The event received a write up in the Shropshire Star, which covered the key points made by the speakers. Those people who have looked or will look at the report in the expectation of seeing some red meat on the subject of withdrawal from the EU and plans for how such an exit can be delivered, can be forgiven for feeling some disappointment. The report shows the EU barely warranted a mention, and when it did it wasn’t Farage talking about it.
Being a curious sort, this prompted me to have a discussion about it with a highly placed source in the party. They confirmed that EU matters were only mentioned in passing, but more revealingly explained that after the event Farage was delighted that the focus on the biggest political issue affecting the UK – membership of the EU and its consequences – was minimal. It wasn’t an accident, it was by design.
While David Cameron talked the talk in imploring his Conservative members to stop ‘banging on about Europe’, Farage is walking the walk by doing just that.
Previous insights provided to me by well placed UKIP sources, one of whom has just landed on the party’s MEP candidate list for next year’s elections, asserted that Farage is more interested in building a rival to the Conservatives in the hope of splitting that party and capturing a segment of it, than pushing for an exit from the EU. The new focus on emulating the targeted campaign approach used by the Liberal Democrats, in order to win a few seats rather than putting resources into all constituencies, confirms their assessments.
But what should cause even more concern for withdrawal realists – who understand leaving the EU while preserving the UK’s commercial interests requires a structured approach where Article 50 is invoked and agreement is reached on the relationship the UK will have with the EU after departure, before the European Communities Act (ECA) is repealed – is my source’s confirmation that Farage sees such a negotation as time consuming and an opportunity for EU meddling. Farage, who has carefully straddled the fence in public by not siding for or against the Article 50 route despite a clear split in his party on the matter, in private advocated the scorched earth approach of leaving first and trying to negotiate something after, which would leave UK commercial interests at serious risk of damage.
This represents a serious threat to an ‘out’ campaign in any future referendum on EU membership. The withdrawalists would come under incessant attack from the business community which would only look kindly on withdrawal if they could be assured their interests would be protected after the UK leaves the EU. The Farage approach does not and cannot give that assurance. In the meantime, Farage will not let UKIP announce its policy and approach for fear it will alienate a substantial number of UKIP members and will see the party exposed to (justified) attack from the Europhiles who will seize on such naive stupidity with alacrity.
What this demonstrates is that, once again, a political party created to achieve a particular end has compromised itself to service internal party maintenance and management. As Norway showed during its referendum campaign on EU membership, a non party political campaign is the only way of ensuring the objectives are not watered down or jettisoned in favour of a party’s interests.
By way of a closing thought, if you think it is ridiculous that an anti EU party such as UKIP could be pulled off to focus on other things at the whim of its leader in this way, then consider for yourself the evidence that Farage is reversing from EU matters as part of his dream of being a British MP and leading a party in Parliament. In the Evening Standard we see Tony Blair getting substantial space to set out yet another FUD-laden argument against withdrawing from the EU. You would think the UKIP leader and by definition the supposed leader of the Eurosceptic movement would be all over this, exposing the misrepresentation, falsehoods and errors in Blair’s and numerous others that have been published in recent weeks and months.
You would think Farage would be demanding a right of reply to set the record straight – or at the very least shotuing loudly that he is being denied a platform. There is still no counter to this prolonged Europhile line of attack in the media, and certainly nothing rebutting it on the UKIP website. But Farage did somehow find time to be quoted at length in the Daily Express on High Speed Rail 2… he didn’t even mention the EU origins of the project in order to create a high speed rail network across the union. I’ll leave it to Farage’s vocal band of supporters to explain how this focus does anything to develop public support for withdrawal from the EU or move us foward on the journey to successfully leaving the union at a time the Europhiles are working the public and winning them over to supporting continued membership.
The implications of this are clear. The Eurosceptic movement is not being helped by UKIP because Farage’s agenda means he has other fish to fry. The campaign is weaker as a result. UKIP should be a standard bearer, it should be the flag ship of the ‘out’ campaign. But under Farage it has relegated itself to the position of day-tripping passenger on a support vessel. Do UKIP’s members realise what’s happening, or do they even care?