Mobbed by supporters and the world’s media, Nigel Farage mania swept into the rain-drenched West Midlands – one of Ukip’s key target regions for European and council election seats.
The charismatic leader of the Eurosceptic political party donned his trademark trilby and a wax overcoat to take a tour of Dudley yesterday afternoon before a rousing 650-seat sell-out speech inside the town hall.
Dubbing it the ‘Black Country Blast’, Mr Farage says Dudley, as well as Wolverhampton, had seen an ‘exceptional’ rise in party membership and activism.
And he hopes it will result in a good show in next month’s local elections.
He said: “In Dudley we are doing exceptionally well. Growth has been really good. We are fielding a full slate of 24 candidates and we could win enough seats to form the official opposition on the council here.
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“In Wolverhampton we are again fielding a full slate in the local elections and former Lib Dem mayor Malcolm Gwinnett is part of our team.
“Sandwell will be harder for us as we are still new to the area and are fielding fewer candidates.
“It is an important area for us in the European and local elections and the aim is to be the top party in the region for Europe and number two in the local elections.
“I’m calling it our Black Country Blast.”
He went on to say: “People are saying that the other parties do not speak for them.
“The reception in the Black Country has been superb – you can’t quite put your finger on it but there is something about this place – its sense of tradition, patriotism, both English and British, makes it such a friendly place to come to.”
His entourage, which includes a big white tour bus, pulled up outside the town hall before he and his team ate fish and chips in Sedgley and headed to Upper Gornal to sup a pint of Bathams.
Mr Farage’s first stop was at the deserted street market in Dudley where he surprised those traders who were sticking it out in the rain.
A bewildered Jules Rafferty, from Wednesfield and who was looking after her friend’s flower stall, was the first to be approached and asked about the European elections.
She said afterwards: “I was bombarded really, I don’t know what to think.”
He also met the fruiterer Alan Bennett, aged 60, from Dudley, who described the outspoken politician as ‘easy going’.
He added: “I like to meet all politicians. I’ll make my mind up nearer to the election.”
Under the shelter of the market’s roof, Mr Farage took the opportunity to do a few interviews with the international news crews, which included some from Spain and Sweden.
From there he made the short walk to take in the statue of Duncan Edwards, before heading to Roger Scott Menswear where the owner, Mr Scott, is also a Ukip candidate for Lower Gornal.
After his tour of the town, he and his entourage stopped in at The Britannia Inn on Kent Street in Upper Gornal for a swift pint.
Selecting a pint of Bathams, when asked how he was enjoying his drink he said: “The one thing this part of the world is spoilt for is beer.”
First-time voter Brandon Smith, aged 18, made a trip to the pub especially to meet Mr Farage. After grabbing his photo opportunity, Mr Smith said: “I told him he had some sense. I just like his policies.
“It’s my first time in here, but I knew he was coming and wanted to meet him.
“I just think he’s a nice bloke, really friendly and keen.”
Then, back at Ukip’s West Midlands headquarters in Sedgley, he met with families of the victims of the Birmingham Bombings before greeting MEP candidates Jill Seymour, Jim Carver and Bill Etheridge before his speech in Dudley Town Hall.
Report by Rob Golledge