UKIP founder Alan Sked: EU foreign policy a fraud, no power to project in the world
UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, has shocked the British establishment, coming first in the European parliament elections – a huge breakthrough for the Eurosceptic movement, isn’t it?
But the man who founded the party thinks otherwise. Why? We talk to the father of UKIP. Politician and scholar Dr. Alan Sked is on Sophie&Co today.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Dr. Alan Sked, founder of the New Deal party, Eurosceptic, politician, scholar – it’s great to have you on our show today, welcome. Now, I’m just going to go ahead and start: you’re the one who founded UK’s Independence party, you’re also its biggest critic nowadays, because you’ve left it – but this year, they’ve reached their highest success yet: 24 seats in the EU parliament. The people have voted for it – are those people to be criticized as well?
Alan Sked:No, I think the people voted for it merely as a protest vote. They are absolutely not interested in the European Parliament. There have been dozens of UKIP MEPs going back to 1999. They don’t do anything constructive there, they just go to take the money, the expenses and get pensions. Their leader, Nigel Farage – it is claimed that he has taken 2 million pounds in expenses, although he hardly ever turns up, he doesn’t go to key meetings, he avoids key debates, as do most of the others; two of his MEPs have been put in jail for fraud. They are really a very sad reflection of protest politics. They are not very bright and people vote for them really to show contempt for the EU, and its institutions.
SS: Alright, so you’re saying it’s a protest vote – but what’s so bad about that? I mean, all it comes down to is that people want change, no?
AS: Yeah, but they don’t articulate any policies. They are hardly ever there – I mean, they don’t make a case for British exit inside of the EU parliament. They really are just a bunch of not very bright people getting as much money in expenses as they can possibly get. They represent about 29 percent of the turnout of the electorate, so that’s about 9 percent of the electorate as a whole. It makes no difference to what happens in the EU parliament when there is an overwhelming majority of federalists who treat them with contempt, which they deserve. They say they don’t believe in the EU parliament or the European institutions, that we shouldn’t be there – but yet, they are there, and they are there because they want big money. They are contemptible, in my view.
SS: Now I see you are still kind of against the EU parliament – and back when you were founding UKIP, you also refused to send members to the EU parliament because you didn’t want to legitimize it.
AS: Yes, that’s right.
SS: But now, the Eurosceptics from all over the continent are there. So, has your opinion changed?
AS: No, it makes no difference, because they’re in the small minority. The socialists, the liberals, the Christian Democrats have an overwhelming federalist majority inside the parliament. A lot of the Eurosceptic groups that we voted in this time are bizarre, right-wing people who are racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, who don’t actually attract intelligent discussion. They are not really the kind of people you’d want to be associated with. You wouldn’t want Jobbik from Hungary or New Dawn from Greece or even Marine Le Pen’s Front Nacional in France to be representing a cause that any sort of decent, rational person was associated with. So, my great fear is that UKIP, associated with all sorts of weird people and by their own contemptible behavior merely will bring the Eurosceptic cause in Britain and Europe into disrepute. And that’s important because we may have a referendum here in a couple of years on Britain remaining in or coming out of the EU, and the danger is that the extreme views now of UKIP and its allies will undermine the cause of Britain coming out, and I’m worried about that.
SS: Now your current New Deal party aims to pressure the left into Euroscepticism, while UKIP does the same thing from the right – so it seems like you do need them, despite loathing them.
AS: I set up the party originally to put pressure on the Conservatives in order to move in a Eurosceptic direction. And indeed, the Conservatives have done that, and they still will probably split over the question of Europe, and David Cameron may lose the election, lose his prime ministership over Europe. But the party that I’ve set up was supposed to be a mainstream, rational, decent democratic party, appealing to the whole breadth of the British electorate – all classes, all races, all religions. And if one looks at the opinion polls about British people and their views on coming out of the EU, up until about four years ago, there was a majority, about 55 percent who said they were in favor of coming out. Now, after all the bad publicity that Farage and UKIP have attracted to their racist and extremist views – that majority has gone down to the minority of about 47-48 percent, so my fear is that they’re still putting pressure on the Tories but… they are creating such hostility that it might be a very narrow-fought referendum, they’ll be so toxic that a certain section of the population will vote to stay in rather than support UKIP. That’s why New Deal is necessary.
SS: I know, but whatever the reason is, David Cameron has promised that referendum on British exit – what do you expect from that? Do you think that will ever take place?
AS: I think there will be a referendum in the next two or three years. For one thing, it’s quite possible that the federalists inside the EU Commission and the federalists inside the Parliament will want to push further toward the goal of ever closer union, in which case a new treaty will be required, and if a new treaty is required, there would have to be a referendum, and it would be very difficult not to make that an in-and-out referendum, given the political conditions in Britain. As for Cameron’s own pledge of the referendum, well that’s entire dependent on David Cameron’s winning the next general election. That doesn’t look too likely at present, I’d put my money on Labour just now. But he might win, and if he wins and doesn’t have a majority, it’s not clear that he could get a referendum bill through Parliament.
SS: What are your thoughts – why would he make this promise in the first place? I mean, did he all of a sudden become a genuine Eurosceptic, or is it really all for the votes?
AS: No, no, David Cameron has no principles whatsoever, if you examine records of his speeches, and what he’s written over the course of his political career, it’s entirely opportunistic and contradictory. He just thinks he should be there in power, he doesn’t actually know why, he just likes it. He’s not there because he has an ideology, a set of principles, he’s there because he wants to possess power. So, he’s opportunistic, and because there were fissures inside the Conservative Party, largely caused by what looked like the rise of UKIP, then he made promises which he thought would stifle debate about Europe inside the Tory party. But, remember, UKIP only got to that situation because the Liberal Democrats went into a coalition, and then although UKIP had no policies as such, they became the default party of protest, which the Lib-Dems used to be.
SS: About that referendum, just a little bit more: hypothetically speaking, how big of a blow would a British exit be for the EU?
AS: I figure it would be a huge blow, it would be revolutionary, and I don’t think Britain would be the only country to come out, I think we’ll be followed by others. The assumption is sometimes made that if Britain would come out, it would be Britain against the rest of the EU, but there’s no way of knowing how much of the EU would remain – I mean, France would follow soon afterward, there would then be unraveling, and Europe would go into meltdown, but it’s fluid – all sorts of possible alternative Europes could arise.
SS: But, are you sure that if Britain leaves the EU, nobody will feel the consequences in their wallets? I mean, are you not faced by the warnings of economic turmoil? I’m talking inside Britain, of course.
AS: No, I don’t think it would make much difference: we would just carry on with the trading. After all, the Germans wouldn’t want to stop selling us cars and washing machines, the French would still want to sell us wine and cheese, and whatever else they sell. They sell twice much to us as we sell to them, so, if they wanted a trade war or anything, which wouldn’t be in their interest, they will suffer twice as much. Quite frankly, I think, the whole thing could be sorted out smoothly, we could have an amicable divorce, and I don’t think it would make much difference.
SS: Now, if you criticize the EU, right – so, if the EU is so undemocratic, bureaucratic and corrupt as you say, why do you think most Europeans will still have a favorable view of it, and they don’t want the EU to go anywhere?
AS: The fact is that the most Europeans do not understand how the EU works. They like the idea of being a European in some sense – that means they are civilized, westernized opinions with enlightenment values. But, you know, you’ve said so, is there are any great need for the EU, how can you justify it… this kind of vague things about how it’s nice to be friends, but apart from that, it doesn’t have any diplomatic influence on the world, it doesn’t have any democracy in it, it’s very anti-democratic, and it’s not very clear what it does, why it should be there, and why do we need it?
SS: You don’t think it has any diplomatic power in the world? For example, Cameron said if the UK leaves the EU, it will lose the political clout on the continent. Are you alright with that? You certainly wouldn’t be engaged in political decision-making.
AS: You don’t need to be engaged in political decision-making in the EU – if you don’t want to be in the EU, why should you worry about being engaged in political decision-making?
SS: I’m not talking about EU decision-making, I’m talking about European diplomacy as a whole that makes difference on the global scale.
AS: But there isn’t any European diplomacy as a whole, I mean it’s all now is supposed to be concentrated in the EU under the strange figure of Baroness Ashton, who’s never been elected or anything in her life and can’t speak French and, you know, we used to kind of joke when she first got a job as a kind of compensation to Britain, because they wouldn’t give it to Tony Blair. Europe doesn’t have much influence in the world. We have no defense budgets, the British army and armed forces are being cut down to nothing, the French have a few troops, but they can’t do very much. When we wanted to take the lead in Libya, Britain and France turned out to be utterly dependent on the Americans.
SS: But do you think that’s the case in general? Do you feel like the European leaders or the EU in general is utterly depending on American foreign policy, or do you think Europe can make its own decisions, independently?
AS: No, it doesn’t make any decisions. It can’t enforce anything, it doesn’t really matter what are European views or any matter – what they’re going to do about it? The Israelis think the EU is a joke, they don’t listen to it; I’m sure, the Iranians don’t… What could we do? If the European Union got very upset, what can it do about Ukraine, for example? Can’t do anything! It blunders… I mean, the Germans and others recognize Croatian and Slovenia’s independence, which in 1990 started off the Bosnian war. I mean, its record in international diplomacy talks about the soft power, but in fact, it doesn’t really have a record. It gave some money in foreign aid, but then, that’s just taken usually by corrupt dictators in the third world.I don’t see what it does, I don’t see why we need it, I’ve got no idea of what it is supposed to be doing. It is a ramshackle wannabe superpower. But it hasn’t got any power, [its] economy is in relative economic decline, its growth rates are about 1 percent, and it’s not going anywhere. The percentage of world GDP it represents has gone down from about 38 percent to 18 percent, and it’s going to go down further. Its main economy, Germany, has a population crisis. Over the next few decades the German population will decline by about 20 million, there’ll be as many old-aged pensioners in Germany as there are workers, and the economy will sink like a stone. I mean, its future is bleak. I just don’t see why people go excited about it.
SS: I want to get back a little bit to domestic problems. Now, you’ve said that the current version of the UKIP is anti-immigrant. So, your new party supports the free flow of people. So, do I understand you don’t regard European immigrants as a threat?I mean, for example, the issue of European immigrants allegedly competing for the jobs of British citizens? Is that not a problem?
AS: No. If you live in London, immigration is actually vital to keeping London going in terms of transport infrastructure, in terms of people working in supermarkets, in terms of postal services, in terms of the National Health Service. The NHS couldn’t survive without immigrants, and the city’s poor people, who are dependent on public transport, public health, public postal services, who can’t do any of these things privately, they are dependent on the immigrants that actually work in them. You know, this never seems to get mentioned, and all the evidence is that immigrants in Britain contribute positively to the public purse, that they are very, very much less likely than the British nationalists themselves to ask for welfare benefits, and it’s perfectly clear in London, that educational standards in London schools have gone up because of the presence of immigrant families. In other parts of the country it’s clear that where there are immigrants, there are more jobs and more job opportunities, and in areas of the country which have no immigrants, but in which fear of immigration is at very height – there are fewer jobs and fewer opportunities for natives.
SS: What about the Islamification of the country and the threat of radicalism? Do you not regard this as a concern? It is a growing problem throughout Europe…
AS: Well, yes, that’s perfectly true and I hear the government belatedly is taking steps about that, but because you’re in favor of immigration from Europe doesn’t mean you’re in favor of jihadists taking over the country – they are not linked.
SS: One could argue, one could find a link between the free flow of immigrants and the growing Muslim population in London and in Europe. As far as England is concerned…
AS: Yes, but most of these people are British – they are born in Britain, they have British passports, they are not immigrants. They may have been alienated by the British policy in the Middle East, they may have been alienated by the liberality of the British society, I don’t know – but they are here, they are born here, most often, and the people who did the 7/7 bombings were born here. So you can’t say that stopping immigration will stop this – what you have to do is to make sure that education policy is so directed that Muslim children in British schools are taught liberal, secular values, and there’s a case for stopping faith schools altogether, I think.
SS: For example, David Cameron says that the country needs to be far more muscular in promoting British values. What do you think, do you believe immigrants have to accept your way of life?
AS: It depends what you mean by “British values.” David Cameron finds them very difficult to define, but when you ask Cameron, he just says things like “tolerance,” “fair play,” I don’t know, things that are quite universal values.
SS: I don’t know what are British values – for example, maybe, not having Sharia courts in your own country, which are essentially a parallel set of laws? What do you think?
AS: Well, I agree that is not a British value – having Sharia courts. But, David Cameron’s government and legal system has apparently agreed to them, and the government is making arrangements whereby Sharia loans or finance mortgages, etc, could be given to Muslim citizens in a way that accords with Sharia practice.
SS: I want to talk about another hot topic, which is the Scottish referendum – what do you predict for it? Do you think Scotland will go it alone?
AS: Well, I’m Scottish myself and I have a home in the Scottish highlands… One of the problems about Scotland is related to the EU. I wrote an article about this in the Sunday Times and I pressed this point, but it doesn’t really get anywhere, but it’s a very vital one. That is the case against the Scottish nationalists and the independence lobby – is that they are all fakes. I mean, Alex Salmond isn’t promising independence, all he is doing is promising that Scotland will become a separate province of the EU. Scots wouldn’t even get a Scottish passport, they got EU passports. Scottish law will remain subordinate to European law; Scottish agricultural prices for Scottish farmers will be decided in Brussels, Scottish fish quotas for Scottish fishermen would be decided in Brussels; Scottish social policy, in fact, every policy, foreign and defense policy and probably energy policy, including the declining resources of Scottish oil, would all be controlled by Brussels. So, he’s offering a deal whereby Scotland will become like Greece or Portugal, and become a minor economy inside the EU, and would have its budget within the Eurozone, would have its budget controlled by Commissioners in Brussels and by Germans, say – he’s making Scotland a small province of what the Greeks already see as a Greater Germany and he’s calling this “independence” – it’s a farce! But, Cameron and Miliband and Clegg can’t say this because of the restriction that would remain on Scotland inside the EU – of course they support restrictions on England and the rest of the United Kingdom. So we can’t have a proper debate about Scottish independence, because the fact is that Scottish independence won’t exist, Scotland will just become a tiny province of the EU with about 7 MEPs in the EU Parliament as opposed 56 MPs in the British one. All of this can’t be mentioned because you can’t criticize the EU if you’re in one of the big mainstream parties.
SS: But just a “yes” or “no” question – do you think the Scots will vote “yes” or “no”?
AS: It’s very tight just now. I think they will vote “No,” and I certainly hope they will vote “No.”
SS: Thank you so much, I’m sorry we had to interrupt the conversation, but I’m sure we’re going to get a chance to talk to you more in the future, maybe in September after the referendum. Thanks a lot for this interesting insight, we were talking to Dr. Alan Sked, scholar, politician, original founder of UKIP, and now the New Deal party. We were talking about why UKIP makes little difference in the EU parliament and also why the UK should leave the EU. That’s it for this edition of Sophie&Co, I will see you again next time.