Normally you might lump Nigel Farage and Bill Cash together on the political spectrum. But today there wasn’t much love lost between them, judging by their almighty clash at a Bruges Group fringe today. The Ukip leader aimed both barrels at Cash, who had asked Farage not to fight Tories in marginal seats:
‘I have to say Bill, and I hate to say this, but listening to you this afternoon I’ve realised that you are a hopelessly, out of date tribal politician who has not recognised that British politics has fundamentally changed.
‘To ask me, to support a party lead by Mr Cameron, in order we can get back our national independence. You’ve got to do rather better than that. ‘
The difference of opinion seems to be over who is the true Eurosceptic. Farage believes he has taken the mantel from the Maastricht rebels, arguing Cash indirectly voted for the Maastricht treaty by supporting John Major in the 1993 vote of confidence. As he bawled ‘you failed the ultimate test’.
As the ‘true Eurosceptic’, Farage was also keen to praise MPs he believes are worthy of holding office. The Ukip leader hinted at some of the Tory MPs he wouldn’t make life difficult at the next election — getting Peter Bone (in attendance), Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg ‘back to Westminster would be in the national interest’, said Farage. It’s almost as if he’s offering a kite mark for the really robust right-wingers.
There were a few other interested MPs floating around the event, including John Redwood, Mike Fabricant and Anne Main (who stormed out following the Cash tirade) but none were offered the Farage mark. How it will work in practice still isn’t clear.
PS: Farage’s rock star reception at this fringe looks set to be overshadowed by some ill-advised comments made by his spin doctor. As the Times reports (£), the following message was sent to a local activist ahead of Farage’s trip to Manchester:
‘James, my fault but I told the [Evening] Standard that Nigel would be arriving at approx. 10.30 this morning. They have called and I expect a snapper and a female journalist (of some form of ethnic extraction) at Piccadilly.’
The Tories will be delighted by ‘of some form of ethnic extraction’. Just the kind of remark to remind conference Ukip are still a party on the fringes.