Challenging the Establishment: A Conversation with Inaya Folarin

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Recent University of Leeds alumni and last years’ Features editor Inaya Folarin is a prospective parliamentary candidate for Leeds North East, representing the Brexit Party. As a 22-year-old woman of colour, she undoubtedly breaks some of the stereotypes associated with Nigel Farage’s latest political venture. We sat down with her to ask about her perspective on the Brexit argument, her experience as a person of colour, the controversial content of her party leader’s speeches, and for some insight into what led her to pursue politics. 

How does someone go from being a recent Leeds University graduate to running for Parliament? Were you involved in politics while at university?

I studied politics at university, although it’s weird because I didn’t get involved much. Before university, I had done a little bit of political commentary and talked about young people’s involvement in politics. After the Brexit vote, I thought the conversation had become increasingly narrow. I absolutely support Brexit but I think it’s fundamental that as many people as possible from a range of backgrounds have a stake in the decision-making table participating to the decisions and representing different voices. I thought this was an opportunity to do that. I graduated University and we had European Elections and I was like “No, this is my time, I’ve got to do it!”, so I applied and got it. It wasn’t a fascinating story, unfortunately. 

What kind of challenges have you found in British politics as a young woman of colour?

It’s interesting, because I’ve never really seen my background as something holding me back. for example, my mother was an illegal immigrant in this country. She worked three jobs to send my sister and I to really good schools. If despite all the challenges she can wake up every morning and still have positive things to say, with the opportunities and society I have been born into the least I can do is participate to the fullest capacity and not see that as something that prevents me from achieving anything. 

Life can be difficult and there are many different challenges that us as individuals and within our groups face. However it’s down to us how we are going to respond to that. Being a woman of colour, so far, I haven’t seen anything per se that has prevented me from succeeding other than some people questioning how I can have certain political viewpoints. I think this is one of the ideas that I am challenging. People of colour, women and other collectives are a very diverse range of people with very diverse experiences, and therefore a diverse range of views.

We’re now on Black History Month. What do you think is the biggest lesson this country and the world can learn from this celebration?

I would say people need to get used to it. Black people are here to stay, and we’re going to be here for a very long time. So either you can continue to define ourselves by the challenges and oppressions we have faced historically or we can say “Those things don’t define us and we are here to stay.” We are going to take up space in every organisation – scientific, intellectual, political, artistic – and people need to deal with it. 

The Brexit Party gets a lot of media attention. There’s a range of opinions regarding what they do, what they are planning on doing… What do you think is the biggest misconception the public has about the Brexit Party?

I think it’s probably that they believe it’s just made up of a lot of old white guys. I think that’s just completely untrue. The reality is that the Brexit Party is made up of so many different people with different backgrounds and ideas. I’ve been overwhelmed by just the amount of organisation and energy they have to change politics.

You’re running to represent the constituency of Leeds North East. What are your policies and challenges specific to this city and your constituency?

For me, there’s a few things. One is education and opportunities for the young. We have a failing education system. We need to educate young people in democracy and citizenship while ensuring opportunities in terms of employment. Crime is a really big problem in my particular constituency. In this internationalist, globalist system that we have, we need to remember that not everyone is benefitting from the globalised economy. 

My focus is ensuring that the most vulnerable communities who haven’t necessarily benefitted continue to get the resources and support they need. Another thing that’s really important to me is arts and culture. I’ve been working on it for the past three years and Leeds is one of the best cities in the UK for arts and creativity. A lot of people are concerned about losing EU funding because a lot of it actually goes to the arts sector, but I’m advocating to ensure that nobody in the arts and creative sector is left worse off.

Image: Franks Feng

Nigel Farage is seen as a controversial figure. We would like to ask you whether you condone or support some of the things he said. Talking about No Deal preparations, he said “I suggest we listen to [port bosses] and not to overpaid pen-pushers in Whitehall who are not doing a neutral job, and once Brexit’s done, we’ll take a knife to them.”

The thing is, if we look at the 2008 economic crash – which devastated the international economy – we’ve had a system where we’ve solely relied on so-called ‘experts’ to tell us all of our information about the economic and political system. Unfortunately, we’ve seen that it has not worked. Thinking from Nigel Farage’s perspective, all of these systems are important (like the civil service and so on), but we also need to question the systems and organisations that provide us with the same information that so far has consistently been unsuccessful. I believe what he’s talking about is challenging the perennial structures of our political system that seem to continually reinforce the same situation.

But do you condone his language?

Yeah, I do. I think people should be defined by their actions, not necessarily just the words they say. I think there’s been a massive oversensitivity when it comes to language. We had John McDonnell a few years ago calling the Conservatives social criminals who should be tried. We’ve had many politicians say questionable things. I would rather people not use that kind of language, but politics is a very heated game. We’re talking about the lives of people and their future, and unfortunately sometimes the use of language is not the most politically correct. I wouldn’t use that language, but would I say he shouldn’t use it? Personally, I wouldn’t.

You talked about the Establishment working against normal working-class people. Do you see some hypocrisy though, given Nigel Farage was a commodity and stocks trader before a politician and that’s how he made his money?

When we look at Nigel Farage, his argument is that his experience within these fields has been what has equipped him to understand the flaws within it. And so, you can flip that argument on its head, that people who are in those levels have a better insight into what the challenges and problems we face are. 

I don’t speak for Vote Leave or any organisation that was necessarily part of the Referendum campaign, but I think we have to focus on the arguments and not get bogged down in those things. It can be used on both sides, so it just ends up in a back and forth. 

Your party was set up with a donation from Jeremy Hosking, who also made his fortune in investment and donated £1.5 million to Vote Leave. Do you really think it is a grassroots organisation?

I’m not one of those people that are like “Wealthy people are the problem to our issues.” Wealthy people are responsible for the majority of jobs and things that happen in our society, and so they are also allowed to have political opinions and decide to invest in various organisations. 

I think that it’s a distraction to focus on this person did that because the exact same can be used for the other side. We need to focus on the reasons why people voted for a range of things.

Right now, there’s a growing discourse within the global right of demonising immigration. The Brexit Party is seemingly contributing to this speech, trying to close Britain to immigrants. What’s your stance on this topic?

When we talk about demonising immigration, I think we have to look at what policies successive parties have implemented in order to entrench this kind of ‘us and them’ narrative. For me, when I look at that, I felt that there is a consistent track record of successive political parties contributing to this demonisation, which is one of the reasons I joined the Brexit Party. The Conservative Party trying to drastically reduce immigration, knowing this was impossible, built resentment and made people feel like they don’t have control.

This is actually another thing I really challenge about the party and its public perception that everyone I’ve come across has talked about immigration in positive terms. The only issue is that they believe that, to be a sovereign independent nation, you need to be able to control your borders. 

I think that there’s been a failure to meaningfully and critically engage with the reason why people have concerns about immigration. Some people want to live in a society like London, more multicultural and diverse, and that’s beautiful and people should be allowed to. But people should also be allowed to live in a close-knit community, where everybody knows their neighbours. That’s a completely legitimate political consideration. 

Immigration enriches our culture, but we also need to recognise that not one size fits all. We need to figure out a way to ensure immigration continues but also takes into account the needs of various communities.

Image: Franks Feng