The UKIPPERS Swing Troupe, photographer: Levi Hinds
If you want to really know what happened that day in the pub with Farage, I’ll tell you. Nigel arrived in the pub riding a massive purple and yellow dragon, flanked by a legion of fat-cat city bankers. He was propping up the bar drinking a pint when I rode in on my gender-neutral unicorn with a band of ethnic minority Care Bears. We tried to throw a few rights and equality awareness raising sunbeams his way but Nigel responded with a salvo from his homophobitronic shit cannon. We summoned a gentle pink rain, but he raised an umbrella and slowly walked away to phone his army of loyal tweed journalists. Apparently you can say anything to press these days, and they’ll report it as the truth.
My name is Ray Malone and I am a performer with the UKIPPERS Swing Dance Troupe. I am also a RADA-trained theatre director and an English teacher. Our performance at the Beyond UKIP Diversity Cabaret was an idea that sprang from Middle England kitsch - the fetish for the village fete, the craze for Golden-era swing dancing, colonial crumpets and bunting.
Nigel is a constructed façade, he appears quintessentially British; rustic and tolerant. But that front conceals a vicious bigotry. A skilful performer, he’s an Alf Garnet type, only in tweed, scripted by Pooter. He performs well - the gentleman, equally at home in the countryside or in the salt-of-the-earth boozer. As Jarvis Cocker once sang, “Smoke some fags and play some pool, Pretend you never went to….” Dulwich College.
Many of us at the Beyond UKIP Diversity Cabaret enjoy the occasional beverage and we don’t think it’s fair that Nigel has colonised the pub in the public imagination. His brand of xenophobic politics and perverted idea of Britishness is ruining pubs for the rest of us. So we went down to Kent to have a party and show Farage that diversity is not something to be afraid of.
Our Diversity Cabaret had many acts. On just before us was Ruth Barnett, a holocaust survivor who came to the UK on the Kindertransport. She spoke about the rise of the far right in Europe and what ‘Never Again’ means to her. It was an honour to share a stage with her and it was important to connect the struggle to the past, present and future. The UKIPPERS’ performance involved a simple swing dance and a Benny Hill-style routine. We wanted to call out the romanticised gender roles in right wing populist ideology. The performance was an absolute hit. There were many smiling - predominantly female - faces, in the completely rammed back room of the pub.
The UK Independence Party has made Muslims, immigrants, the unemployed, gay people and women an easy target for the public’s cultural anxieties. They’re fearmongers, plain and simple. According to UKIP, women can’t play chess and they don’t clean behind the fridge. But what stuck with me most was Farage’s recent clanger of a comment - that breastfeeding is ostentatious. I’ve just this week passed the tricky first semester of my first pregnancy and I feel extremely offended that Farage should try and make women feel ashamed about something so natural as feeding their babies.
I’m very excited about my forthcoming arrival so I tend to tell everyone I meet. While at the bar of the pub I got a few belly pats from the regulars. The old men with their beers, bemused by my costume of victory roles and Drag Queen make-up, were aware of the political motivations behind the event, asked me to try and ‘convert them’. Being ‘with child’ is a great leveller - most people are happy to engage on the subject of a soon-to-be born baby, whatever their politics. We were soon back to it though, as talk tuned to immigration.
‘Those other countries need to sort out their own human rights, they can’t just come over here”
“Which other countries?”
“Ones like Syria”
“If I lived in Syria, I’d definitely try and get out, wouldn’t you?”
“That’s human nature isn’t it? To try and survive, to want the best for your kids.”
“Yeah, but they can’t all come here.”
We were told that Farage had come into the pub but had left for the pub over the road. Our flamboyance was hard to disguise in a village that size - Farage doubtless knew of our presence.
The women’s group, which included both real and plastic breast-feeding babies, led us in a dancing conga line, to the sounds of Sister Sledge’s “We are Family”, over to the pub where Farage had fled. I entered through the beer garden and heard a young woman politely asking him if he’d take the citizenship test. Which didn’t go down at all well.
Farage was shouting and calling people ‘scum’. The aggression he’d directed at the young women unsurprisingly provoked a response. Farage left and casually walked to his car, as the women shouted back at him. The ruckus lasted less than 30 seconds but the image was set in stone. The women in their cardboard costumes, surrounding his car making a “migrant traffic jam”, is now seen by many as the defining event.
Farage is now playing the victim. He claims he was “attacked” and that his children had run away in fear. No one saw any children at all anywhere around the pub. Publicly failing the citizenship test would have been quite embarrassing for him, to be sure – as perhaps may have been enjoying the company of a migrant citizen. But I wonder how flustered he must have been to dump his children with people he thought were so threatening.
Clearly, Farage is more adept than us at orchestrating the media circus. But using his children for as a press stunt? That’s pretty shady, even for a UKIPPER.
Back at the George and Dragon, everyone from the cabaret returned for a drink and a tidy-up. I explained to the men at the bar that we’d asked Nigel to take the citizenship test but he’d left in a huff. “What a shame”, said one of the locals. “I’ll have to have a word with his Mum.” If you’re reading this, Mum, have a word with Nigel.
What we were unaware of at the time was the speed of his response in the media. We were confident that we’d had a great time and made friends with the locals. But we were completely unaware of how we’d been painted in the press. The most shocking element of the event was the ease with which a factually inaccurate version of events became disseminated by the press. He may as well have been riding a dragon, it showed as much resemblance to his version of events.
UKIP’s spin – falsehoods piled upon inaccuracies - has only made me more resolute in my mission of taking the cabaret to more audiences. So on Monday I went along to the debrief cabaret meeting. We were sat in small groups discussing what we agreed had been successful about the event - the friendly conversation with the locals, the beauty, diversity and the atmosphere we’d created. We also talked about the brief moment of chaos around the car and our failure to challenge Farage’s version of events before it was circulated in the press. It was shortly after this that one of the women from the group came running into the room to tell us that Britain First were in the building.
Our friend’s quick thinking saved us from a potentially violent exchange – before coming to warn us, she’d sent the Britain First members in the wrong direction, up the stairs. The building Britain First had forced their way into houses a number of charities including international development, AIDS and children’s charities. In the next room, an education charity was disturbed mid-meeting by twenty men in paramilitary uniforms charging around looking for Dan Glass.
We turned out the lights while two of the men in our group held up the door handle and I called the police. Britain First saw some movement in the room and tried to barge their way in. Luckily a man who works in the centre stood in front of the door. Everyone in the room was scared. Through the glass in the door we could see a group of around 8 men and women banging on the door, calling us ‘bullies’ and chanting Nationalist slogans. It was a genuinely frightening experience. The women I could see through the window had whipped themselves up into a manic rage and was screaming about Farage’s kids. After about ten minutes the police arrived and Britain First left.
What would Britain First have done if they had got past the door? The women among their number would not have held back if confronting the women in our group, but would they have bawled with the same ferocity in the face of a pregnant woman? Would they be giving us, as they proclaimed, a taste of our own medicine? I wondered what effect the stress levels were having on my baby.
Farage himself, in the run up to the election, is in a desperate position, and is thus attempting to divert attention from the numerous UKIP defectors denouncing the party as riddled with bigots. Farage will always claim the party isn’t racist but the people it attracts are the true hallmark of what UKIP stands for. It was a clever move by his press team to use the words ‘harassment’ and ‘kids’ together. It was always going to be hard to win against an establishment political actor like Farage but especially so when our harmless activism was painted as an attack on the deeply embedded and fundamental rights of the family.
Unlike the response we’ve received from the media, the UKIP supporters or the fascist thugs that locked us in a room on Monday, the locals in Kent all made us feel very welcome. If “Britishness” means anything to me, it’s about more than meaningless flag-waving, cream teas and bunting. I want to raise my child to know our true national heritage, which is about our shared humanity, our phenomenal multi-culturalism and, above all, our inclusiveness.
Farage lying to the press may have won him public sympathy but as a consequence, our group have been attacked and assaulted by fascists. So who is responsible for the Britain First attack? Is it Farage himself who, if he said anything to discourage Britain First, did so with a very soft voice when no one was listening? Is it the mainstream media and politicians pandering to UKIP's racist, anti-immigration, anti-gay and anti-women rhetoric? Or is it the journalists who failed at their job of reporting the truth of the situation, thus creating a hysteria that has emboldened far-rights attack on a left-wing political group.
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