19 Sep 2013

Nigel Farage schooldays letter reveals concerns over fascism

Channel 4 News obtains a letter about Ukip leader Nigel Farage, from his days as a schoolboy, in which teachers are quoted as accusing him of being “racist” and “fascist”.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage. (Getty)

In the late 1970s and early eighties the Ukip leader was a pupil at Dulwich College in south London, one of Britain’s most prestigious schools. Channel 4 News has uncovered strong evidence that teachers at Dulwich thought Nigel Farage was “racist”, and “fascist” or “neo-fascist”.

We have a long letter (below) written in June 1981 by a young English teacher, Chloe Deakin, begging the master of the college (head teacher), David Emms, to reconsider his decision to appoint Farage as a prefect. Deakin did not know Farage personally but her letter includes an account of what was said by staff at their annual meeting, held a few days earlier, to discuss new prefects.

The letter says that when one teacher said Farage was “a fascist, but that was no reason why he would not make a good prefect,” there was “considerable reaction” from colleagues.

The letter continues: “Another colleague, who teaches the boy, described his publicly professed racist and neo-fascist views; and he cited a particular incident in which Farage was so offensive to a boy in his set, that he had to be removed from the lesson. This master stated his view that this behaviour was precisely why the boy should not be made a prefect. Yet another colleague described how, at a Combined Cadet Force (CCF) camp organised by the college, Farage and others had marched through a quiet Sussex village very late at night shouting Hitler-youth songs.”

Political and racial tensions

1981 was a time of huge political tensions over racial matters, especially locally in south London. The National Front held marches in the area which led to violent clashes, and during the 1981 Brixton riots, not far away, part of the grounds of Dulwich College were used as an operational base by the police. It was only six weeks after the Brixton riots that David Emms appointed 17-year-old Nigel Farage as a prefect.

In his memoirs, Fighting Bull, Farage refers to the row about him being made a prefect, but says teachers were hostile because he was a great admirer of Enoch Powell, the former Conservative who had long spoken out against immigration.

The staff were fed up with his cheekiness and rudeness. They wanted me to expel him, but I saw his potential, made him a prefect, and I was proved right. David Emms

But Chloe Deakin’s account suggests Farage was expressing opinions well to the right of Powell. She gave a copy of the document to a colleague, Bob Jope, who has kept it ever since, and often used it in subsequent lessons over the years as an example of good, powerful prose-writing (though he blanked out the names). Jope’s memory of the prefects’ meeting concurs with Deakin’s contemporary account. But not everyone shares Deakin and Jope’s concerns.

‘Naughtiness, not racism’

Terry Walsh, who was then deputy master at Dulwich (ie. deputy head), says Farage was well known for provoking people, especially left-wing English teachers who had no sense of humour.

The former master of Dulwich David Emms, the man who appointed Farage and received Chloe Deakin’s letter, says he has no memory of the meeting or the letter. But he agrees with his former deputy: “It was naughtiness, not racism,” Emms told me on Wednesday. “I didn’t probe too closely into that naughtiness, but the staff were fed up with his cheekiness and rudeness. They wanted me to expel him, but I saw his potential, made him a prefect, and I was proved right.”

But several Dulwich old boys have told me they recall Farage making racist remarks as a pupils, and voicing support for right-wing groups, though none has been willing to say so publicly.

Other contemporaries, however, say Farage’s views at that time were merely Thatcherite. And many former boys say they have no recollection of Farage expressing political views at all.

Nigel Farage claimed to me today that he was shown Deakin’s letter many years ago. He admits he was a “troublemaker” at school who “wound people up” with all sorts of views. He says some of the things he said may have been perceived as racist, but certainly weren’t.

Of course I said some ridiculous things, not necessarily racist things. It depends how you define it. Nigel Farage

“I did say things that would offend deeply,” he says. “And there were certainly two or three members of the English staff I made arguments against, that I didn’t necessarily believe in.

“But any accusation I was ever involved in far right politics is utterly untrue.”

What about the Hitler Youth Songs? “That’s silly,” Farage said.

“I don’t know any Hitler youth songs, in English or German.”

He added: “Of course I said some ridiculous things, not necessarily racist things. It depends how you define it. You’ve got to remember that ever since 1968 up until the last couple of years, we’ve not been able in this country, intelligently to discuss immigration, to discuss integration, it’s all been a buried subject and that’s happened through academia, it’s happened through politics and the media.”

We approached Chloe Deakin. She says she recalls discussing the matter, but has no memory of her letter. But her words from 1981 argued that making Farage a prefect would have far-reaching consequences: “First, it will vastly increase his own confidence, and sense of self-justification. Secondly, he will have the privilege of listing his appointment as a prefect at Dulwich College in his university and other applications.”

Many will argue that it is irrelevant what a teenager did at school more than 30 years ago, but Ukip has a problem showing it is not racist.

Ukip, which holds its annual conference at Central Hall, Westminster on Friday and on Saturday says it refuses membership to anyone who has ever belonged to groups such as the National Front or British Movement.

But several Ukip candidates have been accused of racism, including Farage’s close ally Godfrey Bloom, who this summer talked of aid being wasted on “Bongo-bongo land”.

Nigel Farage – 1981 school letter by Channel4News