On the morning of the Referendum vote, I texted Nigel Farage – as the Heritage and Tourism spokesman of his party – to say he ‘had fought a hard battle and deserved to win’. He texted back: ‘One dares to hope’.
Like most of the best English people I know Nigel has a strong sense of loyalty and decency and also loves a drink. He doesn’t take himself – or politics – that seriously. Like Jimmy Goldsmith he gave up a business career to fight his cause. He only pursued his convictions so hard because he believed in leaving the autocratic and anti-sovereign EU – and risking the opprobrium of many – regardless of career or any financial rewards.
Well, now he has resigned from Ukip, and I have decided to follow his example. I wish the party well although I fear that it may be heading in an Enoch Powellian ‘far right’ direction. The fact that Suzanne Evans is not even able to stand as leader because of her suspension (due to her progressive views on gay rights) tells you everything you need to know about the current state of Ukip.
That is not for me. Nigel will be remembered by history as a politician of more importance than Cameron, Osborne or any other Coalition era figure. His greatest quality is his ability to be classless. If Ukip veers towards the anti-immigrant, anti-gay right, that was not what I signed up for. It’s not why I fell out with my father Bill Cash – who was worried at the time that a vote for Ukip would split the Tory vote – and accepted Nigel’s invitation to become Heritage and Tourism spokesman for Ukip two years ago.
When historians look back on the last twenty five years, Nigel Farage is going to be looked on as a radical in the tradition of John Bright and John Wilkes. A great radical who connects Farage to those 19th-century revolutionaries is Sir James Goldsmith. The importance of Goldsmith’s Referendum Party has been largely overlooked in recent months. But Farage was in many ways the spiritual torch carrier of Goldsmith’s legacy.
Arguably, Jimmy did more than anyone to shape English euroscepticism . In The Trap, Goldsmith’s 1994 attack on global corporate capitalism, he attacked the ‘nomenklatura’ of the EU machine and the ever growing power of political elites: ‘I do not accept that economic growth is the principal measure of the success of nations’. For Jimmy, economics was ‘a tool to serve us. It is not a demi-god to be served by society’.
Goldsmith’s predictions that the EU would morph into an unaccountable EU state have been proved very largely correct. Goldsmith denounced the Maastricht Treaty of 1993 as an undemocratic attempt to create a ‘supranational, centralised, bureaucratic state – a homogenised union. It would destroy the pillars on which Europe is built – its nations. It would convert Europe into one multicultural space in which national identities would fuse and sovereignty abandoned. It would coerce ancient European nations to merge into the ultimate artificial state.’
Jimmy Goldsmith gave up his business career to found the Referendum Party. He felt the idea of European democracy was ‘under attack’. Yet Cameron and Osborne wanted the UK to remain a member of such an anti-democratic organisation. Now Nigel has gone – who is the Jesus Christ of the Ukip movement – expect a number of Nigel apostles (front benchers and former parliamentary candidates) to follow his example. He was largely the glue that kept the party together.
Ironically, the party has increasingly little or no relevance today for the Tunbridge Wells retired majors, sputtering into their G & T’s with anger towards the Cameron/Osborne brand of liberal conservatism. Those are the people Cameron was worried about when he tried to shoot down Ukip in the 2015 election by promising a referendum.
Such club tie voters are no longer Ukip supporters; Brexit has pushed them back towards the Conservatives. They will be watching the Conservative leadership race more closely than the Ukip one. Most former conservative turned Ukip voters (who helped Farage beat the Tories and win the European elections in 2013) will be backing Leadsom over Gove in the Tory contest. They will have no time for Theresa May, a Remainer whose record as Home Secretary on immigration has been dire.
If Susan Evans is not allowed to stand as leader by Ukip, the party will have the membership they deserve. The Ukip leadership battle is likely to be between Paul Nuttall and Steven Woolfe. They are both MEPs who will take a tough line on immigration and will be trying to make Ukip the new Labour of the North. That is nothing to do with the euroscepticism of Jimmy Goldsmith, and does not represent the party to which I signed up.
William Cash is editor-in-chief of Spear’s.