No doubt, in picking the Fifth of November as announcement day for yet another of its leadership elections, UKIP was once again displaying the arch “sense of humour” which it, though not the rest of us, seems unable to resist. But the Tory Right needs to understand that UKIP’s set to become an even unfunnier joke, and that this will weaken still further Euroscepticism in the UK.
It’s apt – fitting would not be the right word – that UKIP’s joker-in-chief, Nigel Farage, looks set to be declared its leader, resuming a post which, in another “only with UKIP” quirk, he meekly surrendered just a year ago, conveniently before the general election. It could also only be with UKIP that we could witness a leadership contest during which the frontrunner has proceeded with apparent inevitability to the prize and yet, at the same time, has suffered grievous, even fatal blows to his reputation. This concerns all of us who would like to see UKIP mature into at least a voice of conscience on the Right, a prospect which frankly receded in the course of Mr Farage’s last stint in the job. Sadly, however, neither “maturity” nor “conscience” serve as les mots juste when we contemplate Nigel Farage. The party’s prospects of serving as such, let alone anything more, is likely to recede still further, should the once-and-future leader return, given what we have seen and heard in recent weeks.
Mr Farage’s eagerness to treat everything as a sort of silly jape – think Boy’s Own meets The Beano, his many declarations, prior to his previous election and, tellingly, again now, that he intends to “professionalise” his party notwithstanding – has long been to UKIP’s detriment, beyond the eyes of those in the media, usually sharing no actual affinity with the party, who consider him “good value”. Now, though, light has now been shed on the bumptious ‘Nigel Farage’ figure the press likes to exploit for its own, hardly Eurosceptic, purposes. Dismally this Nigel is some distance removed from the Woosterish image he likes to cultivate.
Farage has always brushed aside as sour grapes from the disaffected claims, or revelations, about an unpleasant quality to his political leadership. Yet in this latest UKIP leadership campaign something unexpected has happened, with at least two major attacks upon Farage coming from senior UKIP figures previously regarded as essentially sympathetic to him. The first of them, Douglas Denny, is on the party’s NEC, from where he has been one of Farage’s principal apologists. No longer. Two weeks ago, he wrote on a public forum that Farage, ‘stabbed the party in the back by abrogating his responsibility to the party as Leader – by not taking the party into the general election.’ The next day, Mr Denny went even further – much further – by stating that Farage is ‘prone to temper tantrums, bullying tactics and condescension to try to belittle those who oppose him’ and that he ‘has repeatedly ignored the NEC or attempted to by-pass what he does not like’; ‘has shown he does not have a future vision for UKIP’ and ‘is much too tied-up with Brussels and his fiefdom over there’. For the icing on the cake, Denny revealed that he had made these criticisms out of the public gaze on the party’s members-only forum, but that, even though he was on the NEC, the comments had been censored there.
A week later, Farage took another barrage, this time from within that Brussels fiefdom. His second critic, Mike Nattrass, is not only a fellow UKIP MEP; he is also a former Deputy Leader of the party. In a widely circulated email, Mr Nattrass made observations about Farage that were even more damning than those of Mr Denny.
Increasingly, I am hearing the word “Spiv” used to describe him … [He’s a] control freak. He grabs all UKIP publicity to the detriment of any other UKIP spokesperson or MEP. He employs assistants with the MEP’s budgets without allowing those MEPs any say … he does not like truth or competition.
That was only the start of Nattrass’ devastating attack. Farage, he said, has ‘the morals of an alley cat’; he has been ‘caught out with both hands in the till’ after breaking a UKIP MEPs’ agreement not to employ spouses and ‘secretly’ paying his wife out of his budget; he ‘has derailed every leader since the very first’, bar one; ‘the whole Parliamentary Group in the EU is run for Nigel’s financial and public image’; he has contributed ‘next to nothing’ financially to the party (a very interesting allegation, given that Farage once famously explained away his brag that he had received over £2million in non-salary expenses and allowances by saying he had used it ‘to help promote UKIP’s message’). For good measure, Nattrass also took aim at Farage’s ‘close friend Godfrey Bloom MEP’, who, he claimed, does ‘all the hiring’ and ‘is said to be banned by four hotels for urinating in the corridors’. Such is the volume of ‘professionalization’.
Despite all this – or perhaps because of it – Nattrass concluded that he expected ‘Nigel will be elected leader as no one else is effectively allowed to stand without a spin campaign against them.’ As disturbing evidence of this, he added that he ‘found allegations of fraud were brought against me when I stood for Leadership. They melted away afterwards and had no foundation in truth, but they did the job intended’. Then, breathtakingly, Nattrass stated that, in contrast to the fake charges against himself, ‘Nigel has had a number of very real cases against him.’ Whatever the substance of these charges, in a normal, even, professional party, the would-be leader might have been expected to keep the lid of the petrol can, but as if to prove that, at the centre of any UKIP firestorm, one will find Nigel Farage, he promptly proved at least two of Nattrass’ accusations. First, in an astonishing act of petulance, by publicly falling out with fellow leadership candidate and MEP, David Campbell Bannerman, over the latter’s quite legitimate complaints about Farage’s planned appearance on Question Time in the middle of the campaign. Indeed, Mr Farage went as far as to roar at the BBC microphone helpfully put in front of him:
Mr Bannerman clearly thinks that his own ambition and his own ego matter more than the interests of the party. Frankly, I am appalled by that. I think that the act of getting hold of Question Time and saying it was all wrong and against party rules was just an act of envy.
If irony survived Kissinger’s Nobel Peace Prize, this charge, from this source, will undoubtedly have finished it off.
Could anything else go wrong for Mr Farage during this fortnight from hell? Amazingly, yes. The next leaked email came from the keyboard of one Sharon Bonici, who it transpires is a Maltese socialist with strong links to Farage (try to keep up: this is UKIP), whom he has entrusted with the setting up of his latest Brussels project, a lavishly taxpayer-funded pan-EU party. The email confirms this ambition of Farage, executed in the face of an overwhelmingly supported motion at the recent UKIP conference not to establish any such thing without the explicit approval of UKIP’s membership.
While Farage defying his members is standard-issue behaviour, what’s truly toxic for any British Eurosceptic who thinks that UKIP under Farage is worth even a protest vote is whom he has already signed up to this latest costly project. Top of the list is his alleged fixer, Godfrey Bloom. No surprise there perhaps, but go further down the list and one finds representatives from the Sweden Democrats, a party born out of the Swedish neo-nazi movement, and the extreme-right Flemish party, the Vlaams Belang, with proposed additions from Geert Wilders’ party in the Netherlands and Italy’s notorious far-right Lega Nord, with the latter of whom Farage has already closely embroiled UKIP in the group he leads (jointly with the Lega Nord itself) in the European Parliament. That group, the ludicrously styled Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD), has been the subject of much controversy within and outside UKIP over the past year, not just because of the membership of the Lega Nord, which has countless allegations of racism and paramilitary violence stacked up against it, but of various other far-right parties as well, including the Danish People’s Party, the Slovak National Party and Greece’s Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). The leaders of the last-named claim 9/11 was a Jewish conspiracy and were properly condemned by the US State Department in 2005 as an ‘extreme right-wing party (which) supports virulent nationalism, anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia’. They’re also into their seventh year propping up Nigel Farage’s Brussels fiefdom. For understand this, Farage’s hegemony within UKIP stems directly from the powerbase afforded to him by this EP group. In other words, if you think that Nigel Farage is wrecking British Euroscepticism, it’s the EP’s money that lets him do so. Funny that.
Disgust over the EFD’s composition caused one UKIP MEP, Nikki Sinclaire, to leave it, closely followed by Mike Nattrass, but while Farage subsequently withdrew the UKIP whip from Sinclaire in Brussels and has tried to hound her out of the party altogether, he has thus far left Nattrass’ status intact, fearful of the latter’s clout within the party, not least in terms of his generous funding.
Despite all this controversy, and despite always rubbishing the suggestion that the EFD has far-right elements, Farage now seems not to care as he desperately tries to move into open electoral alliance at pan-EU level with partners whose extremist credentials are in no doubt at all. It will be interesting indeed to see who else now slithers out from under the EU’s rock garden to join Farage’s grand project. The Bonici email suggested that one of the pan-EU party’s first campaigns would be ‘to generate 1 million signatures to be able to instigate a pan wide European referendum [sic] on Turkey. The idea is to use the million signature clause according to the Lisbon Treaty.’ By a strange coincidence, three days before this email was sent, Austria’s far-right Freedom Party organised a two-day conference in Vienna, to organise an EU-wide referendum on Turkish EU entry, using the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty regarding a million signatures.
Attending the Freedom Party’s conference were parties remarkably similar to those on the Bonici email – far-right politicians from Vlaams Belang, the Sweden Democrats, the Lega Nord, the Slovak National Party and the Danish People’s Party, the latter represented by one of the EFD’s leading MEPs, the appropriately named Morten Messerschmidt, who, amongst many controversial moments in his delightful career, said in 2006
I think we need three sets of rules of immigration. One for Europeans, who will be regulated by EU-law. One for people from the rest of the Western World, including parts of East Asia, South America, etc. And then a third set of rules for the third world, who in general do not really offer anything we can benefit from, speaking of education, labour craft and knowledge.
This is the coalition which Nigel Farage has been carefully and quietly cultivating across the Channel for many years, whilst an indifferent British press have looked the other way. One school of thought holds that Farage has been indulged deliberately, to some extent, to thwart the BNP, but with friends like these, what exactly has been the point?
UKIP can perform a valuable service to Britain: they can keep the Tory Party, if not honest on Europe, then at least rather more honest than leaders like David Cameron and John Major would prefer to have it. With Nigel Farage leading them, whatever threat UKIP poses, it won’t be an honest one.