Part two of our interview with UKIP’s economic spokesperson
UKIP were not so long ago dismissed as a single-issue party, if not pressure group, born out of a belligerence for Brussels.
Europe remains a lynchpin in UKIP’s success story. But the party is branching out, talking tough on key voter issues like the economy and adopting policies on welfare and education as well as law and order.
Part one of this interview with UKIP’s economic spokesperson Godfrey Bloom took a closer look at some of these policies. Part two asks what good these policies will be if they don’t translate to power, and prods Bloom about UKIP’s strategy for getting UKIP MPs in Westminster.
The prospect of a Commons’ seat may have once eluded UKIP, but seems increasingly within grasp. Tory party membership has fallen almost 50% since Cameron came to power, while a tranche of Tory backers have also hinted that their money will be trickling into Farage camp instead. Meanwhile UKIP’s popularity has been soaring, with 6,000 new paying members signing up since March, bringing the total to almost 30,000.
Source: The New Statesman
This has all bolstered Farage, allowing him to run a £46,000 media campaign openly asking Conservatives to defect en masse, and prompting him to at last confirm that he will be running for a seat in Westminster.
“Yes, Farage will be standing,” confirms Bloom. And he won’t be alone in getting a shot at the big league. Bloom is reluctant to name names but says that Farage will be flanked by various high-calibre UKIP recruits. “They are very big […] leading businessmen, who we have not seen before.” He hints most are in the same league as famed fashion entrepreneur Adrian Buckley who recently defected from the Tory party and stood as a UKIP councillor.
Bloom, meanwhile, will stay put in Brussels. “[London has] all those terrible temptations for a man with a very weak resistance to drink – and at my age it is only drink. There are no other temptations.”
He seems certain that the party will get a good candidate crop despite revelations that Bloom isn’t the only UKIP-er to have fallen prey to the odd temptation or two. Right before the local elections UKIP was left defending several of its councillors. One was seemingly xenophobic, another a not-so-secret neo-Fascist (or a potted plant, depending on whose version of events you believe) and the third a former policeman, turned male escort. Hardly the stuff of electoral elation.
Questions about this prompt an uncharacteristic pause from Bloom, but he’s ultimately not one to hold back.
“Ok. Yes. We all have our lunatics,” he says. “But the fact is that out of 1,700 they only found four dodgy characters. That must be significantly fewer than what they would have found with the Liberal Democrats. They are all bonkers.”
UKIP’s inner battle between Old Labour and new Tories
In the first part of this interview, Bloom spoke about his hopes that thousands of public sector jobs will be lost and the Yorkshire MEP knows exactly where he would start, aside from the quangos. He insists that he “can go into any local council and save a fortune in the first fortnight” while still providing key services like paving potholes.
But how will this welfare-slashing, local council budget-cutting agenda resonate with UKIP’s Old Labour voters in the north of England that Bloom considered a prime source of support for him personally and for his party?
“That is a fair question,” says Bloom. “It will not be easy to tie [them] together […] with the very much Conservative-orientated base that we have in the south-east. But that is a problem that all political parties will have to address. New Labour have that problem with the trade unions.”
Part of the solution, Bloom feels, will be to keep a solid distance from the mainstream Conservative ranks. Farage has anyway ruled out a political deal out as long as Cameron is leader. Such a union seems unlikely even if Cameron is removed though, explains Bloom.
“I would be very surprised if our Old Labour supporters let us talk to anybody in the Conservative Party,” he says. “Unless there was something really cast iron on the table. It wouldn’t be a Boris Johnson promise, which I personally do not regard as being any more valid than a David Cameron promise.”
Without some kind of right-wing deal, or at least a burying of the hatchets, many fear that the right wing vote will be split and electoral victory handed to Labour, an allegation Bloom is quick to hit back at.
“Nigel and I would both argue that the concept of a right and left wing is now passé,” says Bloom. “We just don’t believe that these old-fashioned slots work any longer. We believe in Parliamentary democracy, we believe that the final court of appeal should be the House of Lords, we believe in low tax, small government. Is that right wing or left wing?
“It is certainly not how our activists and supporters see it. My supporters in the north of England don’t see it as being right-wing, or any other wing – they think we are straight-forward common sense. We are the common sense party.”
Finding the unifying factors
The most likely way the party will be able to bridge its left and right wings is by honing in on their mutual key concerns. Both groups are similarly livid with the EU and angry about the current state of immigration.
“Well, we have been consistently right on the figures and estimates [… but] I have absolutely no idea [what the figure would actually be],” says Bloom. “If the government can’t tell us, how would Godfrey Bloom know?”
The worry is that when final immigration barriers are lifted on Romanian and Bulgarian citizens next year that hundreds will flock to the UK in search of work, a prospect UKIP have been keen to capitalise on.
Even if immigration fails to unite the public’s voting flicker though, Bloom believes that Cameron’s other policies will help bring at least a few UKIP-ers into Westminster. Key among these policies are gay marriage, green energy and ring-fencing education and health spending from government cuts.
“When [former Tory MEP] Roger Helmer switched over to UKIP at the EU level […] he said to me that he could not bear to continue the intellectual dishonesty. He said he couldn’t go on having to back gay marriage or whatever it may be,” says Bloom. “Sooner or later people have to say I can’t go on voting against my conscience.”
The EU referendum: further fuel to the defector fire?
shonesty”, Bloom believes, has filtered into almost all areas of Conservative policy, key among them Europe. As it stands the public has been promised a referendum on reformed EU membership in 2017 – given that the Conservatives win the next election, that is, which is far from certain.
The referendum pledge was designed in part to take the sting out of UKIP’s appeal. But it seems to be backfiring. The Conservative backbench is up in arms about inserting the promise into the Queen’s speech and getting all kinds of assurances that the vote will happen, as UKIP sit by and happily capitalise on the uncertainty and infighting.
If the Tories do triumph in 2015, Bloom insists that any Conservative claims to give a “real choice” on Europe will be shown up as pure “intellectual dishonesty”.
“We all know that Ken Clarke made that famous boast that he hasn’t read [the treaties]. None of these comedians have read them,” says Bloom. “If they did, they would realise that this option is NOT available. How many times have [EC President José Manuel] Barroso and Rumpy-Pumpy [European Council president Herman Achille Van Rompuy] had to say ‘It is not an option’?”
What seems even less likely to Bloom though is the notion that the Prime Minister would ever truly use the British veto to stop incoming EU legislation.
“The veto system works like a nuclear button,” says Bloom. “To press that button would imply that our representative – which at the end of the day is the PM – had a spine. But [Cameron] has no spine.”
Nowhere is this clearer than in Cameron’s claims to have secured an EC budget freeze, Bloom argues. “There has been no freeze. None. Just watch it go up,” he says. “I will bet you a bottle of Don Perignon that the contribution will go up in 2013. It will go up.”
Luckily LondonlovesBusiness.com is far too sober a publication to take up politicians on such bets, if we were not we would be left owing Bloom a pretty fancy bottle of French champagne. Days after his warning, Obsorne’s attempts to stop another seven billion euros (£5.8bn) being dished out (to help the EC pay for overdue bills it had failed to budget for) are voted down by other member states.
The poignancy of this prophesy, however, doesn’t seem to free UKIP from a little bit of figure embellishment.
In its manifesto, and elsewhere, UKIP slams the £53m that the UK “loses” to the EU each day. The figure is based on the UK’s contribution to the EU budget of around £19bn per year and is roughly accurate, except for the rather glaring omission of Thatcher’s hard-won rebate. The annual rebate varies, but in 2011/2012, the UK received £3bn back from its contribution and is expected to gain £4bn in 2014 – making UK’s contribution closer to £43m a day.
UKIP’s sum also fails to acknowledge the substantial funds that are returned to the UK for regional development, although Bloom is quick to dismiss these projects as “Mickey Mouse” schemes and says the money would be spent more wisely here in the UK. Be that as it may, is aggrandising on what is already a large sum really the way to go for a common sense party?
And that’s the problem with UKIP and Bloom’s take on the political and economic mess we are all in. A lot of sense is being spoken, and a lot of very valid points brought forth, but it remains too easy to punch holes in many of their claims. This is true of every political party, but can’t be seen to the case for UKIP if it is to continue to insist it is above the fold.
A critical few months lie ahead. We should all be watching very carefully indeed.
You need to read:
UKIP’s “budget buster” on Farage’s dictatorship and his dislike of women
Register for our free newsletter
For up-to-the-minute insights, news and gossip for London professionals and business leaders