21 Sep 2012

Nigel Farage: a one-man band?

Suddenly broadcasters have started to cover their annual conference. The BBC had at least two national correspondents at their gathering in Birmingham today, while ITV and Channel 4 had at least three between us. UKIP is on the up. And when the party is competing with the Liberal Democrats for third place in the national polls, on 9, 10 or even 12 per cent of people’s voting intention, it’s hard to justify ignoring them.

I’ve never been to a UKIP conference before. It was an eyeopener – rather disorganised, but also very colourful – full of people sporting Union Jack ties, bow-ties or cravats, in bright waistcoats and with incredible moustaches. Around the conference hall were stalls for each of UKIP’s MEPs – a clever way, the party freely admits, to channel EU money into UKIP’s coffers. Each MEP pays for their stall from the promotonal budget they each get from the European Parliament. I bet the stalls don’t come cheap.

Dear leader
Nigel Farage’s stall, manned by his wife (and neither will mind me using the non-PC word “manned”) was full of pictures of the dear leader, copies of his books, Nigel Farage mugs, and and a tea-towel commemorating the time he called Herman Van Rumpoy a wet rag. Also on the stall, for some strange reason, were two goldfish in a bowl and a competition to find the best names for the fish. So I suggested Fillet and Finger.

In his speech Nigel Farage welcomed the latest recruits, including Lord Stevens of Ludgate and Stephen West, a Conservative councillor from Basingstoke, who will now be UKIP candidate for Hampshire police commissioner.

Mr Farage declared that UKIP’s goal was now to top the poll, UK-wide, in the 2014 European elections. He was speaking in Birmingham’s old Victorian Town Hall building, which has provided a platform for many great orators in its time. I recall hearing Roy Jenkins there 30 years ago, at a huge SDP rally, and a photo in the basement shows the fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley speaking in the building.

One man band?
But some in UKIP are coming to fear the party is becoming a one-man band, and accuse Nigel Farage of developing into a dictator. In particular they resent his command of the money the party gets from having MEPs, and a recent UKIP rule-change which effectively gives Farage a veto over candidates. The UKIP MEP Marta Andreasen, who once asked Mr Farage to resign, told me in an interview which we will broadcast on C4 News tonight that Mr Farage and his party we’re “undemocratic”.

Andreasen fears Mr Farage will use his new power to relegate her down the UKIP party list for the south-east area for the 2014 Euro-elections. Mr Farage promised me that he wouldn’t veto her, which isn’t quite the same thing.