest” of the evening was Vaclav Klaus, former prime minister of the Czech Republic and climate change denier. He was introduced as being someone who “doesn’t believe in political correctness” to cheers from the audience.
Unfortunately many working class people will vote for Farage’s party this week because they are furious at the contempt that mainstream politicians hold them in. They are right to be angry. And they are right to oppose the EU as anti-democratic.
But the answer isn’t to support someone who wants to maintain a system that works against ordinary people, with extra racism.
And it isn’t good enough, as some on the left seem to think, just to denounce Farage as rich. We have to call out his racism and xenophobia, and fight against it.
The Brexit Party is a serious threat that won’t go away after Thursday’s elections. As Farage told the crowd, “This is now about far more than leaving the European Union. This is about the more fundamental question of democracy.”
Widdecombe said, “After Thursday, the Peterborough by-election. And after Peterborough, the next general election.”
Fighting to push back racism will be an urgent task in the months ahead. And so will be putting forward a positive left wing alternative as mainstream politics slides further into crisis.