After a few quiet months, prompting endless speculation about party rifts and even the health of its leader, UKIP are dominating the news agenda once again. Most notably in the Telegraph, which has had us capitvated all weekend with the serialisation of Nigel Farage’s latest book.
Over the course of eight compelling extracts there has been something for everyone – from the human interest angle of Nigel Farage’s multiple brushes with death, through unapologetic socialist-baiting with his candid thoughts about the NHS, to the political intrigue surrounding his all-important fight to win in the constituency of Thanet South.
There were breathless passages shedding light on the secret talks which lead up to defection of former Tory MPs Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless. Indeed, parts of the serialisation read almost like like Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, with Nigel Farage assuming the role of John Galt, the outlaw who furtively persuades America’s leading industrialists to abandon their failing nation and defect to his Objectivist promised land.
But while it makes for a jolly good read, Nigel Farage’s book also goes too far. Specifically, at this point in the seventh extract from the Telegraph’s serialisation where Farage writes (emphasis added):
Mark Reckless came twice to see me at my home in Downe, Kent. No lunch, no wine, just pots of tea, and we talked. The first time he came was before Douglas joined, but the second was after. By then, the campaign to put the frighteners on any Tory looking to join us was intense, Mark turned up in dark glasses and a baseball cap so that the neighbours wouldn’t recognise him. He was convinced that he was being followed, most likely by someone at Conservative central office. It was certainly our suspicion that everyone at Ukip HQ – from me to the press office to the strategists – had their mobiles tapped. Life had become quite surreal.
On September 17, Mark asked for a meeting in London that night. Chris [Bruni-Lowe, a Ukip aide] suggested we meet at his flat on Cambridge Street in Pimlico. Mark arrived in disguise with a beanie-style woolly hat pulled down over his eyes. We were all slightly paranoid by now. If the Tories had believed he was on the brink of joining us, they could have thrown him out of the party, thereby discrediting him. I told Mark that he had one chance to really make a difference; he was extremely emotional.
To be clear, the leader of UKIP (by any sensible measure Britain’s fourth political party) is accusing unknown forces within the British state – presumably acting under orders from Conservative Party HQ – of spying on UKIP party operatives and potential Conservative Party defectors.
Note that we are not talking about phone hacking here, a crime which (thanks to the phone hacking scandal) has been proven very simple to commit. Farage specifically talks about their mobile phones being “tapped”. To tap into someone’s phone and listen to their calls requires the kind of technology that is only available to large telecoms companies or branches of the security services, such as GCHQ. It simply isn’t the type of operation that could be enterprised by an overzealous Tory party apparatchik nursing a grudge against UKIP.
Now UKIP has every reason to hate the British political establishment – not only are they responsible for everything that is repulsive to the UKIP worldview, they have also been unceasing in their (often unfair and highly misleading) attempts to misrepresent the party’s policies and smear UKIP and its supporters. But from too great a sense of victimhood comes a certain paranoia, a belief that absolutely everything is stacked against you when this is not necessarily the case.
If Nigel Farage or anyone else has solid evidence that UKIP phones were hacked or tapped as part of a Conservative or establishment-led scheme to stop defectors and destabilise the party, then these are very serious allegations which should be made formally to the police, not sprinkled as a literary garnish to “sex up” a political book.
UKIP has been doing a fairly good job of keeping a moderate-to-low profile for the past few months, concentrating on local battleground constituencies and doing the important work of getting their leader elected to a seat in the House of Commons. And in line with this newfound discipline, UKIP’s appearances in the news (at least those of their own making), have been relatively calm and measured.
But all of this good work can be evaporated at any time by overheated rhetoric and spy novel fantasies about secret messages, a CCHQ-GCHQ conspiracy and tapping the phones of British MPs by sinister, unnamed forces of evil.
Of all the major political parties in Britain, UKIP has perhaps the strongest claim to victimhood at the hands of the national media and the arrayed forces of the political establishment. And yet UKIP is at its best and most inspiring not when grumbling and licking its wounds, but when the party talks about the positive alternative future that is within our grasp, of re-asserted national sovereignty and freedom from an unwanted, undemocratic European Union.
The UKIP of happy warriors and “Believe in Britain” could go far in this general election, and beyond. The UKIP of snarling victimhood and paranoid spy fantasies will surely not.