A friend of mine once sat next to Nigel Farage on a plane. “He was very charismatic,” she said, clearly charmed even though her politics couldn’t be more opposed.
Charismatic and charming are words I’ve heard more than once. “Don’t be snowed by the glamour,” says another chum, darkly, when I tell her I am off to interview the Ukip leader. We meet in a small upstairs room at the community centre in St Luke’s Avenue, Ramsgate, where one of his invitation-only meetings is being held. My last Gazette column, less than flattering about the TV documentary Meet The Ukippers, has been mentioned by three different kippers by the time he arrives. Nigel comes into the room straight-faced. But when I hold out my hand and tell him, truthfully, how pleased I am to meet him, he is wreathed in smiles. I have inadvertently worn tights in a Ukip shade of purple which also goes down well. He is amused when I tell him the descriptions that precede him. “I’m delighted,” he chuckles. “I’ve got to be good at something.” I begin with the easy questions. What is Nigel Farage going to bring to Thanet? “A powerful voice,” he says immediately. “If I say things on the national stage, that relate to Thanet, people will listen, people will hear…” When I’m emphatic on the need for a good constituency MP too, who will work on the problems in Thanet, he assures me he has had “masses of experience” in his 16 years as an MEP. Particularly “in working out what is a genuine cry for help and what is someone taking the mickey”. People want a champion, he agrees, “but a lot of filtering needs to go on.”
I am keen to discuss the help Thanet needs. Bearing in mind that Thanet has fewer immigrants here than many other parts of the country – well below the national average – wasn’t immigration being made a scapegoat by Ukip when Thanet’s areas of deprivation go back a long way? He agrees, citing: “The collapse of everything from Pfizer to the coal mines to whatever it is.” But denies that immigration is being blamed locally. “It’s a national issue. I’m not standing for TDC. I am standing for Westminster.” As he explains his thinking on this and other issues, he does not sound unreasonable. “Ukip has an ethical, sensible, balanced, approach to immigration,” he insists. “I’m not blaming anyone. If I was from Bucharest I’d come to Britain. You’d be bonkers not to.”
But can he genuinely believe what he says next? “Every attempt is made to try and paint Ukip to be racist, extremist, narrow xenophobic and it simply isn’t true.” We talk about the rants of Rozanne Duncan – now removed from the party – and his campaign manager Martyn Heale’s time in the National Front. Nigel Farage is smooth. Rozanne was “a Tory defector”; Martin did that 40 years ago. He still has the leader’s full support. “But there is an element,” I persist, “a racist element that are drawn to Ukip.”
“There is an element in the Conservative party and the Labour party,” he counters. “In all walks of life.” He refers again to media negativity. “In the same week that Rozanne Duncan said the things she did, a former Labour agent from Peterborough was jailed for paedophilia. Was it a national news story?”
Racism aside, I ask him how he felt seeing his “team” on the TV programme, in all their ineptitude. The Farage eyes narrow a little. That’s how fly-on-the-wall works, he tells me. It doesn’t necessarily show us at its best. But they were doing their best, he insisted. I tell him what my grandmother might have said to that. Sometimes your best isn’t good enough? His eyes narrow a little further. “We are a volunteer army. We are a people’s army.”
We move to safer topics. I put it to him that Thanet hasn’t done badly out of Europe – the EFL industry and the money for Ramsgate port. He disagrees – “It’s our money anyway” – before we bond over our belief in the possibilities for Manston – “a fantastic potential asset” that he is determined to fight for. If he gets in, “everything that can be done will be done to make it a success.” His other dream is for Thanet District Council to be put in “rather more professional and wordly hands”.
Now we’re smiling again, I tell him how much I have wanted to chair a hustings and inquire why he is determined to avoid them. “I have done a couple,” he says. But 90 per cent of the people who turn up are “already branded” and he is doing this his own way. The meetings he holds are for people who live in the ward and have to prove their identity when they arrive. “Very extreme leftist groups” are kept out. “Why should I allow some of these violent idiots to come along and disrupt the meeting and throw things at me?”
I relate the tale of the reasonable-sounding and studious-looking young chap who was thrown out of a Broadstairs meeting after Martyn Heale had deemed him unsuitable from something he’d said on Facebook. Mr Farage apparently knew nothing about it. “I can’t answer to that.”
“I’m going to fight a positive campaign,” he finishes, as he is borne off to fit in another interview before his meeting begins. “They can lob as many Mills bombs as they want at me, I don’t care.”
Verdict: Nigel Farage knows how to charm and has charisma and an answer for most things. One might almost wish he were standing for a different party. I don’t think I was snowed by the glamour.
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Meet-candidates-Jane-Wenham-Jones-Nigel-Farage/story-26161010-detail/story.html