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A Big Day Out... at the Shitty UKIP Carnival!

It's not much of a party if the steel drum band refuse to play.
21.5.14

Every year, a million or so people descend upon London's Notting Hill for the annual carnival festivities. The event is a celebration of West Indian culture and its place in Britain. People fill the streets to drink cans of massively marked up Red Stripe, eat chicken that manages to be both bloody and burnt, get wined 'pon by guys who wear shorts to show off their electronic tags and piss on Richard Curtis' front door. It's a long established British tradition, and is basically the most amazing two days of the year.

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Naturally, it was only right that The UK Independence Party should throw their own version of Carnival, as they're such big fans of the melting pot society and the objectification of the female body.

I jest, of course. The UKIP carnival was surely a move to dampen the accusations of out and out racism (rather than the usual Faragian anti-immigration, not anti-ethnic schtick) after their leader's comments about Romanians the other day. Simply, it was a PR stunt, organised by local activists to keep the party in favour with the people of Croydon, a multi-ethnic, yet UKIP-friendly borough in South London that they hope to make big gains in at tomorrow's European election.

Intrigued, baffled and somewhat excited by the prospect of a public party organised by the kind of people who think that Britain never really recovered after the Sunday Trading Act of 1994, I headed down to the dirty south to see what was going down.

Croydon is a much more interesting place than its reputation suggests. To most people, the name smacks of a kind of uniquely suburban mediocrity, forever associated with IKEA, falling asleep on buses, Dane Bowers, Roy Hodgson and Peep Show. Like Slough, this reputation was given to it by John Betjeman, picked up by a sitcom and finally evolved into the lazy punchline of a thousand jokes at Soho comedy clubs.

But Croydon is much more than that. Not only is it a borough of diverse geography, sociologically it's a broader place than you'd guess. From the near-ghettos of Thornton Heath and Norbury in the north, to the green, park-and-ride suburbs of Purley and Coulsdon in the south, Croydon is a divided borough. One end of it sits next to Brixton; the other is basically halfway to Brighton. It's a seemingly endless sprawl that contains all types of London life: girl gangs, Tories, yuppies, third-generation immigrants, first-generation immigrants, first-time homeowners, WW2 veterans and dubstep producers all call Croydon home.

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Sadly, though, in recent years, sleepy, suburban Croydon has become one of London's crime hotspots.

In January this year, six people were stabbed in just eight days in Croydon. Between 2012-2013 there were 606 knife crime offences committed in the borough, which is even more amazing when you consider there were only 387 in Hackney, a London borough far more traditionally associated with killing itself. And, in the 2011 riots, the area saw some of the worst violence in the country, the flames rising into the South London sky for days afterwards.

This is a suburb that's turned into something of a nightmare. Croydon is more La Haine than Peep Show now, and UKIP's push here surely must be playing to such tensions.

But don't panic, because help is at hand! Well – Winston McKenzie is at hand, however helpful he is.

Winston McKenzie is a man who probably needs to check his own Wikipedia just to remember what nonsense he's been up to recently. A lifelong Croydon resident, ex-boxer, pub landlord, X Factor auditionee, wholesale rug merchant and local face who's stood for London mayor several times as an independent candidate, (unsuccessfully, in case you can't quite remember a world before Boris bikes). Having previously been affiliated with Labour, the Lib Dems, the Conservatives and Veritas (twice), he's something of a political journeyman. An ideological Peter Crouch, if you will. A man who must really like how he looks in a rosette.

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Now standing for UKIP in the forthcoming local elections, he seems to have veered towards the right in recent years, having described adoption by gay couples as "child abuse" and bravely campaigned against the installation of a waste incinerator in his hometown. And as this was in his hometown, we presumably had Winston to thank for UKIP's awesome carnival.

Arriving outside the Whitgift Shopping Centre, alongside some people from Battersea Dogs Home and their inflatable rain shelter, we met a throng of people with placards, leaflets, petitions, megaphones, Dictaphones and broadcast quality cameras.

We were on the pedestrianised political battleground of Great Britain, and Nigel Farage – the thin-socked anti-Pope of UK politics – was set to bless us with his presence at any minute.

Apart from a steel drum band clanking away in a corner, the atmosphere wasn't very carnivalistic, unless your idea of a carnival is a bunch of people standing around waiting for something weird to happen outside a Dorothy Perkins. It all smacked of "local politics", but probably not in the way Farage's barmy army would want.

The set-up was amateurish, ill-prepared and understaffed. It was more like an event organised by a primary school trying to get funding for a new minibus rather than a battle to reclaim the heart of the nation.

As you can see, the carnivalesque atmosphere was proving highly contagious. A slew of journalists, supporters, detractors, gawpers, bystanders and fluoro-rozzers all excitedly awaited the big F-man's entrance at the party, like the crowd at Tivoli Gardens Soundclash awaiting a (marginally) older, whiter, (marginally) less homophobic Buju Banton.

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The different factions jostled among each other in a manner that only British people can. The UKIP supporters were prouder than I imagined they would be, holding their signs high and jovially handing out their pamphlets to the passers-by, who seemed infinitely more interested in the low-level consumerism inside the Whitgift than the low-level political rally going on outside.

As they waved their signs and passed out their campaign material, I started to see UKIP as more like happy-go-lucky promotions girls trying to introduce the British public to the joys of Vegemite, not dangerous fascist propagandists. Their attitude was whimsical, open to criticism, more "ho-hum" than "sieg heil". If UKIP are a racist party, then it's a racism that's more Last of the Summer Wine than American History X.

Their opponents, however, were considerably more up for it. Accusing the UKIP mob of just about everything you can imagine, they were here to ruin the carnival with black hats, foreign accents and A4 envelopes; like Anonymous, if they bought their tools of truth from Ryman instead of the Apple Store.

Looking at the interaction between the two groups, it became clear that this type of politics now exists firmly in the niche. UKIP might be a big issue in the UK, but it seemed that both groups had a kind of grudging respect for each other for actually being out there preaching what they wished others to practice. In some ways, they probably couldn't exist without each other, and because of that the event had an oddly peaceful atmosphere, despite all the rhetoric. Like all great rivalries – from Sherlock and Moriarty to Rangers and Celtic – these opposing factions need each other, and it did kind of seem like they were all having a good time together.

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Maybe UKIP had created some kind strange, special-interest carnival after all?

But then disaster struck. The steel band booked to play suddenly realised what was going on, decided they didn't want to be known as the musical wing of UKIP, quickly packed up their stuff and refused to carry on. Winston, who booked the orchestra, remonstrated with them, telling them they knew full well it was going to be a "political event", but the young man on the left was keen to make it known to the press that he wouldn't have done it if he knew it was going to be UKIP they were playing for.

Winston tried to pass it all off as a misunderstanding, but I couldn't help but get the impression he'd been deliberately evasive and misleading, and simply roped a bunch of well-meaning, unsuspecting youngsters into his strange game of political opportunism.

The journalists and the opponents immediately began to smell blood. They circled around Winston, shoving their recording equipment beneath the brim of his hat, asking him what had happened, if he'd deliberately misled the steel drummers and where the hell Nigel Farage was. To his credit, Winston responded with a masterclass in bullshit, trying to divert attention away from the gathering shit-storm by taking on all-comers in a debate about UKIP and his role within the party.

He pleaded ignorance to Farage's whereabouts, claiming that – as far as he knew – the leader was still scheduled to turn up. But that smell of blood the journos were all braying for now had a note of bullshit to it, as it became clear that McKenzie was going to have to fight this battle alone.

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Despite Winston bravely trying to keep the carnival alive, we were a long way from Notting Hill by now. In fact, we'd crept all the way to Speakers' Corner, and this was now a noisy debate.

Neither side came across very well. The UKIP lot seemed (predictably) small-minded, parochial and in awe of some deluded interpretation of 1950s Britain. The anti-UKIP bunch just shouted about racism a lot.

And it was the Nazi talk that led to the uneasiest confrontations of the afternoon, as the UKIP supporters began to take umbrage with being compared to socialists of any kind.

But while it's easy to laugh at UKIP, it's also kind of silly to accuse anybody whose opinion you disagree with of being a supporter of military imperialism and the racial extermination of millions of innocent people. Seeing these ludicrous, clueless Little Englanders compared to the men who built Auschwitz left a bitter taste in my mouth, and reminded me that the left's rhetoric can sometimes be every bit as basic as the right's.

An old man came over to this lady and quietly told her that she had absolutely no idea what she was talking about by comparing UKIP to the Third Reich, and on that point I couldn't help but side with him. Political debate is at its best when it's honest, and when it focuses on issues and policies rather than overblown name-calling.

But some people still knew how to do it properly, as this guy proved, constantly heckling the UKIP team, who were now flapping around in a panicky fashion without their leader. "Where's Nigel?" he shouted. "Too scared to come to Croydon?" The Farage supporters could only respond with a weak volley of, "Why don't you ask him?" Which, frankly, was a stupid response, as he wasn't there. It was clear that Nigel Farage, for all his Spitfire guile, was indeed too much of a fassy to come out and say hi to Croydon.

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[Edit: Our in-house Anarchism Editor, Simon Childs, has just pointed out that this is Ian Bone from Class War.]

By this point, UKIP's mission control were more like flailing Fashion PAs desperately trying to get Pixie Lott into a LFW party than budding Mandelsons. They huffed, they paced, they made phone calls where they furrowed their brows a lot. The whole thing was a total shambles, but you got the impression this kind of thing happens a lot at camp Farage.

I wondered if, in some ways, working with Farage isn't too different to working with somebody like Chief Keef or Ozzy Osbourne in the 80s: a constant living nightmare, a new sucker punch of embarrassment and controversy at every corner. A thankless task, moving somebody who lots of people hate around the country, knowing that damage limitation is the best you can do.

Still, it's funny that they want to take control of the country when they can't even stop a gaggle of steel drum players and old lefties outside a shopping centre in Croydon from derailing their campaign.

But in times of great need, come great men. And in a bizarre – and almost definitely staged – attempt to try to understand what had happened, Winston led us all into a public phone call with somebody, only to then refuse to say who he was talking to, insinuating it was Farage when it was more likely Siri.

But his efforts to keep the dream of the UKIP carnival alive were in vain, as even their quasi-racist van had sodded off once the driver realised Farage wasn't showing up. It quietly drove off into the hazy South London evening, looking cumbersome and useless, like a wedding DJ who'd just been told the bride had run away at the altar.

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In an effort to explain his overlord's massive fucking cop-out, McKenzie pulled out a bravura performance. Claiming that not only had Mr Farage reneged on his plan to come because of the "violent behaviour" of some of the protesters, but also that Croydon was an "absolute dump", before half suggesting that Farage could have ended up being stabbed thanks to Croydon's crime problems – as if Farage were a member of the Peel Dem Crew who'd strayed too far South.

But listening to McKenzie's more reasonable comments about how Croydon had been sold out by the local council and fallen into disrepair, it seemed to me that he probably wasn't a hateful or unintelligent man. Rather one with a lack of direction and a lack of integrity. Does he believe in the same dream that Nigel Farage dreams in? Probably not. Does Croydon? Probably not. But in a town that is suffering, people will start to look for alternatives and McKenzie is definitely not your run-of-the-mill British politico.

But despite all the chaos, which split the amateurish machinations of the party wide open for the public to see in a kind of comedic autopsy of errors, the big question about UKIP and Farage still went unanswered: Are they racist? Or are they just a bunch of silly sods who like brown trousers and political isolationism?

To me, asking that question is just way too simple. But not because UKIP or Farage are complex. No, asking "Are UKIP racist?" is so hard because the whole set-up is just such a disaster. So ramshackle – so badly organised – that it's impossible to say anything about their vision as a whole. This is a party that seems to cater for (and include) disenfranchised working-class Labour voters, disenfranchised middle-class Tory voters, people in Croydon, people in the countryside, people who understand politics and people who don't. People like Winston McKenzie, people like Godfrey Bloom, people like Robert Kilroy Silk, people like Nigel Farage. People who have nothing in common with each other apart from being part of this strange, rolling, meaningless hype machine that is The UK Independence Party.

@thugclive

More UKIP:

UKIP Were Jeered by an Angry Mob in Brighton Yesterday

We Made Tons of Weird Friends at the UKIP Party Conference

I Interviewed My Local UKIP Rep After I Got Him Sacked and Banned