1 May 2013

Farage denies urging tabloid reporter to stand for Ukip

In my Channel 4 News report from South Shields last night I was unable to include a series of exchanges I had with Nigel Farage about the controversial former News of the World journalist Paul McMullan, who has frequently in public defended the use of phone hacking.

Mr McMullan had planned to stand as a Ukip candidate in tomorrow’s election in Kent, but then, three weeks ago, the party’s national executive committee barred him from standing.  McMullan is now standing as an independent tomorrow, under the slogan “Save Village Pubs” (he’s a pub landlord himself).

I first noticed Paul McMullan’s connection with Ukip when I spotted him at the party’s spring conference in Exeter on 23  March, and I even mentioned his presence in my report from Exeter on C4 News that night.   McMullan claimed not only to have joined Ukip, but also that he had been appointed press officer of the party’s local branch in Dover and Deal.

Mr McMullan told me yesterday that while he was in Exeter that weekend, Nigel Farage actually encouraged him to put his name forward as a Ukip candidate, not for the council elections, but for the European elections next year, and the Westminster general election in 2015.  McMullan recalls Farage saying: “Marvellous.  Go and get the forms filled in,” and encouraging him to join the recruitment process for Ukip candidates.

Yesterday afternoon in South Shields, I put to Nigel Farage Paul McMullan’s claim that the Ukip leader had actually urged him to stand for election.  It was an example, I suggested, that the party didn’t know what it was doing.  Farage vehemently said he didn’t remember any such conversation.  “I don’t recall saying anything to Mr McMullan about him being a candidate.”

Paul McMullan says that he had two personal connections with Farage.  He says the Ukip leader was a friend of his older brother in Kent, and also his former father-in-law, whose funeral Farage attended.  “I like Nigel Farage very much,” says McMullan.  He was the sole reason I joined Ukip, and why I wanted to stand.  I joined Ukip because of him.  I’m not sure I’ve said anything bad about Ukip, and I still think they make a lot of sense.”

McMullan was subsequently picked as a Ukip candidate for the council elections tomorrow, but then the Ukip high command heard about it, intervened and quickly axed him.  “There was a feeling that his candidacy for Ukip would be a distratction as he’d be the story rather than the party,” the Ukip executive chairman Steve Crowther says.  Ukip feared their 55 other candidates in Kent would be “overshadowed by Mr McMullan’s personality”. Paul McMullan has described the decision as being “stabbed in the back with a rusty blade”.

If Nigel Farage did encourage McMullan to become a Ukip candidate, it was a highly questionable judgement by the Ukip leader.   McMullan has frequently appeared in the media in the last few years defending the use of phone-hacking, both at the News of the World, and elsewhere.  “I see nothing wrong with it at all,” he says.  “I’d happily hack your phone if I’d got something that suggesting you were doing something against the public interest, like being in the pay of one of the political parties.”

It’s all very curious.  One man’s word against another.  Nigel Farage against Paul McMullan.  Not an easy choice.

Follow @MichaelLCrick on Twitter.