27 Feb 2015

Nigel Farage’s US speech gets lukewarm reception

The Ukip leader travelled to Washington to speak at right-wing conference CPAC – but was placed bottom of the bill, after most of the delegates had left.

It was hardly the reception Nigel Farage has become accustomed to in the UK. By the time the slot came up for the Ukip leader – who had flown into Washington to speak at the US’s big event for the most right-wing Conservatives – there were few people left to hear him.

Farage addressed an audience of 250 people in the ballroom of the convention centre for the Conservative Political Action Conference, which has a capacity of about 5,000. The empty seats stood in sharp contrast to just one hour earlier, when the Tea Party’s darling, Sarah Palin had packed it out for her speech.

Perhaps playing to his audience a little, Farage attacked President Obama for not doing enough to fight Islamic State and other extremist groups. “I see an American president who doesn’t actually have the courage to address the essential issues of why those three people were arrested on the streets of New York yesterday,” he said, referring to three Brooklyn men who were charged on Wednesday with trying to aid Islamic State.

“I accept that I’m a foreigner, and I don’t want to meddle,” he said. “But if the Republican party is going to win the next presidential election, I think the Republican party needs to get the kind of people voting for it that were voting for it 30 years ago.”

“Do you remember the Reagan Democrats?” Farage asked. “I don’t think at the moment the Republican party is attracting those kinds of people.” The Ukip leader may have broken an unwritten rule among politicians who avoid criticising leaders of the countries they are visiting. Wisconsin’s governor Scott Walker, a leading potential Republican presidential candidate, declined to comment on UK politics when he visited that country earlier this month and even refrained from criticising Obama.

And there was a frosty reception for Farage’s suggestion that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan had been a failure.

“Every time we get involved… we’re told by our leaders it makes the streets of London and New York safer,” he said. “Far from doing that, we’ve actually inflamed and stoked the fires of militant Islamism by doing what we have done.”

Farage had previously described the “God’n’guns” element of the event, which is home to many of the most hardcore supporters of the American right, such as anti-abortion activists and the pro-gun lobby as “not his cup of tea”. He told the Telegraph he shared the small government ideals of the Tea Party group, which he compared to Ukip’s insurgent politics.

Speaking to the Telegraph, activist Austin Paul, 19, said: “I saw him on television once and I know he’s anti-Europe big government. I don’t follow all his policies but I’d describe him as the closest thing to an American conservative in England. I also know that The Economist doesn’t like him, which is another good sign.”

“I think he’s a rising star of British politics,” said Republican congressman and Tea Party member Jeff Duncan. “Whether he’s a future prime minister … well we’ll have to see if he can take the majority in the parliament. I’ve followed his career from afar, but that’s really up to the Brits.”

Farage is not the only British right-winger to speak at CPac. Last year and in 2012, the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan attended. In 2012 Hannan, who is perhaps most famous in the UK for attacking the NHS in a 2009 US speech, “rocked the conference”, according to the website of rightwing US talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

Hannan is president of the Young Britons’ Foundation, which says it has had a presence every year at CPac since 2003.