Alan Sked’s Return
A writer who remembers the very earliest days of UKIP says Alan Sked will go wrong with his new political party because of the politics, again
It was in 1991, as the hour of Maastricht began to chime, that it came upon me that Britain’s future was outside the EU, and that we would be better off, financially and democratically, if we left.
I told this to a friend, a traditional Conservative, who said he had just encountered a ‘lunatic’ with similar views, who had been causing trouble at the Bruges Group. I went to meet the man – a history lecturer at the LSE called Alan Sked.
Note that word ‘lunatic’: it was common currency for Euroscepticism in those days and has remained so at the BBC almost until now. Sked was immune to it. One of the things I shall remember about him most, other than his shock of piebald hair (it soon went almost white), is his super confidence.
His treatment of European Politics was the same as his treatment of a European History class, an intellectual rollercoaster, with the attitude ‘if you can’t understand this you’re not fit to be debating it with me’. I remember once, after a lot of effort to get him on to ‘Any Questions’, he prefaced his remarks with ‘I can see I’m going to be the only one here talking any sense’.
Later that year he and I (more nervously) presented the new creation, ‘The Anti-Federalist League’ to a group of bored journalists in a House of Lords committee room. I don’t think you’d have taken much money on our lasting more than a few weeks. But ‘Skedism’, the ability to ridicule disagreement and fist problems out of your way, was an indispensible boon to a nascent political party. Most of the people who confronted Alan were considerably less intelligent than he and less well prepared and he just rolled over them (without usually rolling them over, or persuading them).
The one thing he didn’t really have a nose for was politics, as the game is played. We set out for the European Election of 1994 having to tell the electors that if they voted for us we would not attend the European Parliament, or, of course, draw a salary from it.
This was beautifully coherent intellectually – we didn’t believe in there being any other parliament but Westminster so we weren’t going to encourage them – but it lacked appeal to the common voter, who couldn’t see the point of supporting us if we weren’t going to participate. I remember my opponent, the Conservative Caroline Jackson, telling me she breathed a huge sigh of relief when I came out with this at the hustings.
Come 1997 Alan set out to ignore the Referendum Party which was of course vastly better-funded than UKIP (as we were now called) but without the intellectual clout; if you think Alan was bad on Any Questions you should have heard Goldsmith, who, as he got angrier with a question, allowed his Teutonic accent to creep through and by the end sounded like a cartoon Nazi.
But two eurosceptic parties constituted a splitting of the Eurosceptic vote, and whilst some of those who had left for the more glamorous Referendum Party limped back when it was closed down after the 1997 elections, damage had been done, and Tony Blair was the only name on people’s lips for nearly a decade.
It has now been 22 years since he first strode on to the political stage and in recent weeks Alan Sked has been criticising long-standing UKIP party leader Nigel Farage saying the party under him is racist and anti-intellectual. He says he left UKIP because of its racist policies, which is not quite how I remember things, although my own view of immigration is closer to Sked’s than to that of, say, Godfrey Bloom.
Incidentally, when we were interviewing candidates in the mid-1990s, we took great care to avoid racists; I would get plenty of faxes with the Union Flag on the top from posher areas of the home counties and they went straight in the bin. It was I who signed off on Nigel Farage’s application having interviewed him (yes, in a pub). He is not, in my view, a racist: he wants something done about immigration, which is quite different.
Alan Sked is now forming a new political party, called New Deal, which will have as its primary policy leaving the European Union but which will have supporting policies of being pro-immigration and in favour of renationalising the railways. It will be chasing the Labour vote which wants out of Europe.
I don’t hold out much hope for it. Where Alan is going wrong, I think, is with the politics again. I don’t think any substantial section of Labour voters is in favour of immigration – if they were, Ed Miliband’s task would be simple – and the ones that are pro-immigration, the metropolitan elite, are often pro-Europe.
I love Alan Sked’s determination, his fixedness of purpose, his intellectual rigour. But these are not sufficient to make a successful minority party leader. Nigel Farage, by contrast, has it, or very nearly.
And the charge of being anti-intellectual? It’s probably a vote winner:
‘To the ordinary man in the street who, alas!
Is a keen observer of life
The word ‘intellectual’ invariably means
A man who’s untrue to his wife’
Tim Hedges was involved in the formative years of UKIP and had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer
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