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High Profile

Taking liberties

Interview by Huw Spanner

For some, Nigel Farage MEP is a heroic defender of precious freedoms; for others, he's an impertinent embarrassment. In a Westminster coffee shop, Third Way weighed him in the balance and found him wanting out. 

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Let's begin with the English Civil War, which you invoke several times in your autobiography, Flying Free - a conflict that pitched brother against brother, Christian against Christian. You describe yourself as a Cavalier -
  I know. I know.

- and yet you say: 'We fought a fierce and bloody civil war … to be rid of an arbitrary and capricious monarch.' I'm curious to know which side you would have joined.
Well, I'm Cavalier by instinct and by lifestyle. I mean, I don't like Roundheads. You know, you can be Christian and fun or you can be Christian and, like Cromwell, be deeply puritanical and want to control everybody. So, yes, the Civil War is terribly important but I accept that there is a minor conflict in my mind on it.

Ultimately, the importance of the Civil War and the republic and what happened in the 1680s is that we put together, I think, a constitutional settlement as good as anything in the world, really. We had a system of government that we all understood. We all understood. OK, there wasn't full emancipation, but from then on general elections really mattered. And my argument is that since 1973 that has gradually been diminishing, to the point now where it doesn't really make any difference who's in No 10. I mean, it doesn't matter to the City any more whether it's Tory or Labour.

That war was very much about values as well as interests, and it split the population in two. Do you think it is ever possible for a political party to represent everyone?
It would be silly to say that - you could never, ever represent the whole country - and since I was elected to the European Parliament I've always said that I'm not going to represent the whole constituency (and rem­em­ber it's vast - six million voters), I'm there to represent the people who voted for me and to use that position to try to persuade others that we are actually right.

But the interesting thing about [the UK Independ­ence Party] is that it at­tracts an incredibly diverse range of people. We pick up what I would call 'patriotic Old Labour', we pick up classical liberals who hate the big state and believe in individual freedom and we pick up traditional Tories who believe in the country. And don't forget that when we started [in 1993], only about six of us in the country believed in this.

You write entertainingly about your upbringing, and with some insight. You refer at one point to 'values which I had cherished since childhood'. What do you see, looking back, as the influences that formed you?
I think I believe in things that perhaps might be called slightly old-fashioned these days. I believe in punctuality, I believe that manners are rather important -

Except towards the president of the European Council?
Well, you know, this is all rather silly, isn't it, be­cause, actually, calling somebody 'a damp rag' is a pretty min­or form of abuse compared with what happens every Wednesday at Prime Minister's Questions.

My family, both my mother's side and my father's, were very patriotic people. They believed in this country, they believed that the sacrifices they'd lived through through two world wars, aw­ful though they were, had been worthwhile to keep our freedom and democracy. When I was small, you could never spend time with my grandparents without them talking about the past. One of my grandfathers was wounded in the Great War, in a very nasty action in which the corporal got the VC.
We were basically, on both sides, traditionally Con­servative - but all mega-Thatcherite, because that was a breath of fresh air.

You say that even as a boy you 'despised' John Lennon's song 'Imagine'…
Yes. All this 'Imagine there are no countries', the idea that we all be the same, always struck me as bizarre. You know, we should be rather proud of who we are and what our history is. You see, the reason, in the end, that the European project can't work - just as communism could never work - is that, whether we like it or not, mankind is tribal. I admit to being tribal.

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Though you recall that you fell in love with Portugal at a very young age and for many years were more interested in 'abroad' than in Britain.
Well, there's no contradiction in that. Remember that 1960s and '70s England was very different to now, wasn't it? I remember going to France when I was 13 or 14 and somebody putting a bottle of Perrier on the table. Fizzy water? We didn't do things like that. So, I think you can like and celebrate differences between peoples whilst understanding what you are yourself. Differ­en­ces are wonderful. All my life I've been fascinated by people of different countries, people of different classes. You know, I like people. I'm a naturally pretty gregarious sort of person.

John Major famously said that his heart sank every time he left Britain…
Yeah, I don't understand that. I don't get that. I mean, it depends. I don't like going to Brussels, because it's a horrible, crime-ridden dump: the sky is grey, the buildings are grey, the people are grey, it's ghastly! But every month when I go to Stras­bourg, a little bit of me is still quite excited about going there. Because I love it.

You certainly don't come across as a 'little Englander' - and yet you do remark in the book that Imperial weights and measures are 'infinitely superior' to anything that 'Napoleon and his bureaucrats' -
Of course they are. Absolutely! Absolutely!

Would you like to go back to pounds, shillings and pence?
They're not weights and measures.

OK, do you really cherish stones, pounds and ounces?
Absolutely! That's my system, I love it.

So, we all have to know our 14 and 16 times tables…
Absolutely! A very good thing, too. I mean, I'm saying it slightly tongue-in-cheek - slightly tongue-in-cheek - but I do actually thoroughly object to the idea that we all should be harmonised, homogenised and pasteurised.

Isn't harmonisation sometimes necessary?
Listen, I was a commodity broker, right? We bought and sold copper in US cents per pound or in deutschmarks per tonne. I have absolutely no problem working with both systems - you know, 2.20462 is deeply embedded in my brain. I just happen to think that to criminalise the language of Shakespeare is an appalling thing to do - and actually sums up, really, everything that is wrong with this European entanglement.

You ask [your greengrocer] for a pound of bananas. If he weighs them out and sells them to you, he'll have broken the law. Steve Thoburn from Sunderland got a criminal record for it and died at the age of 39 because of the hassle. Who needs to live in a country like that?

Your father emerges in the book as a strong character…
Oh yes. In fact, both of my parents are very dynamic people - they get involved, they get stuck in. My father has just retired - quite good to be stockbroking still at the age of 75 - and now he's very busy being president of his regiment and things like that. He is an extremely colourful character, and certainly in the City was ex­tremely well known. I talk a little bit in the book about some of the problems he had…

With alcoholism. And gambling?
I didn't say that in the book, no.

Listen, drink is an extraordinary thing. It's very, very deeply embedded within our culture, and when I left school and went into the City - well, everything re­volved around it. I'm very honest about the culture. You know, looking back on it now, many people would be repelled by it. And some people who go through that lifestyle are lucky and some are desperately un­lucky, and you never know which you're going to be. Lots of people who were my drinking mates in the City have been through the most disastrous downward spirals, and a lot of them are dead. A lot of them are dead. I lived through all of that and I'm very candid: I say I am lucky. I am lucky.

You are fairly dismissive about religion throughout the book, it seemed to me. You tell us that as a boy you were proud of the fact that you could argue for anything, from a flat Earth to feminism. Would you have been able to make a case for religious faith?
Yes. Oh yes - and I still could. And I do actually think that our Christian values are terribly important, bec­ause they're an excellent marker for the way society should operate and how we should treat each other.

I find it bizarre that the Archbishop of Canterbury appears to be quite happy for them to go down the tube. To think that he has publicly argued that shari'a law would be welcome in British cities!

That was how the media chose to report what he said.
Well, he wasn't very far away from it, was he?

Your parents were not religious, I suspect.
Not especially, no.

At what point did you decide, 'There's nothing in this'?
Well… I did get confirmed when I was 13 - that was a voluntary thing - but I think by the time I was 18 I was pretty much a non-believer.

I think - funny, isn't it? - that belief is one of those things that can wax and wane during your life. I have thought a bit more about God since the [plane crash last year]. A bit more. A bit more.

I was curious to find out what went through your mind as you were facing death then; but in the book you say that pretty much all you thought was 'Oh, fuck' -
Well, I was very philosophical about it. But I have since thought ab­out it a bit. You know, why was I so lucky?

Have you come to any conclusion?
No. No, I haven't. I really, really haven't.

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You were just as lucky at the age of 21 when, full of 'English ale and Irish whiskey', you were hit and nearly killed by a car; but that didn't seem to affect you.
No, it didn't. I don't think that changed me a bit. I just couldn't wait to get back to work and back to normal.

That's the Cavalier in you.
Yeah. In a sense, after this [second] accident, I think I am more reflective, I think I'm a bit more thoughtful, a little more grown-up. Not too much, I hope, but a little bit more. And I am more thoughtful about the world.

Reading about your youth, I got the impression that you were quite self-centred…
Single-minded. I'll admit that I've always been that.

You write that when you left school 'I had worlds to conquer' and it struck me: He's not one of those men who want to save the world, he wants to conquer it.
I was fiercely ambitious when I was 18. Fiercely ambitious. And that ambition was to succeed in business and make a lot of money - that was how I thought and how I felt. But I've changed, haven't I, because I'm not pursuing that course any more. In many ways I've turned my back on a life of money completely - I mean, much of the last 10 years has been grinding poverty. People laugh at that, but actually if you're trying to bring up a big family earning half what a GP earns…

You describe the European Parliament as a gravy train, and certainly the picture you paint is enraging. However, some people might look at your career in the City and say, 'Well, that's just another gravy train.'
Cor, goodness gracious me! I disagree fundamentally. Ab­solutely fundamentally. Listen -

You write about how much fun you had, 'drinking more
or less continuously', and what shedloads of money you were getting. What have you got in common with the kind of people you identify as the rank and file of Ukip: farmers, deep-sea fishermen, small shopkeepers? These are people whose living is often precarious, sometimes very dangerous, never 'fun', and they work very hard.
Right, let's deal with a couple of big hits. Number one: Why is Brussels a gravy train? Because it's not accountable. Name me the last European Commissioner to be sacked for incompetence. There's never been one.

I would define a gravy train as getting a lot of money for not doing anything useful. Or for just having fun.
Well, precisely. Precisely. And no accountability whatsoever. Life in the City in the Eighties was enormous fun, but were you accountable? Yes. If the transactions that you were involved in went wrong and you took big losses, you were out of the door. I've seen people asked to leave the office immediately.
And don't tell me that we were earning a lot of mon­ey for doing nothing! When it was busy, my goodness me! it was busy. You can't imagine the pressure.

How did it compare with being a trawlerman?
The pressure of being a market-maker in a busy market, when you've got people all around you screaming and shouting at you and you're dealing in numbers and it's like that, that, that, that - that's pretty pressurised. That's why it's a young man's job. You don't get many 50-year-old money-brokers: they can't do it any more. Goodness me! It's not an easy job. Not an easy job.

When I joined the City, it was the dying days of a gentlemen's club: magnificent, socially wonderful but going nowhere - there was still a whiff of PG Wode­house about people who toddled off to the City all day and did things that nobody understood at all. But what I saw in the Eighties and Nineties was London becoming in many ways a genuine global centre for entrepreneurial flair, for innovation, for very hard work - and for creating profits. And without those profits we can't have the schools and hospitals we need in this coun­try - it's very, very simple. I am absolutely not conflicted in any way at all about the fact that what we did, overall, was for a social good.

I'm not sure that everybody will associate the City with accountability. Many people protest that the bankers crashed the global economy but are still -
But they were allowed to. Who let them do it? Moronic politicians, who changed rules we'd had for seven de­cades. Take America - [Alan] Greenspan got rid of the Glass-Steagall Act.5 Look what that moron [Gordon] Brown did! He took away control of the banking in­dus­try from the Bank of England and gave it to a bunch of tick-box bureaucrats at the [Fin­ancial Services Auth­ority]. Catastrophic, catastrophic errors of judgement!

So, politicians and 'bureaucrats' are to blame for it all?
If you allow banks to be very greedy, they will be very greedy, because that's human nature - and to a large extent that is what's happened. I am not defending the worst excesses of the banking industry at all - no doubt many of those people should be in prison for what they have done. As should the regulators and the politicians that allowed it.

I'm a bit confused. You describe yourself as a libertarian (rather than a conservative), and yet you condemn the people who deregulated banking?
No, no, no, they didn't remove regulations. What they did was, they showered the financial services industry with a blizzard of regulations, more than it has seen in centuries - but at the same time they took away some good basic rules. It was the most enormous muck-up.

It doesn't matter how libertarian you are, you still think there should be a law on the statute books saying that murder is wrong. And, similarly, in­dustries need some guidelines, and a framework in which to operate.

Can you define what you mean by 'libertarianism'?
Well, I think it's very easy. I've said that society needs some rules and a framework, but I think that as much as possible people ought to be allowed to decide for themselves how they live their lives, provided that they don't cause grave offence or harm to others.

OK, let's take an example -
Let's take the smoking ban. Let's take the smoking ban.

No, let's take something else. Suppose that I like Spanish culture and I want to import a bit of it to Britain. I really like the idea of throwing live goats off high towers…
Frankly, if that's what the Spanish want to do -

No, no, I'm talking about if I want to do it. Would you say: 'That's fine, as long as you do it on your own property'?
I take the point, but no, we would find that culturally unacceptable in this country, wouldn't we?

But that sounds like other people trying to dictate to me on the basis of their own moral scruples -
To some extent. To some extent. Our culture and our upbringing do dictate what we find acceptable within the rules of society. But no, I mean, look, we have some basic animal-protection rules that wouldn't let you do it. Do I think those rules are un­necessary and should be scrapped? I can't get drawn down that route!
It's difficult. I mean, listen, there are extreme libertarians who argue that all forms of pornography are acceptable, or - yeah, there are some very extreme pos­itions out there. I don't support those, but I do think that in this country government is impinging, bit by bit, upon our freedoms - and I think that the smoking ban and the hunting ban are two very good ex­amples. I don't hunt foxes, but if other people want to, that doesn't ac­tually impinge on my personal freedom.

Nor would my throwing live goats off high towers…
I mean, libertarianism is a very difficult subject to discuss because you can take it to ex­tremes that people find offensive. But I do think that Ukip is a libertarian political movement compared with the mob over the road in Westminster, who seem to want to control absolutely everything. I think we need less government, not more.

You are quite frank about Ukip in the book - you say that some of its members are 'nutters' -
Some of them. Not all of them, no.

- and you are very rude about the three bigger British parties. Is there a strong case for repatriating powers from Brussels if Westminster is just as corrupt?
Oh, it's much less corrupt, actually. You know, we are much less tolerant of corruption in this country than perhaps the Mediterranean countries are. There are some quite big cultural divides there.

True, but some of your small shopkeepers might look at the huge supermarket chains and ask: Will any political party ever rein them in? Likewise, Parliament was afraid of News International. Perhaps some people like the European Union because they see it as a check on the exercise of unaccountable, undemocratic power here…
The problem with that line of thinking is that, however rotten and bad we may view our political class at any given time, as long as we have a parliamentary democracy we have the power to change it, because we have the power to sack everybody and bring in new people with fresh political ideas. What you cannot do in this European system is change anything, because it's the civil servants - the Commission - that have the power.

I often joke that we should fight for the birthright to mis­manage our own country rather than be mismanaged by somebody else. Having the ab­il­ity to change our own destiny is very, very important. If you think about it, it's the essence of parliamentary democracy.

Why are you so focused on the threat from Brussels? You don't seem to be concerned, for example, that most of our media are foreign-owned - and now much of our infrastructure, too. You don't seem concerned about the transatlantic threat of homogenisation, either - the extent to which British culture is becoming -
No, no, I would agree with that. We're becoming litigi­ous, the influences on our teenagers are very Americ­an, very American indeed.

Perhaps but for the EU we would now be the 51st State.
That is something that Nick Clegg puts up occasionally, but it is not something that any of us desire or want at all. Our relationship with America - you know, we can choose. We can choose whether or not we sign extradition treaties or go to war. What we're doing with Eur­ope is giving away the ability to make those decisions.

Why would politicians want to reduce their own power?
Well, you get all the trappings of power and none of the responsibility. 'Don't blame me, guv'nor! Europe did it.'

And why does so much of the establishment collude?
How can the entire political class be wrong? Well, they were all wrong about Hitler, weren't they? Out of 600 MPs, there were 20 [who raised the alarm] - and do you know what they were called? Warmongers. Eccen­trics. They were lampooned; they were consid­ered to be mad. Even when Churchill produced the data [about German rearmament], the political class looked away.

You know, we've seen it in science, we've seen it in business: even if the status quo is pointing in entirely the wrong direction, it exerts a very strong force on the political class - and the more career-orientated our pol­iticians are, the stronger it is.

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Tell me what makes you proud to be British.
I think the fact that, whilst our history is not perfect - no country's is - I think we have in the last few centur­ies contributed a lot more good than bad to the world. I think the way that we - through civil war and evolution - put together a form of parliamentary democracy that was viewed by the rest of the world as a civilised model to adopt. And, I think, to have had, since Magna Carta, an evolving but very stable and sound judicial system that actually gives the individual of this country much grea­ter liberty and protection from the state than virtually anywhere else in the world.

I see those things as being very important, and I see those things as being very much under threat.

Can you tell me one good thing the EU has done for us?
Not that we couldn't have achieved through normal, bilateral negotiation and agreement, no. Not one thing.

I have no doubt, what is being developed in Brussels is bad. These are bad people. Bad, bad people. We are in the grip of extreme nationalists in Brussels.

Nationalists?
Extreme Euronationalists. You want to see them stand­ing to at­tention when they play the anthem. You want to watch when they goosestep the EU flag around the parade ground at the front of the European Parliament. You have to be there to understand what's actually go­ing on. They're so extreme, they will wilfully destroy democracy - which they're doing. They are pursuing policies in southern Europe which I think, unless these countries break out of this prison of the euro, will lead to revolution. I mean, there may be some very unpleasant times to come.

Are some of these bad people British?
Oh Lord, yes. Absolutely. Oh, there are British fanatics working in the European Commission. People who ab­solutely hate this country, everything it is and everything it's ever stood for. Filled with self-loathing.

Are you at all optimistic for the future?
Very. I'm the biggest bull-trader you ever met. I'm the biggest optimist on earth. I'm wildly optimistic.

But, apart from temperament, what makes you so?
Because I think that in the end - and it may come at a heavy price - in the end, good conquers bad.

Undoubtedly you add to the gaiety of the nation - as I think you intend to - but you are a serious politician…
I'm not mucking about. I haven't given up a successful career, I haven't given up all my free time, I haven't giv­en up all my hobbies just because I want to be a politician. I'm in this out of conviction.

Comments

Geoff Boyce

Exactly. A wonderful commentary of the age we are living in - or at least the age I long for and work toward.

Posted: 08 February 2012


Free business plan software

Very useful blog. Keep up the good work.

Posted: 08 February 2012


Peter

Well done Nigel :) One of the last decent politicians in this country!

Posted: 08 February 2012


Tony Westfallen

I am a commodity broker, and was in the 70s and 80s. What Farage says about how things were is 100% correct. However, do not confuse today's investment and banking industry, with what we had in those days. Drinking was a major part of it, we all worked hard and played hard, it was fun, but also we all took responsibility for our actions. Sadly, with government sticking their nose into every aspect of our lives today, people have stopped taking responsibility and this is something which we need to change. Journalists are experts at spin, but in the 70s and 80s you would rarely find one outside of a pub or bar...that's how it was. So why try to make a big thing of it. What is important is that you have a man in Nigel Farage, who has the balls to fight against a massive propaganda machine - willing to be publicly ridiculed - if it helps lots of people understand how much of their freedom is being stolen, or given away, to foreign entities. Farage is not a nationalist, he is a patriot. One who realises nothing is perfect, but knows that EU colonisation is wrong. If you want harmony, then perhaps all Europeans should be made to be catholics, or perhaps Muslims...but then again you would probably argue the importance of freedom of religion. How is that any different from people wanting the freedom to run their own country their own way. Do not make the mistake of thinking that wanting more freedom is not having respect for other people. With freedom comes responsibility, something the vast majority of politicians in Europe know nothing about.

Posted: 08 February 2012


Nickylm

Brilliant! You have my vote!

Posted: 08 February 2012


Julia Houlton

Inspirational! We need more church visionaries like Dr Nazir-Ali.

Posted: 08 February 2012


Marilyn

I see an idealist, a realist, and a person who wants to do something positive. An excellent interview. I will say, it's rather difficult to fight so much corruption even with so much conviction. I have seen so much sweeping apathy that I yearn for being abroad after being back in the States for a year.

Posted: 08 February 2012


Huw Rees

"In the end, good conquers bad." Keep going Nigel, you are undoubtedly one of the few men left fighting for good.

Posted: 08 February 2012


Jason Barker

Well lucidity put by Nigel.We need more discerning Nigel's with the conviction he gives.

Posted: 08 February 2012


Lydia Dustbin

Thankyou for this interview, I found it very interesting and I hope both the reporter and readers have learned some positive things about Nigel & UKIP.

Posted: 08 February 2012


John Leon

Why did you refuse to discuss the smoking ban? Since when has smoking been so blasphemous/moraly repugnent as to unmentionable? or are you following a a govt. ( not a Christian ) line of command here? I am not a smoker, never have been but to watch an organisation which purports to be for ALL people regardless of their mis demeanours refuse to talk about the demonisation of 20% of the population makes me wonder just how sincere their commitment to Christianity is.

Posted: 08 February 2012


Brian E J Bridgman

I endorse absolutely everything that Nigel has said. History is now repeating itself, we are back into a 1930/40's period again where one man emerged from the many. Freedom has always had to be fought for. History has taught us that, if nothing else.

Posted: 08 February 2012


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