You could be forgiven for regarding Brighton’s northern suburbs as prime UKIP territory. In Patcham, with its neat 1930s semis, you’re a world away from the city centre where the Festival is in full swing. It’s a suburb whose apparent prosperity hides the fact that it has been hit hard by austerity: many of its residents are older people on fixed incomes, people who were told that private pensions were their route to a prosperous old age and have found the reality very different.
So it was no surprise that UKIP announced an election meeting here, to be held last night, and addressed by a South-East MEP candidate and chaired by Brighton Pavilion UKIP PPC Nigel Carter. And I had decided to go along an listen – to see at first hand the political phenomenon that has been puffed so relentlessly by the BBC and the print media, and to assess whether my perception that UKIP is an economic phenomenon, stood up
What unfolded in Patcham last night, though, was more farce than tragedy. The meeting was due to start at 7:30 – and by 7:45 there were outside the Memorial Hall:
- three protestors
- four members of the general public (two of whom were myself and the Chair of the Patcham Community Association, and none of whom was a UKIP supporter)
- two apparently-bored police officers sitting in a their car
But the hall was firmly locked, and of Kippers there were none. Actually that’s not quite true: at one point a shaven-headed man in a sharp suit and black shirt and tie turned up, asked if this was the UKIP meeting, tried the door, found it locked, and went off to make some phone calls.
The Brighton and Hove UKIP facebook page says nothing about a cancellation. Moreover there was a police presence – not something that the Patcham Memorial Hall, host to WI meetings, bridge clubs, dance classes and knitting circles, often requires.
A couple of days previously, a UKIP meeting in Hove had been picketed. Despite UKIP’s usual calling for police intervention at the merest whiff of opposition, the crowd of fifty or so outside was vocal but wholly peaceful. And the idea of Patcham as a no-go area for UKIP does make the mind boggle as bit, but even so they were perhaps, as their heroine Margaret Thatcher might have put it, frit. Or perhaps they just lack the depth of organisation and membership to organise a small meeting in a quiet suburb.
Either way, this was one small drama the made one wonder about the difference between a Westminster bubble obsessed with Nigel Farage and a real world of indifference and disorganisation in the heart of middle England.