"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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The economic and moral case for global open borders

Few politicians are prepared to back a policy of free movement everywhere. Perhaps they should. 

Across the world, borders are being closed, not opened. In the US, Donald Trump has vowed to halve immigration to 500,000 and to cap the number of refugees at 50,000. In the UK, the Conservative government has reaffirmed its pledge to end free movement after Brexit is concluded. In Europe, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are being sued by the EU for refusing to accept a mandatory share of refugees.

Even Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has followed the rightward drift. Its general election manifesto promised to end free movement, and Corbyn recently complained of the “wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe”.

Among economists, however, a diametrically opposed conversation prevails. They argue that rather than limiting free movement, leaders should expand it: from Europe to the world. Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, likens the present system to leaving “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk”.

Economists estimate that allowing migrants to move to any country they choose would increase global GDP by between 67 and 147 per cent. A doubling of GDP (a $78trn increase) would correspond to 23 years of growth at 3 per cent. By contrast, the International Monetary Fund estimates that permitting the entirely free movement of capital would add a mere $65bn.

The moral case for open borders is similarly persuasive. As the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman writes in his recent book Utopia for Realists: “Borders are the single biggest cause of discrimination in all of world history. Inequality gaps between people living in the same country are nothing in comparison to those between separated global citizenries.” An unskilled Mexican worker who migrates to the US would raise their pay by around 150 per cent; an unskilled Nigerian by more than 1,000 per cent.

In his epochal 1971 work A Theory of Justice, the American philosopher John Rawls imagined individuals behind a “veil of ignorance”, knowing nothing of their talents, their wealth or their class. It follows, he argued, that they would choose an economic system in which inequalities are permitted only if they benefit the most disadvantaged. The risk of being penalised is too great to do otherwise. By the same logic, one could argue that, ignorant of their fortunes, individuals would favour a world of open borders in which birth does not determine destiny.

Yet beyond Rawls’s “original position”, the real-world obstacles to free movement are immense. Voters worry that migrants will depress their wages, take their jobs, burden the welfare state, increase crime and commit terrorism. The problem is worsened by demagogic politicians who seek to exploit such fears.

But research shows that host countries gain, rather than lose, from immigration. Migrants are usually younger and healthier than their domestic counterparts and contribute far more in tax revenue than they claim in benefits. Rather than merely “taking” jobs, migrants and their children create them (Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian immigrant, is one example). In the US, newcomers are only a fifth as likely to be imprisoned as the native born. A Warwick University study of migration flows between 145 countries found that immigration helped to reduce terrorism by promoting economic development.

In a world of open borders, the right to move need not be an unqualified one (the pollster Gallup found that 630 million people – 13 per cent of the global population – would migrate permanently). Under the EU’s free movement system, migrants must prove after three months that they are working (employed or self-employed), a registered student, or have “sufficient resources” (savings or a pension) to support themselves and not be “a burden on the benefits system” – conditions that the UK, ironically, has never applied.

But so radical does the proposal sound that few politicians are prepared to give voice to it. An exception is the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who argued in 2016: “Inevitably, in this century, we will have open borders. We are seeing it in Europe already. The movement of peoples across the globe will mean that borders are almost going to become irrelevant by the end of this century, so we should be preparing for that and explaining why people move.”

At present, in a supposed era of opportunity, only 3 per cent of the global population live outside the country of their birth. As politicians contrive to ensure even fewer are able to do so, the case for free movement must be made anew.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear