Billy Bragg defends decision to host UKIP rally at the Sage Gateshead

Billy Bragg defends UKIP leader Nigel Farage's right to hold his largest ever political meeting on Tyneside at the SageGateshead

Nigel Farage photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire. Sage photo: Tom White/PA Wire
Nigel Farage photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire. Sage photo: Tom White/PA Wire

UKIP has found an unlikely ally in left-wing musician Billy Bragg after a move to host its largest ever rally at the SageGateshead.

The venue’s management was attacked on social media for its decision to provide the venue for the party’s spring meeting on St George’s Day in April.

After critics on the social networking site Twitter said the organisation had a “moral obligation” not to allow UKIP leader Nigel Farage to assemble his party on Tyneside, socialist musician Billy Bragg waded into the online spat to support the Sage.

Responding to online questioning, Mr Bragg - who regularly plays at the venue and was part of its recent poster campaign - wrote: “I don’t have a problem with it.

“We shouldn’t be complacent about UKIP, but denying them the right to hold meetings is not the way forward. Don’t UKIP have the right of assembly?”

The meeting on the evening of April 23 will be the largest public meeting ever to be held by the party and its “early bird” free tickets have already been snapped up.

The Eurosceptic party has previously held a North East conference in Tynemouth but Nigel Farage will be speaking in person at this event.

Roy Smiljanic Billy Bragg performing live in concert
Billy Bragg performing live in concert
 

After by-election successes across the country, Mr Farage has said he hopes to make considerable gains in May’s local and European elections.

Messages left for the Sage online from the public prompted the organisation’s general director Anthony Sargent to clarify his stance on hosting political events.

The music and concert venue has previously been booked to hold the meetings of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats and Mr Sargent said: “Picking and choosing between political views would be an indefensible position and that really would be letting the local community down.

“We need to give these people a platform, then trust the democratic process to separate the wheat from the chaff. We have no opinion on UKIP nor do we on the Conservatives, Labour or Liberal Democrats.”

Quoting political philosopher John Stuart Mill, he added: “There’s a very basic freedom of speech right in the UK which is prized by the British whether or not you agree with a set of opinions. It’s a foundational right living in Britain that you have the right to express yourself."

One critic of the planned conference, Alan Verth, wrote on Twitter that Sage needed to consider its “moral obligations to community” while a user of the site calling himself  Trevstanley called it a“disgusting” move and would not be visiting the Sage again.

Mr Verth wrote: “I’m not happy with my home town hosting this as it goes against everything I stand for.”

Newcastle-based singer Gem Andrews, who released her debut last year, also took to Twitter to ask people to campaign against UKIP meeting on Tyneside.

Muslim 'pledge' disowned

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has disowned proposals from one of his MEPs for Muslims to be asked to sign a charter rejecting violence.

Gerard Batten, who sits on the party’s National Executive Committee, said he stood by the “charter of Muslim understanding” which he co-authored in 2006 and which states that parts of the Koran which promote “violent physical jihad” should be regarded as “inapplicable, invalid and non-Islamic”.

His comments sparked criticism from Muslim groups and UKIP’s political opponents.

The Conservative leader in the European Parliament, Syed Kamall, who is himself a Muslim, left a letter on Mr Batten’s empty seat at the Parliament chamber in Strasbourg, sarcastically offering him a guarantee that he had no intention to commit acts of violence.

Mr Farage said: “This was a private publication from Gerard Batten in 2006 and its contents are not and never have been UKIP policy.”

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