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9 February 2015

Ukip deputy chair Suzanne Evans: Mansion Tax is “equally unconscionable” to the Bedroom Tax

Ukip's most senior woman, and third most senior in the party, speaks about writing the manifesto, Ukip's women problem, and why London has not accepted her party.

By Tim Wigmore

At Ukip’s conference in September, Nigel Farage was asked who would succeed him as party leader. “I think it’s more likely that Ukip will be led by a woman next than any party,” he responded. That means that Suzanne Evans, the most senior woman in Ukip and regarded as the party’s third in command, between Farage and deputy leader Paul Nuttall, is worth watching.

When we meet at a cafe near Ukip HQ she welcomes me with a glass of beetroot juice: an appropriately purple symbol, perhaps, of the Ukip Kool-Aid many in the country have been imbibing of late. Evans has also risen recently, being handed the responsibility of writing the manifesto three weeks ago. The departure of Tim Aker, Ukip’s Head of Policy, from the role was seized upon by the media as another example of Ukip tumult. Evans insists that it simply reflected that, after Aker’s election to Thurrock Borough Council, he no longer had the time to perform all his roles in Ukip. “He sent me a text saying ‘Is it true you’re taking over? It’s the best late Christmas present I’ve ever had.’ ” 

The party has come a long way since 2010, when it produced a manifesto that Farage has described as “drivel”. Gawain Towler, Ukip’s Head of Press, keeps a copy in his toilet. Evans expects that her offering will “be ripped to shreds as soon as its comes off the printing presses.” She promises “a lot of surprises” and aims to “put to bed once and for all the idea that Ukip is a single issue party.”

Ukip is trying to expand its appeal beyond those obsessed with the European Union. 2014 saw the birth of “Red Ukip”, which saw the party attack Labour for the wealth of its front bench and its marketisation of the NHS. And yet Ukip suffers from a far greater “women problem” than the Conservatives while more ethnic minorities say they would never vote for them than for any other party. Should the party be making a particular effort to increase its appeal beyond the diminishing pale, male and stale vote?

“We don’t chase votes,” Evans says. “The other parties divide it up and look at demographics and treat people like a tick in a box, an equality box, as opposed to saying well actually what’s right for everybody?”

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“I hope this party will never get into a position where we start chasing particular votes. We have our principles – we stand by our principles. If you don’t like them, you don’t vote for us.”

While Evans accepts that women are less likely than men to support the party, she blames this upon “biased press coverage – which has focused on the idiots like Godfrey Bloom.” She “can’t see why Ukip is putting women off at all” pointing out that seven of Ukip’s 23 MEPs are female. “I’m not saying there isn’t an image problem, but an image problem is very different to a real problem.”

Another difficulty for Ukip is London. The party got only 16 per cent of the vote in the European elections in the capital, a full ten points less than their national share. In an interview on the night of the results, Evans accepted that London was too “educated, cultured and young” and said that its “media savvy, well educated population” made it less amenable to Ukip. She tells me that the party is making progress with younger voters but puts Ukip’s London problem down to the capital being “a very socialist city”. “I don’t know why people in London always vote Labour – it doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Evans has first-hand experience of the capital. In 2010, she was elected as a Conservative Party councillor in Merton. The experience was not a happy one. “I got completely disillusioned with the Conservative Party when David Cameron practically ripped up the 2010 manifesto,” she says. In early 2013 Evans and a few other councillors made overtures to Ukip. “I had a colleague that was very keen on Ukip and felt that it was more like the Conservative Party should be.” They warmed to the party over a few drinks with Towler. “I felt instantly at home in Ukip.”

There are certainly aspects of Evans’ politics that would sit easily in the Conservative Party. She quotes Margaret Thatcher’s critique of socialism, as being about pushing the rich down rather than pulling the poor up: “I just thought ‘yeah, yeah.’” While Evans claims to favour “less rich-poor gap” and a “more equitable” distribution of wealth, she rails against “a tax system that just punishes the rich for being rich”.

Evans advocates reducing the top rate of income tax to 40 per cent and criticises the mansion tax as a policy of “vengeance” against the wealthy, saying it could be “equally unconscionable” to the bedroom tax. Residents in her old ward with houses worth over £2m “were very often widows on a very low income – they can’t afford to pay mansion tax. In a sense they would have been in exactly the same position as people on the bedroom tax being forced out.” Labour’s proposal for a mansion tax would only affect those who earn at least £42,000 a year, but Evans asks: “Do you honestly think they’re going to stop at that?”

Evans is equally fervent in her opposition to “grossly unfair” inheritance tax, saying that it’s “just like bashing the rich really” and, in any case, many of the richest are able to avoid paying it. “You know why it’s only £4 billion? It’s because it just catches people like me – middle-earners who happen to own property,” she says, worried that, as a single mum, her daughter would be unfairly affected. “Just owning two little flats I know how expensive it is to maintain property.”

As well as her flat in Wimbledon, Evans has one in Shrewsbury, near her mother. She will stand in Shrewsbury and Atcham, another example of leading Ukip figures, like Nuttall and Steven Woolfe, opting for seats they have a local connection with over those with demographics more favourable to the party. “We try not to parachute people in who don’t know anything about a particular area,” she explains. “Why would I want to stand in Grimsby or somewhere which I might have a better chance of winning but which I don’t know?”

Evans predicts that Ukip will win eight seats in May. And what of the party’s future? Nuttall, who has previously revealed he wouldn’t be deputy leader to anyone else, “should go for it” if he wants to be leader. Is she eyeing up the post? “What happens will happen.” 

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