Back my 'people's army' - Farage

Nigel Farage has urged voters to join his "people's army" at a rally in Eastleigh ahead of Thursday's elections.

UKIP supporters clash with opponents in Croydon town centre where their leader Nigel Farage was due to speak, but didn't turn up.
UKIP supporters clash with opponents in Croydon town centre where their leader Nigel Farage was due to speak, but didn't turn up.

In marked contrast to scenes earlier in the day in Croydon, around 300 people packed into a sports hall to hear the Ukip leader make one of his final pitches ahead of the polls.

Hours earlier, Mr Farage failed to appear at a street party organised in Croydon after fierce arguments broke out between party supporters and protesters.

Mr Farage has been fighting against claims of racism after remarks he made about Romanians in a radio interview last week.

He claimed the row had made it "impossible" to hold a debate on European issues during the campaign through the media or broadcasters.

Mr Farage made a pointed criticism of being challenged on maternity pay during a Radio 5Live interview earlier rather than EU issues.

He also blamed the largest parties for trying to fight the 2015 campaign a year early.

Mr Farage said far from being racist, Ukip endorsed a "re-embracing" of the Commonwealth nations.

And he said: "Whilst they are busy throwing insults at us, what the opinion polls of last Sunday showed us is the Ukip vote amongst black and ethnic minorities is bigger than the vote for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats added up together."

And in a broad attack on mainstream parties he told the meeting: "This country is now run by a bunch of college kids who have no connection with real life."

The Eastleigh meeting passed without incident amid tight security. The event was ticketed and attendees had to pay a charge to attend.

Mr Farage was given a universal standing ovation when he closed his remarks.

A Channel 4 documentary team was almost banned from the meeting after a Ukip official said the channel was "not trusted".

The team was understood to be making a documentary about the climate surrounding Romanians during the elections.

A group of Romanian people had been brought to the event and paid the £5 entry charge but it is not thought they were planning to disrupt the meeting in anyway.

A party official said: "It is just broadcasters like Channel 4 not abiding by our rules."

The team was allowed back into the meeting at the last minute. Eastleigh resident Mark Latham was among the protesters outside the venue before the meeting began.

He said: "I'm protesting as a Labour activist because I don't think the narrative of hate should be part of the political narrative.

"I agree with hope not hate."

Chants from the protesters included "Nigel Farage we know you - you are a racist through and through" and "racists, homophobes, bigots in the area".

At its earlier event in Croydon, the eurosceptic party had promised to bring a "strong and positive message" to the streets of south London with a "bold and vibrant" carnival-style campaign event.

But a steel band Endurance Steel, which had been hired to play, walked out amid reports that they had not been told they would be playing for Ukip.

And Ukip candidate Winston McKenzie said that Mr Farage would not be attending because of security concerns, after activists clashed with protesters. The former boxer, who is standing in the South Norwood ward of Croydon Borough Council on Thursday, risked alienating local voters by branding Croydon unsafe and a "dump".

Romanians carrying banners about Nazis argued on Croydon High Street with party members about Mr Farage's remark last week that people would be right to be uncomfortable about Romanian neighbours moving in.

And anti-Ukip demonstrators waved placards reading "Ukip racist sexist homophobic scum", "Nigel Farage racist scum" and "We are Romanians, and we don't feel comfortable with your racism".

The so-called street party was marked throughout by peaceful but noisy arguments among scrums of people outside the Whitgift shopping centre, watched over by police and surrounded by a large pack of press reporters awaiting the leader's arrival.

Asked by reporters after the meeting why he had bodyguards at the Eastleigh event, Mr Farage said: "Because there are lots of people out there that want to hit me and hurt me, it's as simple as that.

"This has been a sustained campaign.

"There are elements of this sort of Socialist Worker, extreme Green, linked almost on the fringes of the Labour Party, through organisations that are funded by the trade unions and partly funded actually by government, who have to have someone to hate.

"If there is no one to hate they're not happy. They used to hate the BNP... They have melted away so now they have to hate Ukip.

"That's really what it has been all about."