"Farage is a Del Boy who wants to get somewhere".
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"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.”

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue