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The Election Section Week 3

In the third of Dazed Digital's dispatches from the campaign trail, we head to a party debate in Buckingham organised by a fish restuarant, and get accused of racism by the BNP

When someone mentions a return to grass-roots politics, they aren’t usually talking about brown shirts, table legs and intimidation. But as the New Yorker seemed impressed with British politics being run by ‘relatively decent people’ after seeing our TV debates, Dazed was being stared down by a British National Party (BNP) candidate and his three flunkies in a hotel in Buckingham. “You’re the real racist,” said one of them, edging closer with a beer bottle in his hand.
Three hours before, on the night of the final TV debate between the party leaders, nine obscure candidates in Buckingham were gearing up to challenge the Speaker of the Commons John Bercow in a debate organised by a local fish restaurant. We had sat in the offices of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), whose star man Nigel Farage dropped out of the debate at the last minute, drinking tea and admiring its range of anti-EU sweaters and dressing gowns. In the absence of the mercurial Mr Farage, we were left with what Speaker Bercow terms “a ragtag and bobtail of fringe candidates”, from the Christian party to the village idiot, via the Monster Raving Loony Party and a local woman whose only supporter appeared to be her son. By convention, the Speaker goes unchallenged by the three main parties, and by convention, it seems, the oddballs and extremists file in to have a shot at parliament.
Some of the oddballs were endearing as they circumnavigated, as the ruddy-cheeked Anthony Watts did, the finer points of building tunnels for a reason which nobody else in the room seemed to grasp. Some of them barely got past thanking the sponsors before their 30 seconds came to an end and the chairman cut them off. They had all prepared lengthy statements, but hadn’t bargained for the cut-throat nature of well-organised debating. Going last with his opening statement, our notepad confirms that Speaker Bercow’s speech lasted exactly 30 seconds. It doesn’t sound that great, but being able to speak for a pre-allocated period of time and finish exactly when your time is up, without hesitation, repetition or deviation, is 90% of what makes a first rate debater, and what makes David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown so impressive when they do it every week, in front of millions of people, even if it means that we’re effectively judging our leaders as though they’re contestants on a game show.

As the Buckingham debate came to an end, and the appeal of the Monster Raving Loony party dwindled every time its candidate mentioned “indigenous people”, Dazed took the mic and asked a more probing question to the young BNP gentleman, Matthew Tait: “I can’t help but notice you’re wearing a striped shirt and a spotted tie tonight. You look like an optical illusion, which is what many of your policies are. But besides your sartorial idiocy, what does it feel like to sit next to a non-Aryan chairman?” To which the 23-year-old Mr Tait, whose party’s manifesto asserts the supremacy of one ‘dominant ethnic group’, replied: “That question really is beneath contempt, I must say. I think even people who don’t support my party will probably see that for what it is. I’ve got a circle of friends that will be far more diverse that yours, probably, living in Buckingham [we didn’t correct him], because I work in Slough, and I’ll let that speak for itself.” Earlier, Mr Tait had mentioned a Nigerian friend of his. For the rest of the debate he glared at us when it wasn’t his turn to speak.
Stood at the bar afterwards with the local press, a youth with a mullet cut was giving us the eye. When his 6’5” skinhead friend came over, the youth developed an interest in the rosettes and badges we had picked up over the campaign and were attached to our jacket. That would be Kieren, a member of the National Front and its former youth organiser, and subject of the Channel 4 documentary, Young, Angry and White. Joining the other two and Mr Tait was a young man who earlier identified himself as a member of the Conservative party’s youth wing. The four had formed a semi-circle around Dazed and one member of the local press, blocking the exit from the empty bar. Three of them had glass bottles in their hands, but we knew kept telling ourselves that it would be the end of their parties forever if they dared to use them.

 “I can’t believe you asked that question. Alright, you got your cheap laughs, but aren’t you supposed to be neutral,” said the skinhead, eyeing our Respect badge and UKIP rosette. “We’ve changed our membership policy, we’ve got coloured, we’ve got Muslims, we’ve got Sikhs. They’d all find what you said offensive and racist. You’re the real racist,” said Kieren. “I was sat next to a coloured chap and he found what you said offensive,” said the skinhead. “It’s alright for you being a student, sat in your bedsit, reading up your Marxist values. But what do you know about the real world?”. And then Kieren added, “No doubt you’ll get a job at the BBC.” We just sort of looked at them, as one looks at the monkeys in safari parks who have come to rip the wipers off your car, with both fear and curiosity.