20 Mar 2015

Marmite and fruitcakes: Ukip activists in their own words

Meet the 15-year-old Harry Potter lookalike, Ukip’s first Goth and the Sikh who defected from Ed Miliband. Zed Nelson documents another side of Ukip.

Last month’s Ukip conference in the sleepy Kentish seaside town of Margate was Nigel Farage’s last chance to sell his vision to his party faithful. And listen they did – attentively.

Yet who are these Ukip die-hards? What drives them? Too often, they are portrayed as rural and elderly – more Dad’s Army than the People’s Army. Misty-eyed and nostalgic, harping back to a Britain of yesteryear.

But as the photographer Zed Nelson found, there is more to them.

Meet, for example, Charlie Amos (pictured above), a 15-year-old Harry Potter lookalike. “There are lots of people at school that are pro-Ukip, but none to the extent I am,” he explains. “I mean understandably. They’re 15 years old. They should be out partying or something.”

Amos describes Nigel Farage as “an enthusing leader”. “He can really arouse people in a way others can’t. He’s a lot more inspiring. He’s like Martin Luther King.”

That was not the only praise for their leader. “Everytime the country has been in trouble, somebody has come to the fore,” says John Allen (below). “We had Nelson and Wellington and Churchill and Thatcher. And I truly believe the man of the moment is Nigel Farage.”


John Hengsuan (below) is Ukip’s first Goth. The 24-year-old Cure fan, with his punk hair and shade of lipstick, is far from the wholesome image of the rural party faithful. But he says he’s been made to feel welcome.

“A lot of these migrants have had lots of years of experience and work. We’re unable to contend with them,” he says. “If we were given the opportunities, the British youth can be good as anyone else.”

Another Ukip councillor Jordan Stahl attempts to identify the problem. “I used to watch a lot of Star Trek and one of the quotes was ‘throughout history every time someone has tried to impose culture on another, it has always ended in conflict’. All the time.”

With his turban and sprawling beard, Harjinder Sehmi used to represent Labour as a councillor in Coventry. Now the immigrant from India is Sikh parliamentary candidate for Ukip. “We want to keep our Britain clean and tidy to keep away these people coming from Europe,” he says.

Chris Wood, a former Conservative and a parliamentary candidate in Gosport, has been tipped as a future party leader. “We should have proper controls so that we can allow people in who have the skills that we require but not allow in those that we do not need.”

Shaping a new identity

Outside the conference there were colourful scenes as well. Margate witnessed a demonstration in favour of Ukip from the far-right Britain First, and a socialist counter-demonstration. Mr Farage’s party has always strongly distanced itself from extremist groups.

David Cameron once described Ukip as the party of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.

But nearly a decade on, Ukip is proving a far broader and more colourful church. Whether that will win them a broader electoral base, of course, remains to be seen.