Friday, 15 May 2015
I have harboured a mistrust of the European Union and of politicians in general since long before 1975. I saw union power cripple industries; wildcat strikes, flying pickets, one-out/all-out and often on a whim. Two minutes-worth of tea break, efficiency drives, mechanisation and more; any excuse it seemed, back in the sixties and seventies and the all-powerful shop steward would snap his mighty fingers and the crack would be heard across the land. But in one thing the unions and I were agreed; there was something rotten about Project Europe.
Then after Wilson’s victory in 1974 on a promise to hold the first referendum in our history I saw the way in which the two sides, pro and con, handled the debate. Despite the overwhelming feeling in the country that we lost something of ourselves when Ted Heath signed us up, the big money of the ‘in’ campaign bombarded us with the slick propaganda of fear. We were already in, they said, and it’s fine. To leave before we gave it a chance would make us look ridiculous. As a declining world power our voice could only be heard as part of something bigger. If we weren’t inside the Common Market we would be outside all markets. It stank. And as a result of that stink the British pinched their noses and voted against their heart.
Twenty years later that heart returned as Britain’s confidence had grown and a small new party was formed. Since then the Internet has allowed access to follow the debate in far more detail than hitherto and although there is no precedent to show we would be better off out, there is precious little to show we’d be better off in; but one hell of a dirty pile of evidence of corruption, coercion and a hell-bent agenda of eradicating the nation state. On pragmatic grounds the generation that got to vote in would now vote out. The generation that just missed out – me and millions like me – are even more certain we have nothing to fear from stepping outside. But move to the under-forties and the picture is blurred by a relentless message from Brussels that to leave would be suicide. It just wouldn’t.
But for Ukip’s dogged persistence we would simply not be discussing it at all. Conservative rebels have serially failed to bring their party to heel and many sit firmly on the fence, occasionally hopping to one side or another – I’m looking at you, Boris – whenever politically expedient. And Ukip would not have had the success it has had without the dogged persistence of one Nigel Farage. Red Ukip, Right Ukip; however the party has lurched, whichever vote it has courted I have always viewed it as a one-issue – one crucial issue – party.
They say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This may or may not be what is happening with Nigel Farage right now, but now is not the time for the party to fall apart. David Cameron may or may not honour his cast-iron pledge for an honest in/out referendum but we already know he is 100% on the side of in and his whips will do their utmost to keep his dogs in line. You can say what you like about Nigel Farage and I know you will, but I am wholly convinced of one thing: we would not even be having the prospect of a referendum were it not for him.
Come the referendum...
Others have written at length about what Patrick O’Flynn has said and sharp are the knives, ready to carve Nigel’s early epitaph, but the political landscape might have been a sterile wasteland without his towering presence. As a one-man thorn in the side he has done more than any Euro-sceptic Tory to give the people of Britain the choice they never really had 40 years ago. So, I no longer care about whether or not Ukip is 'different', or whether the man at its helm is a true anti-politician or just like all the rest; none of that is important now. But the 'out' campaign needs a strong voice and there is no bigger and more coherent than Team Farage.