When I was asked to write this article I intended to start by saying that Nigel Farage had to choose whether he preferred that Britain should leave the EU or that he should remain Ukip’s leader, because the two were incompatible. I hope I was wrong about that, but there is some truth in it, and Nigel stated his own view a couple of months ago. ‘It is frankly just not credible for me to continue to lead the party without a Westminster seat. What credibility would Ukip have in the Commons if others had to enunciate party policy in Parliament and the party leader was only allowed in as guest? Was I supposed to brief Ukip policy from the Westminster Arms? No — if I fail to win South Thanet, it is curtains for me. I will have to step down.’
But things have changed. Ukip’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, has said that he does not want to be leader, and so the leader cannot be an MP.
Nigel’s success is fantastic and thoroughly deserved. He gave up a remunerative career to fight for what he believed in, he led Ukip to victory last year in the EU elections, and Ukip received 12.5 per cent of the votes in the general election. So he is highly distinguished, and admirable in many ways. Yet I believe there is a lesson to be learnt from comparing his political rise with my financial career. An investor in my company, IG Index, saw shares which cost £100 become worth £12 million. At that point I was told it was time to stand aside. What an ungrateful lot they are, I thought, but I did stand aside and they proved right. The shares soared to much greater heights.
Ukip, similarly, can build on the phenomenal success it has enjoyed under Nigel, to become far more successful still, but only, I believe, if Nigel plays a somewhat different role. The signs are there. While it was not surprising that Ukip’s share of the vote should drop from the 27.5 per cent it got in the European elections to 16-18 per cent, it subsequently went down to 12.5 per cent. And in South Thanet, where Nigel stood for Parliament, he lost with 32.4 per cent, while Ukip won the council vote with 36 per cent. So his personal power to pull in the votes may be past its peak. But he claims to have ‘overwhelming support’ inside the party and he points to the unanimous vote in the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting last week that his ‘resignation’, announced immediately after the election but never actually received, should be rejected.
That meeting appears, however, to have been a farce, with Nigel apparently present for most of the discussion and all of the vote. Who would have dared to vote against him? In any case, overwhelming support inside Ukip is nowhere near enough to win the referendum. Then the Daily Telegraph wrote, ‘Mr Farage is reassuring allies that he will have his revenge, after which he intends to run his party in an even more autocratic manner’ — and those who had voted to support him would have been glad they had. Nigel finds dissent hard to handle and this is dictator talk.
Even so, we are where we are and it is clear that Nigel will remain Ukip’s leader, at least for the time being. He does not need to stand aside completely, and of course everyone in Ukip, including Nigel and I, have in common the conviction that we must get Britain out of the EU for the good of the people of this country, and we must co-operate as well as we can. I am pleased to read that Nigel does not want to be in charge of the Out campaign. I say this in spite of the fact that he is, in his way, an absolutely outstanding orator, whether on TV or radio, or at public meetings. He speaks with great clarity, he is highly intelligent, articulate, well-informed and quick on his feet, and that is the main reason why the party has become such a force in British politics.
But his oratory, while great in one way, is aggressive and divisive, tenable up to last year’s EU elections, and perhaps intentional, but not what is needed at this stage. To win the referendum we must have 50 per cent rather than 12.5 per cent, or even 32.4 per cent, and we need a quiet, well-reasoned approach to convince the waverers, in a battle which will be more important to this country even than any general election. We have to get over to the undecided voter that everyone will be better off, in fact far better off, outside the EU.
I am still worried by some things that Nigel has said, such as this reported in Monday’s Daily Telegraph: ‘They don’t want the party to attract opprobrium, but if you take on the political class on tough issues, you attract opprobrium… I think you can see that my style does not get affected by whoever my advisors are or whatever anyone says on television. I do my own thing.’ It was reported on the same day in the Times that Eurosceptic Tory MPs, who are going to be a vital part of the Out campaign, although looking to side with Ukip ahead of the EU referendum, have warned that Nigel Farage must not play a leading role in the campaign for Britain to leave. Apparently one Conservative MP said that Mr Farage’s involvement as a leading spokesman would be a red line to a joint operation.
So I do hope that those who are more emollient than I am may be able to persuade Nigel that, even though he must be distressed by such comments, the right thing, in the quest for what he has given up 20 years of his life for, i.e. the quest to get the UK out of the EU, is to soften his tone and co-operate with whoever is leading the Out campaign.
Stuart Wheeler made his fortune through IG Index, the spread-betting firm he founded. As Ukip treasurer, he was asked by Nigel Farage to ‘raise serious money’.