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.

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Is Labour really as doomed as it seems? The polls have got it wrong before

Pollsters often overrate Labour's performance. But in two elections, the opposite happened. 

Few moments in the Labour Party’s history can have felt as gloomy as this one. Going into a general election that almost no-one expects them to win, their overall opinion polling is appalling. Labour seems becalmed in the mid-20s; the Conservative Party has rocketed into the mid- to high-40s, and has even touched 50 per cent in one survey.

The numbers underlying those voting intention figures seem, if anything, worse. The Conservatives have huge leads on leadership and economic competence – often even more reliable indicators of election results than the headline numbers. High turnout groups such as the over-65s have turned against Labour in unprecedented numbers. Working-class Brits have swung towards the Conservative, placing once-safe Labour seats in danger. There are limited, but highly suggestive, hints among the data that the swing against Labour is higher in its own marginal seats – a potentially toxic development for any party seeking to hang on to MPs, as Conservatives defending apparently impregnable majorities under John Major in 1997 would attest.

All the while, Labour seems confused about what it is really for. Try as he might, Keir Starmer’s term as Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary has been marred by a fatal confusion and indecision about the extent of the UK’s future engagement with the European Union’s single market. Labour seems neither the party of Brexit nor of Remain, but one determined to irritate as many voters as possible. A similar situation reigns in Scotland, where nationalists under Nicola Sturgeon face Conservative Unionists led by Ruth Davidson, and Labour struggles even to gain a hearing.

Many Labour policy offers – free primary school meals for all, the promise of free university tuition, nationalising the railways, upholding the triple lock of pensions, opposing National Insurance rises for the self-employed – are pleasingly universal, while in isolation appealing to different electoral groups. But together, they represent a massive shift of resources to higher-income Brits that would take huge tax rises to offset. Labour is dangerously close to offering a regressive package under the guise of left-wing radicalism. This is pretty much as far from the British people’s electoral sweet spot as it is possible to imagine.

It is therefore little wonder that Labour lags so far behind Theresa May’s Conservatives. Even some Labour strongholds appear likely to fall - regional polls from London and Wales suggest that many Labour seats will be lost in the party’s remaining citadels. Brutal stories are already coming in from the campaign trail. Rumours fly of truly epochal losses - though it is important to note that other anecdotes seem much less dramatic.

Still, there are other indicators – all too easily missed in the heat of the moment – that point in the other direction. Labour’s performance in local by-elections has been dire for the main opposition party, but the swing towards the Conservatives has been running at "only" just over 2 per cent. The party has certainly suffered some big swings against it, and it has lost wards to the Conservatives in local authorities as varied as Hertfordshire, Harrow and Middlesborough. But there is no evidence that its vote has collapsed on the scale that some of the polling suggests.

Relatively recent history should also give us pause before we write Labour off altogether. Consider the last two general elections in which Labour had near-death experiences, in both 1983 and 2010. Britain’s third party - first the Liberal-SDP Alliance, and then the Liberal Democrats - seemed about to overtake Labour in the popular vote, and steal scores of seats from the bigger progressive party. On both occasions, Labour was able to draw on hitherto unguessed-at wells of cultural identity and strength to pull away right at the campaign’s end. These are in fact the only elections in recent times when the polls have underrated, rather than overestimated, Labour’s likely score. It might be that the same phenomenon emerges this time.

The Conservatives’ huge lead right now has not resulted from a sudden collapse in Labour support, but rather from the United Kingdom Independence Party’s well-publicised implosion. If anything, after about a year of steady decline, the last week or two has seen Labour’s twelve months of slow deflation grind to a halt. Labour’s numbers have even ticked up a point or two as some voters appear to rally around "their" flag. It might be that, as you squeeze the Labour vote down, it becomes more resilient to further shrinkage.

As the Conservatives try to push into Labour’s heartlands, they might find it harder and harder to persuade voters across, from Ukip as well as from Labour. The Conservatives’ image is still far from good in such communities, whatever the underanalysed and separate appeal of PM May as a strong, considered leader in need of a negotiator’s mandate in Europe. Voters might be attracted to May, and repelled by Corbyn - that does not necessarily mean that they will actually vote Conservative. There is little evidence, so far, of any realignment in how voters see themselves – whether they "are" Labour or Conservative, rather than the more ephemeral question of whether they will simply vote for those parties.

Humans always look for patterns. Experts are no exception, while journalists and commentators can always jump to rapid – but wrong – conclusions in the overexcited heat of an election campaign. So it is with the threat of a Labour catastrophe on 8 June. The danger of just such a result is definitely there. But some of the data points we already have, and two recent elections at which Labour walked close to an abyss, cast a little bit of doubt on the inevitability of such an outcome. There are still just over six weeks to go. A Conservative landslide is still quite likely. But it is not certain. We should keep an eye out for the many hints that May’s gamble might end in a rather less crushing victory than we have been led to expect.

Glen O’Hara is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Oxford Brookes University. He blogs, in a personal capacity, at Public Policy and the Past. He is the author of a series of books about modern Britain, including The Politics of Water in Post-War Britain (Palgrave Macmillan: forthcoming, May 2017).

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