"Farage is a Del Boy who wants to get somewhere".
Show Hide image

"I hope and pray he doesn’t get elected": Ukip founder Alan Sked on Nigel Farage

James Nickerson meets Alan Sked, the man who created Ukip.

Professor Alan Sked, once-upon-a-time founder of Ukip, has strong views on the current state of the party. “They go to Europe, they don’t do anything, they take the money and as far as I can tell it’s all a fraud.”

This is not just one scorned man’s account of the party he created. “Two Ukip MEPs have been done for corruption and fraud and been put in jail, and a third has also been charged . . . Not one Ukip MEP turned up for the debate on standards of English required by foreign doctors in the NHS, something they are always saying kills people because the doctors do not understand English.”

Not that when Sked led the party he was a fan of the European Parliament; between 1991 and 1997, when he ran the party, they would not send candidates there. “We didn’t recognise the legitimacy of the European parliament: we’d only send MPs to Westminster. There was no reason to go there and just say ‘no, no, no, no’ to absolutely everything. And if we were forced to go we would have given our salaries to the NHS.”

Robert Smith, a Ukip founding father who is Parliamentary Candidate for Camborne & Redruth, has a respectfully different view: “The anti-European movement, when it started, needed someone like Alan Sked, who was clear-sighted enough to say we need a party that goes across all parties, which has as its raison d'être that we leave the European Union. We would have got nowhere without Alan and I congratulate him for that.”

But Smith adds: “Afterwards there was a series of fallings out and people wanted to be more politically astute than Alan. We needed to change our policy on the European Union after facing headlines stating ‘And if you want a party that won’t even go to the European Union Vote for Ukip’.”

It is not just this that has changed, Sked tells me as he points to the membership form he created. It lies among the kind of heap of files you would expect to find in the office of a history lecturer. In the years that he led the party it was a mainstream-normal-centre-of-the-road-liberal party, he says. “Our membership form said we had no prejudices against foreigners or lawful minorities of any kind at all, and we had an array of policies.”

“We had policies on housing, the welfare state, defence, crime, economics, fiscal policy. You name it. The one policy area we didn’t have a policy was immigration, because it didn’t dawn on me that immigration was a problem. Now he’s obsessed with immigration, that silly bugger Farage.”

This was not how the academic envisaged Ukip. In fact, it was originally named the Anti-Federalist League in 1991 after the Anti-Corn Law league of the 1840s that had converted Sir Robert Pell from protection to free trade and changed the history of Britain. “Unfortunately, not everyone had this historical consciousness, people associating the name with fascist leagues in France in the 1930s. This wasn’t acceptable.”

Still, for Sked, a decade of meeting European politicians, academics and bureaucrats led him to the conclusion that the EU was a burden on British finances, undemocratic and corrupt, views he still holds. This is why in 2013 he set up New Deal, a political party designed to do to Labour what Ukip has done to the Tories. While the party has ceased to exist, the history professor still vigorously campaigns for Britain to leave the EU.

“It worries me greatly, however, that Farage and UKIP could bring down the whole out campaign if there were to be a referendum. That’s why I keep criticising them and hoping they won’t get anywhere in the election because they have become so toxic,” Sked explains as he reclines in his chair. “I saw a poll that put Ukip as Britain’s most toxic brand, with the conservatives second and Marmite third. I think Farage and Ukip are seen as so prejudiced and so racist that they would completely contaminate the whole campaign, which is my great fear.”

A lot seems to ride, in Sked’s view, on how the media decide who the spokespeople for the Out campaign should be. “If the press takes an arbitrary decision that Farage is the spokesperson for the Out campaign over people like myself or Nigel Lawson, and we get side-lined, then our movement could be in trouble. The media treats him like a darling, but he’s got no mind: he’s a plank. But at least the media often build them up to destroy them.”

But Sked thinks Farage has got this kind of ‘I’m the guy in the pub with a fag and a pint’ thing going on and that is why when Ukip does shocking things nobody seems to care. Sked believes the party are trying to get what he calls the obvious loonies out, “but every week someone crawls out of the woodworks saying something like ‘African immigrants are scroungers’ or something else vile. They are against gay marriage and want to ban the burka: they say they’re a libertarian party but they’re just prejudice to the nth degree.”

For Smith, however, racial prejudice exists in every political party; “I’m not denying it exists in Ukip at all. What we do, though, is kick members out if we find out. The people I work with are not racially prejudiced; but I don't deny that there are people with these prejudices in Ukip, just as there are in every the Labour and Tory party. We’re not all swivel-headed lunatics.”

Yet, a few weeks ago Farage made a statement about how he wanted to scrap legislation that protected against discrimination at work. He says he did not mention race at all in the interview, but for Sked “it demonstrates Farage's and Ukip's obsession with race and however the statement is worded it constitutes a dog whistle signal to all racists in Britain that Ukip is the party for them. Which other party leader would play the race card in such a way during an election? Just as in 2010 when the party's flagship policy was to ban the burka, yet again Ukip is trying to turn the election debate from serious issues concerning the economy to the divisive one of race.”

The party got nowhere until 2010, when it became the default protest party of British politics when the Liberal Democrats entered coalition with the Conservatives. Voting Ukip in the 2015 General Election, however, will result in one thing for sure, thinks Sked: a raucous bunch of populists in Westminster who would be agitating for a repeal of the 1972 Accession Treaty, or a referendum, and they would team up with the Tory Eurosceptics to make sure any renegotiation Cameron made with Europe was not good enough – which is probably what will happen anyway.

Forget the party for a second though, Sked instructs me. “It’s a one man band and there’s a huge rumour in Ukip that Farage is desperate to get a peerage and he’ll do a deal with the Tories just to get to the Lords. What he really wants is social respectability. He’s a Del Boy who wants to get somewhere.”

Sked looks worried. “I hope and pray he doesn’t get elected.” He’s been informed by Craig MacKinlay, a previous Ukip candidate who is running against Farage in South Thanet, that the Tories are slight ahead, but it’s going to be close. “Nonetheless if Farage doesn’t get in, even he says that is a car crash”.

The academic is hoping for more than that; he hopes they get no seats at all. “They might end up just getting one, and I don’t think it will be Farage, I think it will be Carswell in Clacton. Current opinion polls give Ukip 9 per cent, and that’s not enough to get any seats, let alone hold the balance of power.”

Getty
Show Hide image

Where are the moderate Tories condemning Zac Goldsmith’s campaign?

Conservative MPs are reluctant to criticise the London mayoral candidate’s dogwhistle rhetoric.

Very few Conservative politicians have criticised Zac Goldsmith’s campaign to be elected London mayor. And, amid repeated accusations of racial profiling, Islamophobic undertones, and patronising London’s Indian communities, there has been plenty to criticise.

Ever since describing his rival, Sadiq Khan, as having “radical politics” at the end of last year, Goldsmith’s campaign has come under fire for attempting to sound a dogwhistle to voters for whom racial politics – and divisions – are a priority.

You may feel it’s naïve of me to expect Tory MPs to join in the criticism. Presumably most Tory MPs want their party’s candidate to win the mayoralty. So it is unlikely that they would condemn his methods.

But I’d argue that, in this case, we can’t excuse dodged questions and studied silence as good clean tribalism. Granted, Conservatives only want to see their party make electoral gains. And that is understandable. But trickier to explain away is how willing all of the party’s MPs – many of whom are as moderate and “cotton-wool Tory” (in the words of one Labour adviser) as we once assumed Goldsmith was – are to ignore the campaign’s nastier side.

Why aren’t the Cameroons (or neo-Cameroons) who wish to further “detoxify” the party speaking out? There are plenty of them. There is more enthusiasm on the Tory benches for David Cameron than is generally assumed. Many of the 2015 intake are grateful to him; those in marginal seats in particular see him as the reason they won last year. And in spite of the grumbling nature of the 2010-ers, a number of them are keener than appears on Cameron. After all, plenty wouldn’t be in parliament without his A-list and open primaries (a time when the party was supposed to be opening up to candidates of different backgrounds, something Goldsmith’s rhetoric could threaten).

And we know it’s not just Labour whining about Goldsmith’s campaign. It makes Tories uncomfortable too. For example, the Conservative Group Leader at Watford Council Binita Mehta, former Conservative candidate Shazia Awan, and Tory peer and former minister Sayeeda Warsi have spoken out.

And it’s not just non-MPs who are riled by Goldsmith’s rhetoric. Behind the scenes, Conservative MPs have been muttering for weeks about feeling uncomfortable about the campaign.

“There has been a sense that this is a bad dogwhistle, and it’s a bit of a smear,” one Tory MP tells me. “I don’t think Sadiq Khan’s a bad man at all – I think his problem is, which happens to all politicians, is some of the platforms in the past and the people he shared them with, and maybe he didn’t know – I mean, the number of times David Cameron or Gordon Brown or Tony Blair were shown at some fundraising thing, or just visiting somewhere, shaking hands with somebody who turns out to be a crook; that’s the nature of mass politics.”

There is also a mixed view among London’s Tory MPs about the tone of Goldsmith’s campaign generally. Some, who were frustrated in the beginning by his “laidback, slightly disengaged” style, are simply pleased that he finally decided to play dirty with the more energetic Khan. Others saw his initial lighter touch as an asset, and lament that he is trying to emulate Boris Johnson by being outrageous – but, unlike the current London mayor, doesn’t have the personality to get away with it.

One Tory MP describes it as a “cold, Lynton Crosby calculation of the dogwhistle variety”, and reveals that, a couple of weeks ago, there was a sense among some that it was “too much” and had “gone too far and is counterproductive”.

But this sense has apparently dissipated. Since Labour’s antisemitism crisis unfolded last week, moderate Conservative MPs feel more comfortable keeping their mouths shut about Goldsmith’s campaign. This is because racism in Labour has been exposed, even if Khan is not involved. Ironic really, considering they were (rightly) so quick to condemn Ken Livingstone’s comments and call on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MPs to speak out against such sentiments. It’s worth noting that Labour’s moderates have been significantly less reluctant than their Tory counterparts to call out such problems in their own party.

There is also the EU referendum to consider. Tory MPs see division and infighting ahead, and don’t want to war more than is necessary. One source close to a Tory MP tells me: “[Goldsmith’s campaign] is uncomfortable for all of us – it’s not even considered a Conservative campaign, it’s considered a Zac Goldsmith campaign. But [we can’t complain because] we have to concentrate on Europe.”

So it makes sense politically, in the short term, for Tory moderates to keep quiet. But I expect they know that they have shirked a moral duty to call out such nasty campaign methods. Their calls for Labour’s response to antisemitism, and David Cameron’s outrage about Jeremy Corbyn’s “friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah, are simply hollow attack lines if they can’t hold their own party to higher standards.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.