Magazine article The Spectator

Ukip's Interim Leader on Nigel Farage and His Party's Death Spiral

Magazine article The Spectator

Ukip's Interim Leader on Nigel Farage and His Party's Death Spiral

Article excerpt

The interim leader on Farage, Brexit and his party's death spiral

'Some wine? How about a beer? Shall we settle into a good old pub?' I make these suggestions to Ukip's interim leader, Steve Crowther, as we meet in central London, but he opts for a quiet bistro where he orders a cup of tea. He has a dapper suit, a ruddy, forceful face and a white beard of neatly trimmed bristles. His rat-a-tat laugh resounds across the bar like a well-oiled machine gun. Our intended subject is the Ukip leadership election (hustings this month, results on 30 September), but the n-word elbows its way through and claims our attention. The negotiations.

Crowther declines to criticise David Davis and his team, and he's determined not to be 'snotty' or 'churlish' about it: 'The 23-year struggle succeeded, and the mandate was passed to a new government to implement. Fine.' He claims to be 'encouraged by the blood-curdling threats issuing from Brussels about not negotiating for two months unless we agree to something. Every time they do that they reveal their own weakness.' I ask why we should negotiate at all. Article 50 is a legal instrument signed by a political cartel whose authority we are repudiating so we can just burn the Lisbon Treaty and say bye-bye. 'This is our official position,' he says. 'Cut the crap. Repeal the 1972 Act. Then they can come and talk to us.'

He is politely scathing about the divorce bill. 'It's not a bill. We haven't bought anything.' He talks of a gratuity or 'sweetener' which should be offered (not paid, necessarily) 'only if there's a damn good reason.' How much? 'I would like to put a figure on it of not one penny.'

He's unconcerned that the 'transition period' is already expanding to the point where it may overlap with the next election. He believes 'the transition' is a sophistry designed to conceal the government's failure 'to get a border control system in in time'. Will Brexit happen? 'Yes.' With Britain outside the single market and the customs union? 'Yes' -- otherwise it would 'defeat the whole object'. The referendum was a 'genuine force of nature', he says, which left him 'beautifully stunned'. And Hillary's failure in November re-affirmed that 'the majority are no longer prepared to be run in the way they can be run by the elite'. Was he 'beautifully stunned' by Trump's victory? 'Stunned -- but not beautifully,' he says. He claims not to be a Trump supporter.

And so to Ukip. 'I'm actually genuinely confident that this election will produce the next longterm leader who will pick us up and take us forward,' he says. But what of the Ukip death spiral? He talks of 'cycles' in politics and a need for 'new energy'. He has faith in Ukip's ability to 'amplify views within the voting public that are not being expressed by the other parties --because they're afraid of them'. He has a list. 'Democratic reform, small government, nation-building, creating a more cohesive, integrated society, and a sense of pride in one of the greatest nations that has existed.' I suggest that this sounds like a mission statement for a pageant or a festival. 'Does it? I'm not talking about morris dancing.' But how might it work in manifesto terms? 'Ah, well -- I'm not going to pre-empt the new leader by creating policy. …

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