Nigel Farage speaks at a Ukip public meeting at Old Basing Village Hall on April 9, 2014 in Basingstoke during the row over Maria Miller's expenses. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Farage should publish his accounts in full

Ukip denounces "smears" from the Times and claims its leader is "confident that he has abided by European parliamentary rules at all times". But will he offer transparency?

With Ukip riding as high as 20 per cent in the polls, and on course to finish first or second in next month's European elections, Nigel Farage is finally coming under the kind of scrutiny he has avoided for so long. Today's Times reveals that he is potentially facing a European investigation over the £15,500 he receives annually in MEP allowances to fund the Bognor Regis property where he lives rent-free. A former office manager told the paper that upkeep of the converted grain store amounts to no more than £3,000 a year, leaving around £12,000 apparently unaccounted for. 

A complaint has been filed to the EU anti-fraud office OLAF by a former Ukip official who wishes to remain anonymous due to "physical threats" allegedly made by other party officials against members who raised questions about Ukip finances. One of the party's former MEPs, Mike Nattrass, remarks: "You shove it down your trousers if you want to. The EU will never ask them to justify it. That’s the trouble with it. It goes into your bank account whether you want it or not."

Despite receiving a a general expenditure allowance of around £3,800 a month to rent and run an office, MEPs are not required to file receipts. But under EU guidelines, as the Times notes, spending is limited to "rent, water, electricity, heating, insurance and business rates. Stationery, office equipment, staff and communications come under separate spending categories."

Farage once boasted during a debate on Europe at the Foreign Press Association in 2009 of receiving nearly £2m in allowances since his election in 1999. Asked by then Labour MP Denis MacShane (who was later forced to resign his seat and jailed over fradulent receipts) how much he had received, he said: "It is a vast sum. I don't know what the total amount is but - oh lor - it must be pushing £2 million." 

In response to the Times report, Farage said: "I don't pay rent on the office but I obviously pay for everything else. Whether it's the burglar alarm or electricity. About £1,000 a month is roughly what it is. Exceptionally I put more money in as and when it's needed." Ukip has also issued a lengthy rebuttal to what it describes as "smears" from "the newspaper known as the mouthpiece of the political establishment". Here's the statement in full: 

Nigel Farage is confident that he has abided by European parliamentary rules at all times when spending allowances.

The Times has raised a number of 'fishing type' allegations, all of which lack substance as to their formulation and provide no substantive questions needing to be answered. In fact many of your questions are probably just as applicable to any of the other political parties contesting the forthcoming European Elections with figures and statements duly amended to suit.

The Lyminster office is not the sole address that incurs expenditure in the pursuance of Mr Farage’s job as an MEP, though it is the most important one. It is quite wrong to claim that he did not declare the rental arrangement with J. Longhurst LTD. until 2013. It has been in the register of members’ interests since 2003.

Jasna Badzak is a convicted fraudster serving a suspended sentence, whose allegations are unfounded and vexatious. She has never been a press secretary or confidant of Mr Farage’s. To allege that he has transferred EU funds to an offshore account is entirely untrue. Your use of her indicates that you are writing an article with a defined end by inventing a road to achieve that end.

Mr Martin Haslam never had any responsibility for EU money. He was, for a brief period responsible for the UKIP South East accounts.

In relation to UK based staff paid from EU funds, they are approved constituency managers in line with advice given to us by the members’ services in Strasbourg.

You are expected to quote this statement in full in any article you choose to publish.

If Farage, who has made hay from the Maria Miller scandal, is "confident that he has abided by European parliamentary rules at all times", there is an easy way to resolve the dispute: publish his accounts in full. Rather than throwing around threats to sue the Times (on what grounds it is unclear) and deriding "a politically motivated campaign by the establishment", he should remember that sunlight is the best disinfectant. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide