Brexit Party ready to cause a ruckus across West Midlands in EU election
Celebrity candidates get ready for the campaign trail as a fierce European election looms.
You’d never believe Rupert Lowe and Martin Daubney had not met before.
Within a few minutes of wandering into the pub, they are nattering away like a pair of long lost brothers, clinking glasses – Doom Bar for Mr Daubney, water for Mr Lowe – and posing for pictures with regulars.
In many ways they are an odd couple.
Mr Lowe is the dripping-in-cash Tory, a city banker who garnered a reputation as a hire ‘em and fire ‘em chief when he ran Premier League football club Southampton.
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Mr Daubney describes himself as “the classic working class boy done good”, the Labour-voting son of a coal miner and a teacher, who was editor of the lads’ mag Loaded and is now a television news talking head.
They’re from very different walks of life, but the one thing that unites them above all is a strong dislike of the European Union.
It’s a feeling they both admit has been enhanced by the UK’s failure to secure its departure from the bloc, despite the Brexit vote of nearly three years ago.
Now they are two of the big-name candidates in the West Midlands for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
“For years the concerns of working class people were dismissed by politicians and the press as racist and xenophobic,” Mr Daubney says as he sips a pint in Wolverhampton’s Moon Under Water.
“Then Brexit came along we had this amazing outpouring of pent-up, heart-felt frustration. Now here we are again.
“The fact that 17.4 million people can speak out and still be ignored is a true scandal.”
Mr Lowe is a long time opponent of Britain’s EU membership. In the 1990s he campaigned against the Maastricht Treaty, then stood for election as the Referendum Party candidate for The Cotswolds in the 1997 general election, gaining 6.7 per cent of the vote.
“I kept my deposit,” he recalls. “The banner we fought under then was ‘let the people decide’. The people did decide and we eventually got the referendum.
“But now our elected politicians are not implementing the will of the people. It has left a hole in our politics.”
It is a space the Brexit Party has been founded to fill. Put together by former Ukip leader Farage in January, it aims to make its mark on politics by tapping into the frustrations of Leave voters.
As things stand the party has no policies other than the obvious one, and is instead taking the unorthodox approach of assembling a manifesto once the European elections on May 23 are done.
Most of the Brexit Party’s candidates are not from traditional political backgrounds, “a quality” Mr Lowe believes will stand them in good stead when voters head to the polls.
“We’re real people,” he says. “We run businesses, we pay taxes, we are not career politicians swimming around in a Westminster pond putting our own interests above the country’s.”
“You look at so many of our candidates,” Mr Daubney adds. “They are incredibly successful business people who have actual lived experience of doing deals.
“Surely they are more useful to the Brexit process than a civil servant?”
Mr Lowe, 61, has kept himself busy since leaving Southampton for the final time a decade ago, where he cut a hugely controversial figure in the eyes of many fans.
“I get blamed for a lot of things at Southampton by people who are misinformed,” he says, revealing that although he is proud of his legacy at the club, he does not miss the “dirty business” of football. These days he owns several companies, has a farm, and a soccer school run by his son.
The father-of-four is also chairman of a group bringing proton beam therapy to the UK, having recovered from prostate cancer himself in 2014.
“I fought two libel trials and won them. I’ve also had my phones hacked, so I have been through the mill. I think I understand what it takes to represent the people of the West Midlands,” he adds.
His ties to the region stem from his mother’s family, which had shoe shops in Birmingham, Redditch and Worcester for decades.
Mr Daubney, from Nottingham, has also had a colourful career in the public eye.
The 48-year-old father-of-two (he describes the EU referendum result as the third best day of his life) had an eight-year stint as editor of Loaded, where he revelled in his nickname “The King of the Lads”.
“I loved every minute of it,” he says. “I got drunk with Noel Gallagher, I drove across America with Abi Titmuss with a pillowcase full of booze.
“Often I had to pinch myself that I was doing that job. It was every lad’s dream. I get it thrown back at me now that it was all sexist, but we were in an era when we were paying a cover girl more for a day’s photo shoot than we paid the writer that interviewed them in a year. It was a working class, primal product that taught me a lot about life.”
He’s now a men’s rights and mental health awareness activist, and talks passionately about issues including male suicide and social mobility for working class men.
He’s a regular ‘talking head’ on television news and chat shows, where he says he has become used to being “the only Brexiteer in the room”.
Mr Daubney says he “pulled the rip-cord” on Labour under Ed Miliband, believing they had “abandoned the working classes”. He says he became “so politically homeless that I once voted Liberal Democrat”.
“This is the most terrifying thing I have ever done in my life,” he continues. “My dad said I’d get death threats. My wife – who voted Remain – just stared into space when I told her. Everyone I know told me not to do it, but here I am.
“I knew if I hadn’t done it I would regret it for the rest of my life.”
Mr Daubney predicts “a pan-European resistance movement” against the EU is set to emerge in next weeks poll, with voters across the continent showing their fury towards the status quo.
“This isn’t some nationalistic right-wing thing,” he says. “In Spain we are seeing the socialists on a surge. In Germany the Greens are making inroads.
“The trend is towards a complete mistrust of the existing political establishment.
“They are seen as cronies and puppets of the EU. People want something new, and Brexit lit the blue touch paper for that.”
In the UK voters have every right to be outraged, according to Mr Lowe, who cites as reasons Theresa May’s “incompetence” for allowing herself to be pushed around by the EU, and her “pig deal” which is worse than remaining in the bloc.
On the prospect of a second referendum, he says: “It was a once in a lifetime vote when the Remainers thought they were going to win it. Now they’ve lost it they want another one.”
Both candidates credit Mr Farage for being “the only man” who could have turned a new party into “a serious political force” in such a short space of time.
“He’s unique and what he has done is quite an incredible feat,” says Mr Daubney, who claims never to have voted for Ukip. “This party shouldn’t exist, but there is a necessity for change because the two-party system has failed us.
“It resonates with the man and woman in the street who feel abandoned,” he continues, adding: “We are going after disaffected Labour supporters who voted Leave.”
“People should be concerned about any party that can end up with two ageing Marxists running the show,” Mr Lowe adds.
“It doesn’t mean the Labour Party is bad, but like the Conservatives it is symptomatic of a failure of a system where the head of the beast has selected people who are not fit for the job.
“People are looking for something different.”
Right on cue a group of Brexit Party campaigners arrive in the pub, wearing t-shirts with the party logo and handing out leaflets to the early afternoon drinking crowd.
Labour and the Tories are in for an almighty shock, one of them tells me, referring to the European elections.
With public anger towards the mainstream parties off the charts and the Brexit Party surging ahead in the polls, it would probably be a shock if they didn’t return a fair few MEPs to Brussels.
But it is what happens in the weeks and months following the vote that will tell us whether the Brexit Party is a genuine threat to the UK’s political elite.
Mr Daubney is adamant: “This isn’t some flash in the pan.
“Brexit broke Westminster and completely obliterated its credibility. People have to understand that this isn’t a protest vote.
“The European elections are stage one, to get boots on the ground in Brussels and cause a ruckus.
“The Peterborough by-election is being fought, then it’s on towards a general election.
“We are going to see a democratic revolution – and I can’t wait.”