Monday, 4 July 2016

When we founded Ukip, Brexit was a lost cause. Nigel Farage changed all that

I have known Nigel for over 20 years. We were founder members of Ukip under the first leader Alan Sked. Back in the early nineties it was difficult to conceive of a more lost cause than Brexit.

I remember delivering 5,000 leaflets in a northern city for a public meeting and managing to get not one single soul into the meeting hall. We endured fifteen years of this heart-breaking experience. We were deliberately crowded out by the press and media. The establishment hated Ukip then, as they do now.

Suddenly in the early 2000s the breakthroughs started to come. In 2004, Ukip returned thirteen seats in the European Parliament. This breakthrough was brought about by TV host Robert Kilroy-Silk. Being a creature of the media meant the establishment could no longer freeze us out.

We were criticised for being all white and middle class. Well, we were, but you had to be to fund your own campaign. Only recently have patriotic benefactors stepped up to the plate in any numbers, but at the time the old white early middle class Ukip MEPs had to put in the millions needed out of their retirement savings. Membership was small, mainly consisting of activists driven by strong views on Britain's constitution.

Ukip was a pressure group, whose ultimate goal was to get a referendum on the European Union. Like all pressure groups, the membership grew and became diverse as people joined for different reasons. Incredibly for those who have been involved since the very beginning, the referendum has been won. Much of this pressure for a referendum was delivered by Ukip. The 2015 election result may have been a disaster, but four million votes was not an insignificant achievement.

Ukip made a strategic decision five years ago to brand itself Nigel Farage's "People's Army". It focussed on immigration, doubled the membership and energised the real strength of the party which is the grassroots activists.

Out in all weathers relentlessly for years, they are the true heroes of the Brexit triumph. Referendums are not won by doing well on Question Time or the Daily Politics. Not enough people watch those shows except for the chattering classes, and they're all committed one way or another already. Referendums are won on the doorstep.

The Ukip focus on immigration was a response to every poll which showed it as the main concern of the average voter. Ukip exploited this but at the cost of its intellectual integrity. The Ukip constitution refers to classical liberalism or libertarianism, but ideas like small government, low taxation fiscal reform have all been abandoned

The question to the new Ukip leadership must be whether it wants to be classical liberal, Bow Group Conservative, or Protectionist Old Labour. It can't be all three. Nigel ran the party as a one-man band, which is not a criticism, as the hierarchy and grassroots activists were happy with this arrangement. But lately, with the referendum, they conceded Ukip had to try once more to become a political party with an ethos and political conviction. It also needs a return to local democracy, an elected chairman and regional representation on the National Executive Committee.

Nigel always said he would stand down post-referendum, He has been at it for a very long time and deserves a break. He is still young enough to do something else.

Twenty years as an MEP is enough. Believe me, I did ten years, and that was more than I could bear. His part in winning a referendum is beyond dispute, and only the most churlish would claim otherwise.

A generous-hearted government would reward Nigel for his contribution to Brexit politics in the New Year's honours list. A CBE would not be out of place. I would also consider him for a role in fishery negotiations, where he has expertise and can add considerable value. Let's hope the new government is rather less small-minded than the last.

Godfrey Bloom was Ukip MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber from 2004 to 2014 and former flatmate to Nigel Farage

On his second resignation as Ukip leader: "During the referendum campaign I said 'I want my country back' and what I'm saying today is 'I want my life back' "

On EU referendum result: “June the 23rd needs to become a national bank holiday, and we will call it Independence Day”

During the EU referendum campaign: “The more exposure I get, those that would never vote for me anyway get angrier and angrier. But amongst the undecideds, no. I can persuade them. I am a voice that can sway some of those undecideds”

On the lunchtime pint: “As I always say to people, I worked damned hard right up until lunchtime every day!”

On his cancer diagnosis: “That fury was so overwhelming. I don’t know whether every cancer sufferer feels the same way, whether you are 21, 41 or 82. But I certainly did”

On maternity leave: “Maybe it’s because I’ve got so many women pregnant over the years that I have a different view [of maternity leave].”

On abstinence: “There’s certainly only one thing I could never agree with George Galloway on. He’s a teetotaller and wants to close all the bars in the House of Commons. That is just not on.”

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