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Nothing happened…

Posted by Richard Sunday, October 31, 2004

In today's Sunday Express, Kilroy-Silk devotes his whole column to UKIP, with a heading: "What a relief I've split from UKIP bosses". The piece is trailed on the front page with an even more robust statement: "The truth about my row with UKIP fools".

His piece opens with a not an unfamiliar scenario – not unfamiliar, that is, to me:

Immediately after UKIP's victories in the European elections in June, I suggested a meeting of party leaders so that we could build on our success and develop future strategy. UKIP leader, Roger Knapman, the European parliamentary leader Nigel Farage, the two main financial backers, Paul Sykes and Alan Bown, my wife Jan and I met in the Goring Hotel, London, on Monday June 13.

We agreed that we needed to establish a London HQ, assemble a research team, develop policies, draw up the manifesto for the general election, appoint spokespersons and plan a series of initiatives throughout the summer, leading to the October party conference which, I anticipated, would unveil the manifesto.

Nothing happened. Weeks passed, nothing happened. Several times I told the party leadership that we were losing the political initiative that we had gained in June. We should, I stressed, be exploiting the panic we had occasioned in the Tory Party and the alarm felt by the Prime minister about his project to create a superstate called Europe being wrecked.

Nothing happened. The leadership of the party went AWOL for three long summer months. We wasted precious time. We threw away our advantage. It was unforgivable, criminal. The British people had placed their trust in us and we were letting them down.
All I can say to this is "welcome to the club". In four years in the EU parliament, working first with Holmes, then Titford and finally – albeit for a very short time – Knapman as leaders, the constant refrain from the few staff at the centre was "policy". Politics is about ideas, we said. We must have an intellectual base, a vision of the future – how the UK would look once we had left the EU.

More than anything, the singular failure of the Eurosceptic movement has been its failure to develop and promote that alternative vision, developed in sufficient detail as to be credible, proving that Eurosceptics were not the "little Englanders" that they were accused of being, and had a real grasp of public affairs and an understanding of the complexities of an independent nation state finding its way in the modern world.

And, as Kilroy latterly experienced, nothing happened. We wrote memos, we had earnest talks with party leaders, I even wrote a draft manifesto document and circulated to key party members. Nothing happened. We had more talks, earnest discussions over dinners in both Brussels and Strasbourg, and more talks. Nothing happened.

In fact, nothing was ever going to happen, and nothing will happen. The last thing the leadership of UKIP want is policy. The last thing they want to do is confront the reality of the difficulties of leaving the EU, or what that entails.

And for Farage – the acknowledged power behind the throne, who manoeuvred Holmes out of the party, bullied Titford unmercifully until he got his way, and then slid Knapman into place as a willing cipher – policy was never an issue. As long as he could climb up on a platform and talk about an "amicable divorce" and a free trade area with Europe, "which was what we thought we had signed up for in the first place", he was content. He did not want to know the detail.

In fact, Farage was and remains the problem. Having left school early to join the city as a trader, he had no further education, did not understand it, and was suspicious of "intellectual" endeavour. People who had ideas were "dangerous" and, if he could not isolate them, he got rid of them.

After several years working for the "team" with nothing happening, I decided – on my own initiative – that the best way forward, to obey our mandate – was to write a book about the EU, setting out the history and the ambitions in a way that had not been done before. With my co-author Christopher Booker, it proved to be the hardest task I had ever undertaken – my research notes alone exceeded 300,000 pages.

But this is what UKIP has said it would do when the three MEPs were elected in 1999. We would go to Brussels, find out what was going on, and tell the folks back home what it was really all about. The same words were repeated this year, after the June elections.

But when I set about doing just that, the response from Farage was to do everything he could to prevent me from writing. All of a sudden, I was required here and there to do all sorts of jobs that hitherto we had not thought worth doing – anything to prevent me concentrating on the book.

Actually, it was Titford who supported me and, somehow, The Great Deception got written. But the damage was done. Farage had decided I must go and, to do so, he sought the most underhand way possible – entirely in character. He flew to Brussels, telling Jens-Peter Bonde that the three MEPs could no longer work with me, and I must be fired. This was not true, as Titford later told me – Farage had gone on his own initiative and lied to Bonde.

Anyhow, Bonde was not going to argue – this was, to him, an internal UKIP affair, and he got the group secretary to ring me up and tell me I was fired. I negotiated a "resignation" out of the group, as it looks better on the cv, but the effect was the same. Four years with the group and I was out, without so much as a thank-you letter or a goodbye.

Thus, when Kilroy talked in June, just under a year later, about setting up a research team, Farage had already got rid of the only full-time researcher the Party had ever had – and my post had not been replaced. In fact, UKIP lost a post in the group as a result. Since then, UKIP has had no coherent research effort and, as long as Farage is in place, it never will.

Kilroy does not entirely agree. He concludes his piece with this narrative:
As I said in my conference speech, the British people are disenchanted with the old political parties. They are fed up of being lied to, talked down to and not listened to. they want a party that talks straight, tells the truth and will fearlessly stand up for Britain and the British way of life.

This could have been UKIP. It could have seized the opportunity. You could not do it by going missing for a third of a year. The chance will not come again. Take it now and we could change the face of British politics. Do nothing and we shall regret it for the rest of our political lives.
It has taken some-one like Kilroy to expose the flaws at the heart of UKIP, but the problems were there long before he arrived. And, until they are sorted, UKIP cannot go anywhere. After all, politics is about ideas – the vision thing. Sadly, when push comes to shove, UKIP – or its leadership – doesn't want to know. But I cannot share Kilroy's optimism. The chance - for UKIP - has come and gone.