There was a popular show on in Peterborough on Tuesday evening. Over 1,500 people turned out to watch it, although there were empty seats.
They were mostly older people, more male than female and almost exclusively white. It was like a gathering at the golf club, but on a bigger scale. The crowd was largely made up of well-to-do, respectable types, with a smattering of more ordinary-looking people.
People dressed smartly, as you might expect on a night out, and there was a strong smell of perfume in the women’s toilets.
But this wasn’t a cabaret or harmless entertainment show – although the “acts” were introduced with the same kind of cheesy voiceover and rock music. It was a rally for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
And when party chair Richard Tice asked how many had registered as party supporters, lots of hands went up.
The event showcased the party’s candidates in the Eastern region for the European elections. Farage told the crowd that the Brexit Party has embraced “people from every walk of life” and from different political backgrounds.
“This is not about left or right,” he said. “This is about right or wrong.”
But the speakers were “entrepreneurs” and former Tories. All are well-off and some are obscenely rich. They included Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin and former Tory minister for prisons Ann Widdecombe.
Tice, who heads the list for the party in the region, is a multi-millionaire property developer. He told the audience that Brexit Party candidates were “decent, successful achievers”.
Another candidate is serial boss Paul Hearn, who says he spends most of his time “challenging prevailing thinking and practice” in business.
He spoke about how Brexit gave more “opportunities” to make money and rattled off the names of countries that now want trade deals with Britain.
June Mummery, managing director of fish market auctioneers BFP Eastern, is another candidate. She wants Brexit to “take back control of our waters and the fish within it”.
She bemoaned European countries catching fish in “our back garden” and talked about how the fishing industry could be much more profitable. Just in case that isn’t relevant to most people, she also said this would create jobs.
While much of the evening focused on how best to help businesses, the major theme was democracy. This was invariably couched in nationalist terms. Apparently democracy is a big reason to be “proud” of Britain – and the Brexit fiasco is undermining that.
Tice complained that Theresa May has “humiliated our great country”. “We know what a fantastic nation we are,” he said. “We believe in Britain.”
Speakers also portrayed themselves as standing up for the mass of people against out of touch politicians and elites. There were repeated references to taking on the “establishment” and the “vested interests”.
Hearn attacked “parliamentarians who think they’re all clever and we’re all thick”. And Martin said the problem is that politicians “don’t feel that the public know best”.
Widdecombe was applauded when she denounced the “patronising nincompoops saying we didn’t really know what we were voting for”.
“Some people say we’re extremist or racist,” said Martin. “All we want to do is transfer power back to the UK.”
The need to “take back control of our borders” was mentioned several times but it wasn’t the main focus. Racism was more alluded to than overtly on display. So Farage said, “We need to start being proud of who we are as a nation.”
For all the talk of being neither left nor right, references to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were greeted with far louder boos than those to Theresa May.
Yet there was some left wing window dressing.
Edmund Fordham, who described himself as an engineer and physicist, told the crowd he used to be a Labour Party member, to some hisses. He went on to explain how the late Labour MP Tony Benn opposed being part of Europe for “democratic” reasons.
He said Benn would be “turning in his grave” to see Corbyn failing to back Brexit, to applause.
The rally saw some enthusiastic standing ovations for Farage, Widdecombe and Martin, but for much of it there was more muted, polite applause.
Why were people there? Yvette said that she wanted to protect democracy for her grandchildren. “The EU wants to privatise the NHS,” she added.
She went on to detail how the EU had stopped various relatives from making money, including the owner of a vineyard who can’t export his wine to the EU because there is “so much tax”.
Former Tory councillor Ken said, “We need to control our own democracy and our borders. We are a proud, independent nation and we need to stay that way.”
Another woman said she didn’t like Ukip because it is racist, but thought the Brexit Party might be different. But it is led by a man who thinks it’s a problem living next to Romanians, who has defended the use of racist language, who has said migrants make parts of Britain “unrecognisable”.
Farage is the one who unveiled a poster showing Syrian refugees with the words, “Breaking point – the EU has failed us all.”
The wealthy former banker is publicly focusing on his ridiculous claim to be “anti-establishment” because it can help him win votes. But the same old racism remains.
Outside the rally one attendee, Adam, explained why he backed the Brexit Party. “I’ve seen how the EU has affected Peterborough,” he said. “There are sofas and mattresses dumped on our streets because people from eastern Europe don’t know how to dispose of waste properly.
“We need better control of immigration.”
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