Dr Sked: a man of magnetism?

IF IT had been in black and white it could almost have been one of Harold Macmillan's fireside chats to the nation, back in the time when politicans told the people that they had never had it so good.

It too was a party political broadcast, but there was no Brahms, no cliff-top walk, no Elgar and no Paddy Ashdown. There on the television screen was Dr Alan Sked, leader of the previously obscure UK Independence Party, fielding 24 candidates in the Euro-elections, more than twice the number needed to get the broadcast. Personally he is taking on Edwina Currie in Bedfordshire.

Memories of the event, last Tuesday night, are already blurred. By the week's end some viewers recalled an ordinary- looking man, youthful and vaguely casual in the Clinton mould. Others remembered an extraordinary figure with a haircut that resembled iron filings stuck to a magnet.

Whatever the truth, since that five-minutes' prime-time television, Dr Sked, a lecturer in international history at the LSE, says his telephone lines (increased from two to five) have been blocked with inquiries. A telecommunciations expert in the party claims there have been between 30,000 and 40,000 callers. 'After the broadcast there has been a quantum leap in public consciousness about us,' Dr Sked says. 'One of the television teams came to film me, and all the cameramen said they were going to vote for me.'

Dr Sked, 46, formed his party before the last Euro-elections, as the Anti-Federalist League, and changed its name after Maastricht, when he felt the only way for Britain to avoid a federalist Europe was to leave the EU altogether. He points out that party members are not British nationalists and do not want to bring the empire back.

He says the membership (pre-broadcast) is in thousands, and its only funds the pounds 10-a- head annual membership fee. With more money he would have liked to have fought all 87 European constituencies.

Dr Sked's only previous political activity was unsuccessfully contesting an Oxford City council seat as a Liberal in 1970, while an undergraduate at Merton College. He was a federalist then, but he says he has seen too much of the community's institutions to have remained a supporter.

He has fought two parliamentary by-elections, coming fourth each time out of fields of 14 and 16, and each time within 500 votes of Labour. 'I love Europe,' he insists. He is proud that he was invited on German television to speak in German the day of unification. 'I just don't want to be under some federalist super-state.'

He believes his following will grow to the point where either his party gets a sizeable number of seats in the Commons, or the Conservative Party splits over the issue. 'Our policy does strike a chord. We're not having to convert people. It's just saying you can exist as an independent country making your own laws, without having an office in Brussels running you. You can be a perfectly ordinary state.'

Dr Sked insists senior Conservative officials have been attending his meetings to report back to Central Office. Lord Tebbit said last week that until John Major's two-speed Europe pronouncements, he had been urging Conservatives to vote for the Independence Party.

(Photograph omitted)

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