Nigel Farage doesn't represent some of the left-of-Labour views in his party. Photo: Getty
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Red Ukip: a new political force?

Ideas well to the left of the Labour party are not compatible with Ukip's traditional libertarian selling point.

Some have mocked the term “Red Ukip”, imagining that Ukip remains a Thatcherite breakaway from the Conservative Party. Well, they won’t be anymore.

I’ve just returned from a remarkable fringe meeting at the party's annual autumn conference, in which Ian Dexter, a Ukip member, former candidate in county and district elections and potential parliamentary candidate for 2015, outlined his strategy for winning over Labour voters. His ideas are well to the left of the current Labour party.

“Money has to be prized out of the rich," Dexter said, lamenting the scale of inequality in the UK today: he quoted a statistic that the richest top five families have as much wealth as the bottom 20 per cent. His solutions include more progressive taxation, saying that the UK’s growth had been greatest in the Fifties, when the top rate of tax was over 90 per cent. Dexter also advocated re-evaluating council tax bands for properties, which has not been done since 1991.

Only an hour after Nigel Farage's communications chief, Patrick O’Flynn, had announced that Ukip would abolish inheritance tax, Dexter said he was making a mistake: “What on earth are we doing abolishing inheritance tax?" he asked.

Asked about the risk of the wealthiest fleeing the UK, Dexter said: "I would call their bluff - if you wanna go, go." And, he warned the audience, "Wealth does not trickle down" and “The days of rugged individualism are gone.”

There was more, too. Much more. Speaking about the railways, Dexter said that the state-owned Northern Ireland railways were the best in the UK. "Just renationalise the whole dam thing,” he said. He also supported introducing rent controls and called for realism in Ukip about the possibility of tax cuts. “We've got to realise that the NHS and welfare bill are going to keep doing up,” he said. And he called on banks to be broken down to their pre-1970s sizes.

It was quite a display: one more associated with members of the Socialist Workers Party than Ukip. And it was extraordinary, too, that Ukip allowed Dexter to speak at one of their biggest fringe events, especially as he said that they had a good idea of what he would say. Intriguingly, Dexter also said that he is in regular contact with Patrick O’Flynn.

Red Ukip is a very real force, alive and well. And so is the democratic tendency in Ukip, which allows debates to be played out with a frankness anathema to the three main parties.

But ultimately Red Ukip is not compatible with the libertarianism that was once Ukip’s selling point. As parties expand, so do the ideological tensions within them. There will come a point when it becomes impossible to remain the party of both Ian Dexter and Douglas Carswell. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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