Nigel Farage profile: his political career began in a bar
It was when he heard – in a bar, as it happens – that the UK had entered the exchange rate mechanism in October 1990.
He’d been a low-key and not very active Conservative supporter on the side but saw Europe as a force that was ever more restricting the City. He helped to found a party sprung from the Anti-Federalist League that could fit in a small room. A saloon bar riff turned into a political mission.
Except look at Mr Farage now and the mission has mushroomed into something much bigger and, in the eyes of some Ukip long marchers, completely confused.
Ask Mr Farage about his central political mission now and he tends to talk about smashing the two-party political system. He used to wax lyrical in private about echoing the insurgent Canadian Reform Party’s reverse takeover of the big sister Canadian Conservatives.
Post the Middleton and Heywood by-election where Ukip gave Labour a close run for the seat, and you hear him talking about beating up Labour in its heartlands. He galvanises support there by “fusing” the immigration issue with the old and less doorstep-friendly constitutional arguments about the EU.
But Nigel Farage is, as he readily confesses in his US-style campaign autobiography, a huge admirer of aspects of the Tea Party in the USA – he recalls chatting to Rand Paul, the Republican hopeful, and finding nothing to two could disagree on. He was an ardent admirer of Margaret Thatcher. His first instinct on NHS policy was to try to dismantle the entire system and switch to an insurance-based approach.
I asked him if he wasn’t duping voters in Labour heartlands with the beer and fags routine and hiding his true political colours. He insists his views on the NHS, Thatcher etc are no more relevant than what views he held when he was eight years old.
I asked him if he wasn’t a bit of a hurricane force, smashing things in his way but with no idea what he would build in their place. He said anything would be better than the two-party system but he didn’t sound like a man with a very worked-out plan.
The person charged, late in the day, with working on the manifesto plan is the deputy chairman, Suzanne Evans. She says she hopes Nigel Farage will not resign the leadership of the party if he fails to get elected to parliament. Reneging on his categorical pledge (first given to my colleague Michael Crick) would be an extraordinary risk but it tells you how central Mr Farage is to the whole Ukip project that senior people want him to U-turn.
We may not get there. Nigel Farage might win his seat. But Richard North, who was an early Ukip founder and sat in the opposite desk to Nigel Farage for years as Ukip director of research at the European parliament, says the Ukip leader has completely lost sight of the original project.
There is no plan, he argues, to win the referendum. Instead, Nigel Farage has inhaled his supporters’ adulation. He insists he has never heard Mr Farage ever say a racist remark in all the years he knew him but sees him now as a “surge demagogue” in the Oswald Mosley style. He says Mr Farage destroys anyone who threatens or challenges him and that Ukip is littered with the corpses of those who did. When I put that to Mr Farage he didn’t seem to demur.
May 7 will decide if the new, bolder/wilder ambitions of the party (delete as applicable) get rocket boosters put under them. If Ukip is in second place in 100 seats, the 2020 election could be their moment of greatest breakthrough. If they get 2 or 3 MPs elected but not Mr Farage, it will feel like a defeat. Much hinges on his own seat.
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