Helen Rumbelow, Times Online (UK), Aug. 19
August 19, 2004
THE UK Independence Party will set out to destroy the British National Party at the next general election, one of its leaders said yesterday.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the UKIP’s group of 11 MEPs in the European Parliament, told The Times of his party’s plans to win a seat in Westminster next year.
The party is keen for Robert Kilroy-Silk, its most prominent politician, to stand in the most winnable constituency, backed by a full manifesto. Another strategy is to tackle the far-right BNP head-on, ruining their chances by poaching more moderate voters.
“There is only one party in Britain that can stop the BNP and that’s UKIP,” said Mr Farage. “Why should we be frightened of that?” One reason for the UKIP to be frightened is that this is a highly sensitive area for the party, which, as Mr Farage mentions, has suffered the gibe of being “BNP in blazers”.
Declaring their distance from the BNP while not putting off voters swinging from either the BNP or any of the main political parties is one of their first challenges.
“The UKIP is a country mile away from the BNP on any issue. We’re not racist, we’re for free trade,” he said. “The BNP is authoritarian, whereas the UKIP is basically a liberal party, which used to be classed as left wing; now it’s seen as right wing,” he said.
The UKIP were the fourth largest party in the European elections in June, gaining 2.7 million votes to the BNP’s 800,000. Mr Farage believes that a substantial number of the BNP voters were anti-immigration Eurosceptics who were not comfortable with the racism of the BNP but had not heard of the UKIP. Once its membership had been depleted, the BNP would wither as it lost momentum, he said.
“All the Labour Party and the Tories do is encourage the BNP. They’ve created the BNP,” said Mr Farage. “People have justifiable concerns about levels of immigration which they ignore. If the UKIP were to take half the BNP vote, but do so because they allowed people to express their anxieties about immigration but without having to vote for a party that is violent and racist, then we should not be frightened of that.”
Mr Kilroy-Silk, who has decided against standing in the Hartlepool by-election, would be strongly encouraged to stand in the general election, he said. “If Kilroy saw a winnable seat at the next election, I would be pretty surprised if he didn’t do it.”
Once described as a party of 8,000 with 9,000 egos, the UKIP now has a membership of 25,000 and even more provocative personalities — from Mr Kilroy-Silk’s references to Arabs as “suicide bombers, limb-amputators, women repressors” to the new MEP Godfrey Bloom’s statements that a women’s role was to “clean behind the fridge”.
Many members are refugees from the Conservative Party, including Piers Merchant, the disgraced former MP who was recently appointed UKIP’s chief executive. Mr Farage joined the Conservative Party at the age of 14, after Keith Joseph, the architect of Thatcherism, gave a talk on small government at Dulwich College where he was a pupil.
He particularly relishes the Conservative Party attack on the UKIP as “cranks and political gadflies”. In response, the UKIP has printed a set of ties with a “gadfly” logo. “All the UKIP MEPs will be members of the gadfly club,” he said.
One newly elected UKIP MEP, Ashley Mote, was deselected almost immediately, after it was discovered that he faces trial on allegations of housing benefit fraud.
But Mr Farage said that most of the controversy had been good for the party, particularly as most of the hierarchy were wealthy businessmen who could afford to speak their minds. “If there’s a common denominator of those who do well in UKIP, nearly all have run their own business,” said Mr Farage, who gave up a career as a commodities broker, where he earned three times as much as he does now.
“People like it when we speak out. We need to keep UKIP fresh. If we all became PC about keeping our noses clean until the next election, it would destroy us,” he said.
MEMBERS OF THE GADFLY CLUB
Jeffrey Titford: MEP. Family business of funeral homes. Great-great-grandfather was said to have buried Wellington
Piers Merchant: Chief executive. Former Conservative MP, left Parliament after an alleged affair with his researcher
Robert Kilroy Silk: MEP. In January he was sacked by the BBC for saying Arabs were “suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors”
Godfrey Bloom: MEP. Was given a place on Women’s Rights Committee on his first day in Strasbourg. Said women didn’t “clean behind the fridge enough”
Roger Knapman: Party leader. Tory MP for Stroud for ten years until Labour landslide of 1997