How very tiresome it already is to hear arguments over the European Referendum campaign based not on numbers and facts, but on emotion, intuition, and partisanship. I would have thought that after Dan Hodges’s worst nightmare, politicos would be a bit more cautious about their predictions. Ukip’s former treasurer, Stuart Wheeler, doesn’t seem to have received the memo.
I’m not Wheeler-bashing. He has done a great number of things for Ukip and the Eurosceptic movement over his career. But in his piece entitled, ‘Nigel Farage cannot lead the Out campaign‘, he makes a very dangerous intervention — one that is also championed by Ukip’s turbulent priest Douglas Carswell and his puppet master Daniel Hannan.
Wheeler makes a number of misguided claims to initially back up his contention that not only should Nigel not lead the ‘Out’ campaign, but that he should stand down as Ukip leader altogether. The one that really reveals the lack of research is the idea that Nigel didn’t get elected in South Thanet, while Ukip got the council vote. This, to Wheeler, indicates that somehow Nigel is – to use the language of the failed coup d’etat organisers of late – ‘toxic’.
A little legwork would have let Wheeler know that the constituency of South Thanet didn’t only include Thanet District Council areas, but rather, the Dover District wards of Sandwich, and Little Stour and Ashstone. It was these heavily Tory wards, as well as the remarkable anti-SNP sentiment that Tory strategist Lynton Crosby et al cooked up — that kept Nigel out. It wasn’t, to put paid to Mr Wheeler’s myth, anything to do with Nigel himself. Quite the contrary.
I lost count of the number of times, on the campaign trail, that we encountered voters who said, ‘I’d never vote for any other Ukiper, Nige, but I will vote for you.’ This is because Nigel has qualities lacking in almost every other politician around. He combines the effortless ability to empathise with people from all walks of life, with the brass tacks to say what the liberal left have claimed is taboo, on all manner of subjects, for a very long time. And now, he’s a household name. Something the proponents of Kate Hoey or John Milton tribute acts would do well to remember.
This is precisely why Nigel should take a front seat position in the referendum campaign. While credit is due to the hundreds of Ukip candidates and thousands of activists who marched up and down the country attracting votes for the party, there is no doubt in my mind, nor in anyone else who matters inside the party, that without Nigel, Ukip wouldn’t have attracted nearly four million votes.
And that’s where we have to start doing the mathematics. At the 2014 European elections, Nigel Farage carried Ukip, on a turnout of 36 per cent, to 4.4 million votes — or 27 per cent. That’s more than half what the ‘Out’ side would need to cross the line. To turn our backs on the man who got that level of support for Eurosceptic politics just 20 years after it was still perceived as a fringe issue — is just plain madness.
It also ignores what most should have learned from this most recent election: that Nigel is able to speak to voters in the north like no other politician in this country, let alone a Eurosceptic politician. The Hannan-Carswell contention that a ‘business person’ such as Sir James Dyson should lead the ‘Out’ campaign is a joke. Labour voters in Sunderland, or Liverpool, or Sheffield, don’t even own a Dyson vacuum cleaner, let alone being on first name terms with the company’s billionaire founder.
Frankly, the ‘Out’ campaign should be courting Nigel, not attacking him at this point. If they continue, they’ll be the reason we do not win. Nigel, alongside northern Ukip spokesmen like Paul Nuttall are critical to the ‘Out’ campaign’s victory — critical to mobilising Labour voters towards the Brexit door, and above all, have the backing of almost every Ukip donor, bar Stuart Wheeler, who has obviously been ‘got at’ by the establishment Tories trying to keep Nigel out of the limelight.
If Conservative MPs are claiming, as Wheeler insists, that Nigel’s presence on the campaign is a ‘red line’ issue for them, then I would point to the fact that yet again, Tories are putting their pride, their partisanship, and their petty squabbling above the interests of the Eurosceptic movement, and thusly the country.
Raheem Kassam is the editor in chief of Breitbart London, and former Senior Advisor to Nigel Farage