Nigel Farage is in a bullish mood. Also, the True Finns Party has shot a warning at
Brussels by winning nearly 19 percent of the vote in a general election. Mr Farage hopes that the combination of an unpopular and insufficiently Eurosceptic coalition government, the EU’s
budget increases and the European Court of Human Right’s recent controversies will win him similar victories. “I’ve waited a long time for this. Finally it’s
changing,” he says.
Ukip’s lack of success is perplexing, given that 51 percent of Britons think our EU membership is counterproductive. The British may dislike coiffured plutocrats; but, clearly, there’s little
more repugnant than the stereotypical Ukipper’s florid face, club tie and sports jacket.
Now in his second leadership stint, Mr Farage hopes to cure the party’s image problem and broaden its policy book beyond the single issue of withdrawal from the EU. His canine enthusiasm now
focuses on “the whole Ukip philosophy of small government, libertarianism and empowerment”.
The "Ukip philosophy" remains a work in progress. A policy review began last May and accelerated when Mr Farage was re-elected in the Autumn. There are firm ideas on limiting immigration
and making education selective; but, beyond that, Ukip’s policy book reads like a conversation between Harpo Marx and Marcel Marceau.
Its manifesto for this week’s local elections carries a pledge to ‘safeguard the NHS’. There are endless possibilities as to what this might mean. Mr Farage says that it’s just a
promise to defend the principle of free care at the point of delivery. Other than that, the details are scant. Mr Farage has identified "the marzipan layer of bureaucracy" as the chief
impediment to the NHS and has vows to scrape away the marzipan with a "huge structural reform of NHS commissioning."
Ukip looks perilously close to the hated coalition here. I ask what’s wrong with the government’s structural reforms, which place decision-making closer to the consumer. Mr Farage says
that they don’t go far enough, which seems odd as they’re going nowhere at the moment.
The nascent Ukip philosophy can be reduced to accountability mixed with direct democracy. And, again, the similarities with the coalition are striking. On health, Mr Farage wants to have
“locally elected health boards where people actually have to put up an agenda and deliver it. We’re keen to do the same with the police.” Andrew Lansley’s contentious health
bill may be revised to include local councillors on commissioning boards to boost accountability.
For the moment, however, Mr Farage is more concerned with Ukip’s perception problem, than with policy specifics. Back in 2008, he asked Eurosceptic focus groups why they didn’t vote
“The response was that we were a bit like the BNP but a touch posher…there were other problems too. First, there is the RAF Bomber Command thing: that we are just angry and very
right-wing. The second problem is isolationism: that we think Sodom and Gomorrah begins at Calais.”
Mr Farage is now beginning to re-brand the party as a "radical and reasonable" force. Key to this is a direct attack on “the type of people like Cameron and Osborne…who are
bred into the Establishment and are naturally conservative and not radical.”
It’s class war waged from Cheam rather than Catterick; but, to an extent, it’s working. Mr Farage points out that Ukip is making gains in Labour’s heartlands, such as at Barnsley,
and in universities: Ukip’s membership has been boosted in recent months by 500 students, part of what he describes as “the young libertarians”. He is at his most animated, which
is saying something, when talking of this “new generation across Europe who will have to change everything.”
Is this why he is supporting the alternative vote? “Certainly, the new generation coming through have different attitudes to the system. They think, ‘what’s the
A sign, perhaps, of the Yes2AV campaign’s mounting desperation was that it finally allowed Mr Farage take a platform with them 10 days ago. He has declared first past the post
“dead”, but his support for AV is tepid:
“If the No side wins, then I think that’s the end of reform. I see AV as the crack in the dam. Once you’ve changed something once, you can change it again. I also think that from
the Ukip perspective, which is of secondary importance, it kills the wasted vote argument.”
Mr Farage concedes that Ukip still has plenty of shortcomings, not least that it “needs to cost rather better in future.” He is building for the 2014 European elections, praying that
the coalition holds until 2015, and there’s plenty of time for him to complete the job. Those who doubt his determination need only recall that he has survived cancer, a serious car crash and
a plane accident. As he puts it, “I shouldn’t even be here!”
“Perhaps it’s a question of destiny?” I ask mischievously.
He smiles and replies, “I honestly believe that, one way or another, Ukip is going to force a referendum on this great issue.”
Nothing, it seems, trumps that one issue.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated May 7, 2011