Poor Nigel Farage? Syrian slip-up or miscalculation?
Late December 2013 turned out not to be a very good time for Nigel Farage, not only did Nigel Farage’s one time close and only close personal friend who is in politics, Godfrey Bloom give an interview of outstanding frankness and grievous long-term damage to Nigel Farage,
(click here >>> http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/dec/20/ukip-godfrey-bloom-interview-punch )
but also his house was left without power over Christmas, leaving him and his family having to de-camp. If these problems are not enough he also tried a flutter at Blair style “triangulation” and came an almighty cropper! (If you will pardon the hunting expression!).
But let us re-cap for a moment. On 29th December 2013 Nigel Farage calmly announced that were he in power that he would open the “UK’s” doors to an unspecified but seemingly potentially very large number of “Syrian Refugees”.
After the initial gasps of astonishment our left/liberal media types questioned whether Nigel wasn’t the same person as had been saying that “Britain is full”. In reply to this Nigel Farage is reported as saying that “I have never ever said that Britain is full”. The Huffington Post then obligingly published this article
(click here >>> http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/12/30/nigel-farage-britain-is-full_n_4518312.html) in which there is a link to a BBC news interview in which Nigel Farage explicitly says “Britain is full”! Result massive damage to Nigel Farage’s credibility as an honest politician.
As if that wasn’t enough, it then became apparent that a large number of people who had previously said that they supported UKIP or were intending to support UKIP were appalled that UKIP appeared to be as slack on the immigration issue as any Lib/Lab/Con politician.
The initial UKIP response, as can be seen from UKIP’s Facebook page, was to try to argue that what Nigel Farage had said was totally consistent with UKIP’s published manifesto. Frankly this point is slightly disingenuous as is pointed out in the Daily Telegraph article below.
Nigel Farage, as the storm continued, then made a quibbling attempt to try to make out that there was a significant difference between the word refugee and asylum seeker. However as anybody who has actually looked at the issue would know the only difference is that a “refugee” is somebody who is in the act of fleeing, whereas an “asylum seeker” is somebody who has actually made an application through the immigration authorities for asylum. The distinction therefore is not only trivial, but merely a matter of where a person is in the process of seeking refuge!
The UN Convention in any case does not require the UK to take any Syrian refugees/asylum seekers since they should be seeking refuge or asylum in the first safe neighbouring state, rather than in a country many of thousands of miles distant.
As the storm of protest amongst potential UKIP members and voters continued, Nigel Farage then tried to play down the level of his earlier commitment, seemingly claiming that the only refugees that should be accepted were Syrian Christians. A group which, I might point out, although in a terrible situation, are not the only minority group in Syria who are being genocidally targeted by murderous Islamist gangs that our government was recently talking about offering significant logistical support to!
Needless to say Nigel Farage’s comment provoked outrage amongst all the secularist, Jewish and Muslim groups which he had until recently been seeking to bring into the UIKP fold!
So all in all Nigel Farage managed to achieve one objective in getting lots of media coverage, but in doing so he managed to annoy not only the left liberals in the media that he was seeking to placate, but also any sensible ordinary English people. That is people who are simply fed up with the open door policies of mass immigration which have so changed the character of our country without any democratic mandate to do so over the last 50 years. This has happened at a particularly alarming and unsustainable rate during the period of the last Labour government whose intention, as we now know, was to “rub the noses of the right” into the (dog mess?) of diversity like an incontinent naughty puppy subjected to old fashioned house training methods!
Why has this PR disaster happened? Well from my discussions with Nigel, I think he has a great need to be liked and to be the centre of attention. Also he came across to me as somebody very likely to want to be “nice” and with a nostalgia for Britain’s old imperial position as the world’s policeman. I think his position on immigration generally and asylum seekers or refugees, in particular, has evolved in quite an opportunistic fashion from being someone who is quite comfortable with immigration. As he often says his surname derives from a French Huguenot refugee and he is of course married to a German.
The issue of immigration was simply taken up as a populist positioning on the aspect of EU membership and the single European market:- free movement of people.
So in short I think Nigel Farage was giving expression to his genuine view that Syrian “refugees” should be allowed to come here, but I suspect he also thought it would get a lot of extra coverage during perhaps a news starved holiday season and also some useful Blair style “triangulation”!
One of the things it does however show is that now that Godfrey Bloom is no longer Nigel’s confidant there is no-one else in the leadership of UKIP that Nigel will go to to sense check things before he makes any announcement. I wonder if this is going to be a recurring problem? In any case I bet Nigel regrets giving vent to this particular flight of fancy!
Here is Paul Goodman’s and the Telegraph’s take on the whole Farago. What do you think?
Does Nigel Farage want to join the Conservatives?
By urging ministers to accept Syrian refugees, Ukip’s leader has played a canny gameWhy did Nigel Farage say this week that Syrian refugees should be admitted to Britain – a view apparently at odds with his party’s outlook on immigration, and certainly in conflict with the instincts of its supporters? There are three possible explanations.
The first is that he said it because he believes it. Such a straightforward explanation would fit nicely with the breezy, plain-speaking, straight-from-the-shoulder persona that the Ukip leader wants to project.
The second is that he was merely repeating Ukip’s present position. The party’s website helpfully explains that “immigration Policy is currently undergoing a review and update. The full policy will be published in due course.” However, its holding “statement of principles” explains that “Ukip would allow genuine asylum applications in accordance with our international obligations”. So what Mr Farage said was in accord with his party’s policy on the matter, such as it is.
The third is that – since politicians are seldom as simple as they like to appear – the Ukip leader is up to something. What could it be?
Let us consider the evidence of his former colleague and long-time Brussels flatmate, Godfrey Bloom. Interviewed recently, Mr Bloom – a member of the European Parliament, until recently representing Ukip – claimed that the party “is in the grip of an internal battle for its future”, that senior staff “are all stabbing each other in the back”, and grassroots members are being “purged”. He declared: “This is 1933 Germany, night of the long knives. I’m waiting to be dragged out of the pub and butchered.”
Who was the Führer in this bloody metaphor? Mr Bloom left little room for doubt that he had Mr Farage in mind. And as if evoking the Nazis was not bad enough, he went on to name an organisation that strikes almost as much fear and loathing into the hearts of Ukip members – namely, the Conservative Party. Mr Farage, he said, has always really been a Tory and is “desperate to be a Conservative again”. He is “looking for a deal with the Tories”. Indeed, “the deal has already now been done”. Ukip will allegedly stand down candidates in key seats, and its leader will be rewarded with a title and a seat in the Lords.
To be fair to Mr Farage, Mr Bloom is scarcely a disinterested observer. The former withdrew the whip from the latter, during the Ukip conference earlier this year, with an ease that demonstrates the dominance he has achieved within the party. Mr Bloom’s chief crime was to have hit a journalist on the head with a Ukip brochure. Mr Farage will surely have been tempted in his time to hit the odd journalist over the head with a Ukip brochure himself, but clearly felt that the timing and the manner were unhelpful.
Of course, Mr Bloom’s suggestion of a clandestine deal between Mr Farage and David Cameron – with the Ukip leader perhaps merging his party with the Conservatives, and certainly going to the Upper House – is preposterous. The Ukip leader has no time whatsoever for the Prime Minister, whom he sees as a conviction-free member of an interchangeable political class. But Mr Bloom undoubtedly touched a nerve.
Mr Farage has helped to build Ukip up from almost nothing. In 1997, it won just over 100,000 votes. By 2010, that had grown to just under a million. In between, it won some 15 per cent of the vote in two sets of European elections – beating both Labour and the Liberal Democrats last time round. It has come second in several by-elections, including a major contest in Eastleigh earlier this year, and now holds about 150 council seats. It would be surprising, at the next election, if Ukip were to reach the 10 per cent or so of the vote that it currently boasts in opinion polls. But it is hard to see it being squeezed back down to the 3 per cent it took last time round.
Because Ukip tends to take more votes from the Tories than from any other party, its showing could make the difference in 2015 between Mr Cameron remaining Prime Minister or Ed Miliband taking office. So far, so good for Mr Farage – or at least, so powerful.
But his strength is a wholly negative one. He may be able to turn Mr Cameron out, but he cannot put himself in. Ukip cannot possibly hope to match the third of the vote that remains the Tories’ electoral base. Indeed, first-past-the-post leaves it unlikely to win a single seat in the Commons. For all the distance the party has travelled, it remains as far from office as ever.
This leaves Mr Farage with precisely the choice suggested by Mr Bloom. Does he want to settle down in his snug in the European Parliament – making speeches, writing books, cracking jokes, provoking headlines and ending up as a “national treasure” (heaven help him), secure in his salary and pension? Or does he want to do something rather than just be something – that’s to say, become a man of government rather than a man of opposition?
Mr Farage is clever enough not to answer such questions directly, but also smart enough to show a sense of direction. Though scornful of the Prime Minister, he has been guardedly respectful of other senior Tories, such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. He has said that he could “have a conversation” with the London Mayor – who, more sweepingly, has described Mr Farage as “a rather engaging geezer” and, in a Bloom-type moment, as “someone who is fundamentally indistinguishable from us”.
Like the Ukip leader’s earlier attack on the vans advising illegal immigrants to go home or face arrest (which caused just 11 of them to leave the UK), the intervention over Syria was a reminder of Mr Farage’s desire to keep his party respectable – one with which a future Tory leadership could deal. It was also a sign of his growing electoral influence. Fear of what Ukip would say will undoubtedly have been a factor in the Government’s decision not to admit Syrian refugees. Mr Farage is able to have it both ways: first frightening ministers off admitting the Syrians, then attacking them for being hard-hearted.
The headlines he won for the move (and the discomfort he has caused Downing Street) may not be worth the anger it sparked among many of Ukip’s members and supporters – in narrow political terms, at least. Mr Farage seems to agree, since he backed down yesterday, stating that only Syrian Christians should be admitted.
But the Ukip leader seems to have his eyes on a bigger prize. Perhaps, at some point in the future, there will indeed be a Tory-Ukip rapprochement: not the unworkable electoral pact that some are proposing at the moment, but the assimilation of part of the smaller party by the bigger one – in much the same way that the Conservatives swallowed up the National Party and the Anti-Waste League during the early Twenties. And maybe the Ukip leader will be part of such a realignment.
But in the meantime, he has other fish to fry – winning headlines, tilting at David Cameron, striving all the while to push his party just a little nearer the mainstream of British politics. So was he speaking his mind on the Syrian refugees, or repeating his party’s position, or proving some of Mr Bloom’s fears correct? The answer turns out to be: all three at once.