Alan Sked: Putin is Farage’s role model

In the first of our interviews probing Nigel Farage and UKIP, the party’s founder Prof Alan Sked tells Paul Nizinskyj about their first meeting, Farage’s poor grammar and why he isn’t surprised Putin’s his pin up.

Sunday Interview“Putin is clearly a nasty piece of work and Nigel probably identifies with that,” says Prof Alan Sked, London School of Economics professor and, many moons ago, founder of the UK Independence Party.

Caring for his mother in the Scottish Highlands, he didn’t see Nick and Nige’s debates but says he wasn’t at all surprised Farage held up Russian President Vladimir Putin as a politician he admired.

“In many ways he’s a healthy version of Nigel,” he says. “He doesn’t smoke or drink and he does judo, though I don’t much like the idea of Nigel taking his shirt off.

“But Putin is an anti-intellectual bully and more successful than Nigel so I can see why he would admire him. I’m sure he’s sees him as a role model.”

“THERE SEEM TO BE MORE EX-MEMBERS THAN MEMBERS”

It’s clear there is little love lost between UKIP’s founder and its present leader, whom Sked characterises as a ‘dim, racist alcoholic,’ but the two have a long history going back to the party’s beginnings as the Anti-Federalist League in the early 1990s.

“We met at a meeting of the Bruges Group in 1991,” he says. “He was a member and, at the time, I was a leading light of the group and the chairman was a university colleague of mine, Ken Minogue.

“He was making a speech with one of my pamphlets, saying it was one of the best the group had produced and it was a pity I had chosen to retire.

“I stood up from the back of the room to a hushed silence and asked why he said I was retiring. He later told me privately I was becoming an embarrassment to John Major, the Prime Minister [he had criticised Major in a Today programme interview], but that he must be getting on.

“Afterwards a few people gave me their commiserations that I was being thrown out. One of them was Nigel Farage, who I hadn’t met before and I suggested he join the Anti-Federalist League so he joined pretty early on.”

His first impressions were typically what you might expect from the telegenic everyman with the impish grin Farage likes to present himself as but their relationship began to sour after they began working more closely, he says.

“My first impression was he seemed cheery, articulate and friendly. When he meets people, he can be cheery and affable but it’s when you’ve got to work with him that it’s a problem – that’s why there seem to be more ex-members of UKIP than members.

“Diane James, who stood for the party in the Eastleigh by-election, was touted as a future leader on Question Time and, after that, she started complaining Nigel wouldn’t take phone calls from her.

“The only person he trusts is Neil Hamilton, who’s so discredited, he’s no threat to him.”

“I COULDN’T BELIEVE HOW STUPID IT WAS”

Dr Sked adds he had to admonish Farage for turning up to committee meetings drunk and he would often joke about having missed his stop on the train home to Kent because he was “blotto.” “Some people think it’s funny,” he says. “I just think it’s tragic.”

But the problems really started after the 1997 general election which Dr Sked says left Farage and his compatriots aghast as to why the party had failed to pick up any seats, which he seems to recall with some amusement.

“After the election I was told Nigel, Michael Holmes and David Lott had arranged a conference in Basingstoke to publicly enquire why Dr Sked hadn’t managed to win the 1997 general election and invited all the press. I couldn’t believe how stupid it was and at first didn’t believe it. I threw them out of the party for bringing it into disrepute.”

Legal challenges followed, however, with Farage’s party claiming that although Dr Sked had removed them under the constitutional procedures, they had not been given a proper hearing, and they were eventually reinstated. But by this point he says he had had enough.

“I had been involved in the Bruges Group since its founding in 1989, then setting up the Anti-Federalist League in 1991, which turned into UKIP in 1993 and was going all around the country setting up branches while working as a full time academic at LSE so I was exhausted.”

The party was taken over by Holmes and, two leaders later, Farage was elected to the top position in 2006, leading it from relative obscurity to a serious rival with the Liberal Democrats for third-party status.

“ANYTHING SOPHISTICATED IS BEYOND HIS GRASP”

But Dr Sked says, despite his political talents, he finds Farage’s poor grasp of serious political issues worrying.

“He’s got no idea,” he says. “He can repeat things about how nasty the European Union is and how it’s a threat to the working class but that’s about it. Anything sophisticated is beyond his grasp.

“He was a UKIP candidate for Salisbury in the 1997 general election and I used to get complaints from London about how illiterate his literature was. I took him into headquarters  trying to explain English grammar to him but he flounced that saying he couldn’t do it. For a public school boy, I don’t think he learned very much.”

Farage’s lack of intellectual ability has also meant the party’s approach to issues has been atrophied, he says, resulting in the man himself admitting the 2010 manifesto was ‘drivel.’

This is also a view echoed by the party’s former deputy leader and now-Tory MEP David Campbell Bannerman, who speaks in a Parliament Street interview to be published on Monday.

‘DCB’ said Farage has a ‘contempt’ for manifestos and preferred working with a blank sheet, which is precisely what the party has since jettisoning its policies.

“It’s the type of aggressive amateurism that has come to define the party,” he says. “Nigel is very black and white and shows a lack of understanding of policy with a very ‘shoot from the hip’ approach.

“The fact is he prefers to have a blank sheet on policy so he can make it up as he goes along in the media.”

It is for this reason, Dr Sked says, that he does not worry about UKIP’s recent performance, despite admitting he does have occasional sleepless nights over the “monster” he created.

“I would be worried if it was making an intellectual case but it’s not,” he says. “I would be worried if it had anything to say about the health service, education or defence but they don’t even talk about the EU that much anymore, they seem to spend all their time talking about immigration.

“It’s all dog-whistle politics. They might not be as racist as the BNP but they use language that tells people ‘we don’t like blacks and immigrants.’ It’s designed to attract people out of coulter with the modern world who find their vision of 1950s Britain appealing – a vision of Britain before mass immigration when Britain was still white, had an empire and huge armed forces. Their vision is one of the past. I never regretted leaving for a moment.”

“CAMERON HAS NO PRINCIPLES”

The party’s opposition to gay marriage was entirely opportunistic, he says, mopping up votes from reactionary conservatives disgusted with David Cameron’s support for the bill. But he does not have many kind words to say about the Prime Minister, either, arguing he has no principles and believes in nothing. Given the Prime Minister has put his voice behind Britain’s continued membership of the EU, however, does he believe the a referendum will take place in 2017?

“It all depends on whether the Conservatives win a majority at the general election,” he says, “which is 50/50 at best. If the Tories get a majority then our stupid PM will go to Brussels and Berlin and do what Harold Wilson did in 1975, which is to come back with completely superficial concessions and get business and people like Richard Branson behind him, waving this piece of paper. I think the referendum itself will be very tight. I think we will win but it’s be by a great amount.”

UKIP in focus

Going back to the Nick and Nige debates, it’s not difficult to see why Dr Sked felt the need to set up his own party, New Deal, again in September. It seems he’s the only politician he can bring himself to vote for. “I had no desire to spend my time watching one man I know and can’t stand and another one I don’t know being a little twit.”

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