Ukip’s Croydon Carnival
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.