NIGEL Farage made no secret of his Thatcherite message in the heart of a region where the former Conservative Prime Minister is demonised.
The Ukip party leader visited Yarm ahead of a public meeting in Gateshead where hundreds of protesters had gathered to challenge Mr Farage’s anti-European Union and anti-immigration message.
Even before he arrived, he was in the news for employing his German wife instead of a UK national and attracted a very large media scrum, including a Danish film crew who were following his every move.
But Mr Farage still took time out to talk to The Northern Echo over a pint of real ale, called Proper Job, in Yarm’s Black Bull pub.
Questioned about his Thatcherite beliefs in a region where umemployment rose during the 1980s, when Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister, Mr Farage said: “I supported those (Thatcherite) reforms, yes. I think we had to get the relationship between business and the unions right. If we hadn’t, Nissan wouldn’t have come here.
“We are a party that errs towards the free market, that errs toward the small state, that errs towards free trade.”
Asked about job creation and the decline in heavy industry at the height of Thatcherism in the 1980s Mr Farage argued that cheaper energy for manufacturing firms was partly the answer to help the industry in future. The European Union (EU)’s “insane environmentalism subscribed too almost as a religion by the other political parties” was making UK firms uncompetitive.
He said Ukip could “directly take on the Labour Party” in a region that has often heavily voted Labour in the past because the Labour Party “no longer represents the interests of working-class people” and Ukip had a strong appeal in the region on issues of identity.
“Not everything is about economics,” he said. “What is fascinating about the North-East is, our polls show it is the most patriotic part of the country. I don’t know why but it is also the most Eurosceptic part of England.”
Earlier, Mr Farage was forced to defend the decision to employ his German wife at the same time as launching a poster campaign warning that unemployed Europeans were ''after'' people's jobs in this country. An employment agency had issued a fake advert for a similar role on its website attracted 764 applications in just 12 hours, 649 of them from UK nationals.
Mr Farage said: “She joined the party six years ago. I really, really don’t get this.” Nobody else could do that job, she was earning a very modest salary for working extremely unsociable hours for me and being available up to seven days a week."
His message appeared to go down well on Yarm High Street. One man, Tommy Oliver, shook Mr Farage’s hand. “I support Ukip because it’s not our country any more,” said Mr Oliver, of nearby Stockton. “It’s not racist to say there’s too many immigrants.”
The Ukip leader, who had already had a pint and lunch at the Fox Covert pub just outside the town, also used his charm while spending £5.63 buying sausages and bacon in Yarm Butchers. He was served by Callum Murray, 26, who afterwards said he didn’t vote in the last election “but I think I might vote Ukip next time”.
Mr Farage dismissed campaigners planning to protest outside his public meeting at The Sage in Gateshead, as “a mixture of all sorts, we’ve got the English Defence League to animal rights protesters and goodness knows who. They’ll probably attack each other before me.”
Noting there were three Ukip candidates standing in a by-election to Yarm Town Council tomorrow, he said: “I don’t know what the result will be, but the Yarm election will be a very good litmus test for the party.”
Other candidates in the by-election, include the Yarm Residents Association, which has won the support of James Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, in the absence of any Conservative candidates, and two Yarm Independents who say politics should be local.
Meanwhile Mr Farage, who had a much bigger media following than leader of the Labour Party, Ed Milliband attracted on a visit to Stockton last October, said he “had fallen in the love with the region...I don’t want to leave".
* The Northern Echo will be interviewing politicians from all major parties ahead of the European elections on Thursday, May 22.