It would appear that the debate about EU membership and open-door immigration has entered a new phase. Regardless of the “economic advisers” produced to show the “benefits” of mass immigration, nearly 80 per cent of the population think the figures are unacceptably high. This has not gone down well with the Establishment and, true to form, its newspaper of choice, The Times, has hit upon a new campaign to forget the arguments and play the man and not the ball.
During the past few days there have been a series of “exclusives” purporting to reveal the inner workings of Ukip. Nearly all of the quotations come from a former short-term employee and are based on hearsay. Much of what has been written is deeply inaccurate: even my place of birth and the dates I had children are wrong! In an attempt to portray me as a career politician, they even say that I stood unsuccessfully for the Tories six times, when I have never stood for them at all. It is not difficult in any walk of life to find people who will whisper against you and I suspect it is easier in politics than anywhere else.
One of the specific charges, however, printed on the front page, is that I am under investigation for misusing taxpayers’ money. And it is this allegation which angers me most: one of my first jobs in Ukip was to hire a professional who would ensure that we stuck within the rules. Of course, the original complainant misunderstands the facts. MEPs are given very generous allowances to conduct their work in Brussels and the UK. Ukip chooses to spend money to hire staff. I could stand accused of using the money against the EU but I am not uncomfortable with that; I’d rather that than taxpayers money go to the slush fund of pro-EU propaganda.
But let’s be clear: to say that I am “under investigation” presumably means that The Times has asked a Lib Dem MEP to make a complaint, which the European Parliament will have to follow up. During a Parliamentary Bureau meeting yesterday it was acknowledged that this is the second attempt to force an investigation on Ukip; the initial one was kicked out by Olaf, the European Commission’s anti-fraud office.
We have been very careful to demarcate between UK electoral activities and our work as MEPs. But the accusation that money has been used to help the party could be made against all our British counterparts. As the UK delegation of a parliamentary group, we are permitted to have staff back home working for those MEPs. What I suggest journalists look into instead is the money that is given to other UK entities by the EU taxpayer through their membership of pan-European political parties. They are permitted to spend that money on national elections.
Even more laughable is the idea that our London office is staffed by weirdos who spend all day in the pub, surrounded by animals. Well it is quite true that we don’t employ dull bores, preferring people with some personality, but I can assure everyone that we are building a professional team of people who are on call seven days a week.
On a personal level, The Times or anyone else can say what they like. In some ways, I wish the high-living larger-than-life characterisation of me was true. It would mean that I had more money and free time than I currently do!
Most reasonably minded people are sick to death of an established elite that has done our country so much damage. Ukip is a choice for us to change direction, and that is what the Establishment really fears.
Contrary to expectations, Bob Crow was a good friend
I am saddened by the death of RMT union leader Bob Crow, who died yesterday of a massive heart attack. Many people imagined we would have nothing in common and producers regularly placed us on the same panel for political programmes like Question Time, hoping no doubt for some battle between the left and right.
In fact, on issues like EU membership we were as one. More importantly, once away from the cameras he was great fun to be with. He said to me once, “Nige, my wife said, ‘Bob, you’re drinking more these days,’ and I replied, ‘That’s because my friend Nigel Farage told me that you must drink as much as you can every day because you could be in a plane crash tomorrow.’”
We used to seek each other out in the green room and at the dinners after the shows. On one occasion, when the conversation was a little stilted, Bob and I, joined by Sally Bercow, decided to sneak off down the pub instead. Our fellow panellist, Anna Soubry, was certainly not amused.
No modern-day trade union leader was as loved and feared as Bob. In a world of dull, grey conformity he stood out. What you saw was what you got. He was one of the last of the old, patriotic, union left and did not like the Blarite agenda of the Labour party. You’d never find him eating hummus in Islington. He understood why people who had previously voted Labour were turning to Ukip, because he saw that Labour had turned their back on them.