Behind enemy lines: Inside a Leave Means Leave rally
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Under slate-grey Lancashire skies the Brexiteers came.
Convinced the 'will of the people' is being betrayed and asserting 'no deal is no problem' they came to see Labour leaver Kate Hoey, former Brexit secretary David Davis and, of course, Nigel Farage.
For the most part they were perfectly polite, middle-aged, middle-class folk. But there was the odd extremist.
On arrival at the University of Bolton Stadium for the Leave Means leave rally I was greeted by a skinhead in a black bomber jacket. I quickly covered up my 'Don't blame me I voted Remain' t-shirt as he strode towards me smiling.
'Can I give you this?' He thrust a leaflet into my hand and explained: 'She's the future of this country, check the website out you'll love it.'
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As he spoke he jabbed his finger on the picture of Anne Marie Waters scowling back from the pamphlet.
Waters was beaten to the leadership of UKIP by Henry Bolton almost a year ago. She has previously claimed the European Union is conspiring to turn the continent into a Muslim state. After quitting UKIP she founded For Britain, and her activists clearly know their audience.
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In the queue chatter was all about how Sky News and the BBC won't dare cover the event – both did along with countless other media – and how there must be at least 10,000 people waiting to get in. The event was held in the bowels of the stadium and at a push there was no more than 2,000 people inside. But there were no empty seats.
Outside the Leave Means Leave battle bus proved an unmissable draw for the faithful who posed next to slogans including 'Stop the Brexit betrayal' and 'Believe in Britain'. There was no mention of that £350 million for the NHS this time.
Inside the only thing you could buy was Leave Means Leave baseball hats and beer – and the crowd indulged in both.
When the star turns arrived there was a rush to the back of the hall. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to shake Farage's hand.
Chris and Julie Townend came from Leigh for the rally. And they even brought their nine-year-old daughter Keeley. As the PA system boomed out why Theresa May must 'chuck Chequers' as the crowd waited for the speeches Chris bounced around on his tip toes trying to get a glimpse of his 'hero' Farage.
'He should be knighted for what he has done for this country,' the 48-year-old said. 'I've been a fan for a lot of years although I never voted UKIP. I've always voted Conservative and Nigel is a proper Tory in my mind. That is what we need to get the party back.
'I think we will get Brexit through. It has to happen. In fact I am more confident than ever that we will get a decent one now the EU is playing silly beggars. It is the best thing that could happen I think because we have more chance of getting a no-deal Brexit. We don't want to be shackled to the EU any longer. It is time to turn our backs on them and get on with rebuilding the damage that has been done to this country.'
When Farage did take the stage the only cheer louder than Chris' was his daughter Keeley.
It wasn't just Farage who got the crowd excited though – Hoey was greeted with loud cheers as she explained how hard it had been for her to back Brexit and be a Labour MP. Hoey's Vauxhall constituency voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU so it is not the will of her people she is battling for.
Farage was second on stage and explained how he had been forced out of retirement to ensure Brexit happens.
To cheers and applause, the 'gangsters' and 'bully boys' of the EU were told to 'read some history books' about how Britain reacts 'when we are up against it'.
To almost mass hysteria Farage said out-of-touch 'career politicians' do not want to respect the referendum vote to leave the EU and a renewed, cross-party campaign was needed to stay on course for Brexit and counter the 'negative' narrative in the media.
'They are a bunch of gangsters,' he said. 'We will explain a free trade deal is possible, if that's what the gangsters in Brussels want.
'If they don't, that is fine, if they don't we will leave with no deal. No deal, no problem.
'I think it's about time that our elected politicians began to feel the heat over the extent of the betrayal.'
If he had told them he could walk on water they would have believed him. Somehow Farage has a hold over these people.
Davis went last and rattled on about technical detail which left the crowd, for the most part, bemused.
As the crowd filed out one older woman turned to her friend and gestured at the bus: 'They haven't put the £350m on this time – they don't need to. That is the biggest reason for getting out.'
It would be wrong to brand the majority of the crowd as racist or stupid – although some are clearly both. They just believe things will get better after Brexit. They are blind to the facts and nothing will change their minds.
MORE: MANDRAKE: Tim Walker on the last orders for Farage and friends
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