UKIP leader Nigel Farage on UKIP’s post-election party conference, and the long term prospects for the party beyond the EU referendum
While covering the 2015 UKIP party conference in Doncaster last month, I was able to grab a quick interview with the party leader, Nigel Farage, fresh from the stage after delivering his keynote speech.
This was immediately after what was a successful but fairly unremarkable speech by Farage’s standards, and before Day 1 of the UKIP conference was overshadowed by the row between donor Arron Banks and the party’s sole MP, Douglas Carswell.
As with my interview with Douglas Carswell, I wanted to get Farage to open up about his thoughts for the party looking beyond the Brexit referendum, and how UKIP’s current diverse coalition of different voters could be held together once the unifying goal of the EU referendum has been and gone.
Here is a transcript of my interview with Nigel Farage:
QUESTION: A different tone to this year’s conference. Obviously last year we had the defection of Mark Reckless, looking forward to the election, a bit different this year. Are you pleased with how it went, and are you pleased with the shape of UKIP as you’re fighting the referendum, looking ahead?
NIGEL FARAGE: The general election was very tough for us, you know, a massive amount of effort. Four million votes, very creditable in the circumstances and one seat, so pretty tough. And we’ve had, you know, a summer of regrouping and getting our finances back in shape, we’re now rocking and rolling and ready to go, we’ve got loads of elections to fight next year, but I think winning the referendum matters more than anything and I felt the response I got from the party membership is that they feel the same way too. And we’re going to join hands with the Arron Banks consortium Leave.EU and there’s going to be a united front for those who want to leave the European Union.
QUESTION: Obviously the referendum looms large at the moment, but looking beyond that, how well is UKIP positioned do you think to keep together its diverse support base of ex-Tories, ex-Labour types, libertarians, after the election when that common thread of the referendum is no longer there to hold everyone together?
NIGEL FARAGE: Well you know, there are still plenty of things that will unite us beyond just the European question. A society in which people can aspire to do well, a society where through selection in education we can narrow some of the class gaps, there are lots of things that unite UKIP and I actually think that with Mr. Corbyn as Labour leader there is an even bigger potential marketplace for us there.
To be fair, Farage did not deflect the question, or seek to answer it with some pre-rehearsed talking point. So kudos for that. But his responses did little to change my overall impression of the conference – that UKIP (or at least the party leadership) are so fixated on achieving their long-cherished goal of British secession from the EU that they are willing to let some of the divisions and inherent contradictions within the party go unaddressed for the time being.
From my summary in Day 1 of my UKIP Conference live blog:
There is definitely a degree of Matthew 6:34 to this particular conference (“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”). And one can understand the strong desire to strive onward to the long-cherished goal of gaining independence from the EU. But I can’t help wondering if UKIP might not pay a price in 2017 or beyond for failing to pay enough heed to the type of party they want to be – and the type of supporters they want – by the time of the next general election.
Time will tell whether this strategy is correct.
Interestingly, both Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell mentioned the newly-elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, quite unprompted by me. UKIP clearly sees massive potential to win over even more ex-Labour voters, people who may never vote Tory in a million years but who are concerned and repulsed by Labour’s leftward march under Corbyn.
UKIP of course is already the runner-up in well over 100 constituencies, many of them Labour seats in the Midlands and the North. If UKIP are able to stay organised and maintain message discipline – by no means guaranteed – then Labour may well have something to fear on this count.
My live blog from Day 1 of the UKIP 2015 party conference is here.
My live blog from Day 2 of the UKIP 2015 party conference is here.
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