Ukip’s Croydon Carnival

Jon Day

Ukip’s ‘Carnival of Colour’, which took place in a Croydon shopping centre today, never looked particularly promising. When I got there, a few supporters wearing linen suits, loud shirts and strong aftershave were handing out flyers. George Konstantinidis, the east counties regional chairman of Ukip, gave me his card. I asked him if Nigel Farage would be there. He told me, conspiratorially, that he’d be arriving in half an hour. I asked him if he thought Farage was racist. He said he wasn’t.

It turned out that we were waiting in the wrong place, so I followed the Ukip supporters down the road to the entrance of the shopping centre, where a steel band were setting up their instruments. A van covered in Ukip slogans pulled up.

Winston McKenzie, an ex-boxer and X Factor reject who has been a member of all the major political parties at one time or another and is now ‘Commonwealth spokesman’ for Ukip, was holding forth. ‘There’s loads of people here today,’ he said, ‘who feel disenchanted about British politics. They say they have little or no power. For years black people have fed their votes to the Labour party. They’ve become rich off us, but people are still down in the dumps.’ A few people cheered. More people booed. One man shook his stick and called for class war. Half way through McKenzie’s speech the steel band started up, and I couldn’t hear what else he said.

After a few minutes the band stopped. They looked angry. ‘I didn’t know what we were coming here to do today, and had I known I would never have accepted,' the band leader said. McKenzie said he’d told them it was going to be a political rally and urged them to ‘think of the future, think of all the people who are being discriminated against'. The band leader said he felt duped, and they began to pack up.

People started haranguing McKenzie, who seemed to enjoy every minute of it. A young man shouted that McKenzie was being ‘taken for a mug’ by Ukip. McKenzie’s pastor introduced himself to me, told me Ukip were not racist, and said he believed in the party because they wanted to establish a Christian nation. He’d thought they were racist at one point, but now he’d got to know them. He was born again, he said, and the country was ‘going through a period of Christophobia’. Behind him, two women carried signs saying: ‘We are Romanians and we don’t feel comfortable with your racism.' ‘We are all Romanians,’ they chanted. Ukip supporters accused them of not being Romanian.

After a while McKenzie took a phone call, apparently from Farage. It was all very theatrical. When he hung up he announced that Nigel probably wouldn’t be coming. Croydon was too dangerous, he said. Years of Labour and Tory misrule meant it wasn’t safe. Croydon was ‘a dump’. The van displaying Ukip slogans drove slowly away.

As people began to disperse, Rathy Alagaratnam, a Ukip council candidate, asked me to take a photo of her and the other candidates. She’d had a fun day, she said, but her feet were sore and swollen from all the canvassing. She had a discussion with another candidate about the best way of avoiding dog bites when posting leaflets through letterboxes. ‘I use a wooden spoon,’ she said, ‘poke it through the letterbox with a wooden spoon.’ I asked them if they were annoyed that Farage hadn’t turned up but they said that he was a busy man, and that he’d probably got caught up in traffic.

A slick-looking Ukip supporter who’d ridden in on the battle bus told me Farage was parked up next to his van, just round the corner. Later, when he walked off carrying signs, I followed him, hoping he’d lead me to Farage. But when he got to the van, covered in lurid Ukip decals, it stood alone in the dusty car park.


  • 21 May 2014 at 8:43am
    DavidP says:
    I think that the real story here was the so called Romanian protesters were not actually Romanian despite their placards saying "we are Romanian"

    This was uncovered in a interview on LBC radio from their correspondent during the Iain Dale show on 20/05/2014.

    One has to wonder if this "rent a mob" were organised by one of the other political parties.

  • 21 May 2014 at 9:52am
    kazbel says:
    I am Spartacus.

  • 21 May 2014 at 12:34pm
    James Alexander says:
    The LRB blog may be the only place I can get to ask this question. Isn't there an important distinction between 'racism' and 'xenophobia' that needs to be made in the current allegations about UKIP? I'm sure both are in play, but much of what is being called racist seems much more like xenophobia. Thus, when Farage speaks negatively of Romanians, commentators perhaps need to ask themselves, does he speak of a race different from his own, and does he think in such terms? The difference may be important, not just to the linguistically fastidious, but perhaps to the law and the CPS, if illegality or unlawfulness is what those crying 'racist' think they're hinting at. It would also be clarifying when important distinctions are being drawn, as they are daily, between different geographical sources of immigration movements.
    (Just in case my motive for asking worries anyone, I declare myself as thinking the one invariably abhorrent, the other unacceptable when ad hominem, something to be rigorously questioned when general.)

    • 22 May 2014 at 2:57am
      Amateur Emigrant says: @ James Alexander
      I don't think there is a distinction, nor should there be. Farage and other UKIP candidates use foreign nationality as a pejorative, implying that all those foreign nationals share undesirable characteristics. They are mostly careful to avoid saying they are undesirable because of their colour or religion, because they know they could face prosecution, but I'm not so sure they are on much safer ground with nationality. I seem to recall a Scottish football supporter was convicted of racially aggravated harassment for calling the footballer Craig Bellamy 'a Welsh bastard'.

      On that basis I don't see why UKIP isn't guilty of inciting racial hatred by implying that Romanian immigrants are dole scroungers, or paradoxically also job thieves, or even criminal, purely on the basis of their nationality.

      Incidentally, I read an amusing statistic which claimed that while only 0.5% of Romanian immigrants have been to prison, 10% of UKIP MEPs have.

    • 25 May 2014 at 6:15pm
      zaratzara says: @ Amateur Emigrant
      I think there's something facetious about advancing the notion, as if it were an interesting detail in the wider conversation, that Farage et al may be "implying that all those foreign nationals share undesirable characteristics". Of course they are: UKIP's selling point is restriction on foreign influx and foreign culture.

      What I find utterly dismaying with fellow left-wingers, pseudo-intellectuals and democratic activists, is the continuous outrage that people should even be allowed to suggest this — the notion that this is barely legal, and morally repulsive. And there the conversation ends or deteriorates as absurdium.

      The notion that the white British working class identify as white British, feel increasingly disenfranchised, are alienated by the concerns of the EU program and have no identification with or trust for the main political parties really shouldn't be such a hard pill to swallow. Arriving at the notion that the EU is irrelevant to their concerns, foreign nationals are given too much benefit by UK law, and that political activism is a means of addressing these issues, is likewise a no-brainer.

      If these people's xenophobia (and there is an important distinction for them) is ill-founded, that needs explaining to them. The continuous approach of revulsion at perceived racism followed by contemptuous dismissal of their propaganda substance only strengthens the pariah complex with the far right. Expressing disgust at pseudo-fascism, even wittily and perceptively, only strengthens their pariah complex. Get over it!