On Wednesday night Nigel Farage spoke to supporters and undecided voters in Gateshead, a traditional Labour heartland in the north east of England.
The event, which Farage said was “the biggest public meeting UKIP has held in its history,” coincided with St. George’s Day. It was held in a constituency where over 50% of voters backed Labour at the 2010 election and Conservative voters are thin on the ground.
Organisers of the event were worried anti-UKIP protesters had block-booked tickets with the intention of leaving them empty – but the party claimed more 1,000 people still turned up to the event.
Throughout the night, BuzzFeed spoke to those in attendance and asked a simple question: why support UKIP?
1. Dissatisfaction with the mainstream political parties was a key reason.
2. As you’d expect from a party fighting a European parliamentary election in a month on a sod-the-lot-of-them ticket, there was strong anti-EU sentiment.
3. Some were sad; others were angry.
4. “British politics for British people” was a common refrain in Gateshead.
5. Those that didn’t mention the EU by name still had it loom large in their reason for supporting UKIP.
“UKIP offers ordinary people the best chance to regain control of our own country,” this man said.
6. Farage gained support from the audience when describing UKIP as patriotic with a small “p”.
7. As well as wanting a strong stance on immigration and crime, this man was a UKIP supporter because it would allow MPs to vote with their consciences rather than according to the party whip.
8. This former UKIP candidate explained how her relatives had moved over to Britain many generations ago and said that her values were truly British.
9. Farage said he was happy to see so many young people in attendance. The old and middle-aged still significantly outnumbered the young.
This attendee, wearing a “Unbelieveable Jeff” t-shirt, had a list of reasons to back UKIP: the EU, immigration, stances on alcohol and tobacco, and wanted the party to abolish the nanny state.
10. Many of the younger voters were more interested in UKIP’s leader than its policies.
The sign reads “FARAGE = LEGEND”.
11. When asked, the overwhelming majority of those in attendance said they weren’t UKIP members.
12. As BuzzFeed/YouGov polling shows, Farage has managed to convince a large proportion of the public that he has common sense solutions to the UK’s problems.
13. Paid-up members of UKIP were more politically polished when asked why they the supported the Eurosceptic anti-immigration party.
14. Jonathan Arnott, UKIP’s candidate for the north east in the forthcoming European elections, said he believes the party stands up for those who work hard.
15. “We’ve each been spat on while campaigning,” these men explained. “People think of UKIP as a homophobic party, but it’s not true.”
16. This attendee said UKIP was the only party to attack the role of central banks run by governments during the financial crisis.
17. “The system is breaking down (and needs fixing)”, this man said.
What about the speech itself? Two anti-UKIP hecklers chanted “fuck off Nigel Farage” as the leader took to the stage. The audience cheered as they were escorted from the hall.
Farage ran through UKIP’s main policy points: he claimed three million immigrants will arrive in the country by 2020 and said the UK should introduce a more stringent immigration system like Australia. The EU dominates our lives, he said, and we should be out.
“Our political class has lost confidence,” he explained. “We believe it’s about time this country got off its knees.”
BuzzFeed spoke to Farage after his speech, and he said he was “over the moon” with the attendance in Gateshead.
“Five years ago we were almost threadbare in terms of membership and structure and all of it,” said Farage. “So the fact that 700 people who were not even members of UKIP attended says people are interested in what we have to say.”
Asked how UKIP could translate a strong showing in European elections on May 22 into a good national showing, Farage had few answers.
“Beats me,” he said. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t tell you. I’d keep it tucked up my sleeve.
“We know the first past the post system is very cruel for a party like UKIP. We’re not geographic based, we’re not class based. It makes it very, very hard for us. But if we get the big M [momentum] going in these European elections and we target seats intelligently as the Lib Dems under Ashdown did, we could. We’ve got some learning to do, but we could do it.”
He also gave BuzzFeed his own reason for supporting UKIP:
“Terrible handwriting,” said an aide.
18. The room was a little dark, and the light unflattering, but Farage’s message is clear.
“We are the only party saying what most people think.”