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Greg Lance – Watkins
Arron Banks is “definitely” going to stand in Ukip’s only seat of Clacton in 2020, but in the meantime, Ukip’s millionaire backer and Farage bromancer-in-chief has other plans to unseat Douglas Carswell, the party’s sole MP.
“One of the things Douglas Carswell was very strong on was recall of MPs,” Mr Banks says. And he’s right. After his defection to Ukip and by-election victory in 2014, Mr Carswell constantly pressured David Cameron to deliver on his 2010 manifesto commitment to allow constituents to kick out their MPs.
“Carswell said that if enough of the constituents voted for it, then their MP should be recalled and they would have to face a second election. So if he’s really going back to the Tories, as people say he is, one of the things I’m looking at is going to the Electoral Reform Society and saying, ‘Let’s have a recall’.
“Even though it’s not legally binding, we might approach the voters of Clacton and say, ‘Look, for these reasons we think Douglas Carswell should be recalled’. And that would be a neat idea, because it would be using his own idea against him.”
The shifting geopolitics of Ukip’s permanent civil war are complex, but one fundamental truth never changes. Mr Carswell and Mr Banks are not on the same side.
But the rumours this week that Mr Carswell is considering re-defecting to the Conservatives – a suggestion the MP denies – has moved it towards what Mr Banks hopes will be some kind of endgame.
A further story, that Mr Carswell personally intervened to prevent Nigel Farage receiving a knighthood, was enough for the party’s national executive committee to put him under investigation.
“I don’t give a stuff about knighthoods, OBEs and all the rest of it,” Mr Banks says. “But we need to be united. There’s a group of two or three people that cause horrendous trouble.
“When it comes to Mr Carswell, bear in mind how much effort we put into the Stoke campaign, and how much effort he put into stopping us. Even when Nigel stood down in Thanet, we know that he provided election data to the Tories. He has been a very disreputable person and I intend to take him on.”
“The problem he’s got is that he can’t resign from Ukip because under the code of the Carswell,” says Mr Banks.
“He has to have a by-election, so I think the suspicion is that he would remain in Ukip up until a convenient time when he’ll switch to the Tories and stand in the election for the Tories.”
Paul Nuttall says Ukip’s time will come after Stoke by-election defeat
The allegations were put to Mr Carswell, but he did not respond.
One problem Banks might face is Carswell’s immense popularity in Clacton, though he dismisses it
“You say he’s popular there, what you’re really saying is he says he’s popular there. He’s not. It’s the most eurosceptic seat in the country. Nigel is like a virtual demi-god down there. When we went there thousands of people came out to see him. I think that whatever popularity Carswell had pertained to Ukip.”
This is not the first time Mr Banks has agreed to an interview with The Independent. On the first occasion, having said yes, at the agreed time he was instead in the pit lane of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a fact of which I remind him.
“It’s hard work leading a people’s rebellion,” he laughs. This time he’s in his car, on the way to go skiing in Italy, a destination of some relevance as he outlines his plans to transform Ukip into a British Five Star Movement.
Mr Banks, who ploughed more than £7m of his own money into Leave.EU, effectively Ukip’s referendum campaign arm, accepts that victory in that referendum has left Ukip uncertain of its raison d’être. But his mission now is to give it one.
“We are going through a period where we’ll either define what we want to do and get on and do it, or we won’t. People feel Ukip are in the wilderness a bit, thrashing around for what we are.
“So, what we’re going to do is, next month we’re going to put forward a whole range of what we think are quite radical ideas, that are neither from the left or the right, and what we’re going to do is we’re going to ask the people that follow us, that’s more than a million people, we’re going to say, ‘Submit your ideas, get involved in the process’, then we will then put them to a direct democracy, so it’s very much like the Five Star Movement.
“And anyone can join that, they can be Labour, Conservative, Ukip, any political party. And from that you have a list of policies that you want to fight for to implement.”
Though Mr Banks won’t say, the “submit your ideas” stage appears like it’s already happened.
He’s been speaking to “business people” over the past few months, to come up with new policies, which he won’t yet reveal, but he hints they could bear very close relation to his own eclectic political tastes.
And if Ukip is about to enter into the realm of radical new ideas, it is hard to ignore the fact that Nigel Farage is still very much of the view that it is about one radical idea and one alone.
“This question of immigration is still the number one issue in the minds of voters in this country.” he told the BBC this week.
“Ukip must not be squeamish about it. People like Douglas Carswell wrote in The Times last year we should not make immigration synonymous with EU membership. I thought, ‘Crikey, I have spent 10 years trying to do that very thing’.”
Put this to Mr Banks and you get a stern rebuke.
“No, no, no, no, no. It won’t be all about immigration. It might be abolishing the House of Lords, economic stuff like building two million houses. Stuff on inheritance tax.
“It’s wrong that people receive vast sums of money just because their parents are rich. There are utilities that I would renationalise on the basis that they’re equally detrimental in public hands as private hands.
“We’ve seen that with electricity, we’ve seen that with other things. Our view is that the government should do very little but what it does, it should do brilliantly, like the health service and the education system. It’ll be a whole raft of things that are quite radical. But that’s the next stage in our evolution.”
Lofty ideals perhaps, but if Ukip is struggling to evolve, Mr Banks knows it is not merely a lack of new ideas that is rendering it stuck in its Neanderthal phase. After the disappointing result in Stoke-on-Trent Central, Mr Banks wrote to party leader Paul Nuttall demanding to be made chairman.
“It needs to be fit for purpose now. It’s run like a squash club committee and that needs to stop. What I’ve said to Ukip is that if you professionalise yourself, get organised, imagine what you could achieve. It was a plea to get in there, modernise, radicalise.
“You guys in the media make fun of it, say it’s a shambles, but it still got 25 per cent of the vote in Stoke. There were days when if the Lib Dems got 25 per cent at a by-election it would have indicated a seismic change.
“From my point of view as a businessman, and a very successful one, if you actually took hold of this and ran it properly it could really do something, bearing in mind how ramshackle it’s been.”
“Nigel especially wants wants to see Ukip go forward. He’s become very frustrated with the way it’s run, the structures.”
But does Nigel accept any of the blame for it?
“Nigel is partly to blame, yes, he would admit that, but then Ukip grew so quickly, at such a phenomenal pace. We’ve got a very big oak tree but the roots are not as deep as they should be.
“We have to re-engage Nigel positively, in the same way Salmond has been re-engaged with the SNP. He doesn’t have to be leader, he’s still a powerful force.
“But you need to take the administration of it away from the politicians, have it run by a professional group of people. It needs to be professionally run, and I don’t see anyone else showing any inclination to do it. It’s not difficult.
“You only need to look at Nuttall’s campaign – with the stuff on his website and everything. If you were starting a by-election campaign, the first thing you do is check all your stuff.
“One of the strengths of UKip is that it has not had much representation in Westminster but whether you like it or dislike it, it has set the political weather.
“David Cameron only gave the referendum because of intense pressure from Ukip, and we only won the referendum because we decided to focus on immigration when Vote Leave didn’t want to talk about it.”
Though it lost in Stoke, and badly, Mr Banks maintains it set the weather there too.
“None of the Tories voted Ukip. Ukip won the Labour votes they had to win. They got 5,000. But the Tory vote stayed exactly where it was. And what that tells you is that Tory leaning potential Ukip voters don’t like the messages that are put out.
“Look at the Labour leaflets that were put out. They had the cross of St George on the front of it, it even said they would take the money saved from the European Union and spend it on local services. It was a Ukip based leaflet.
“Ukip put out stuff trying to copy the Labour party. They put out stuff about the NHS. But the Ukip Tory type voters will come back if it’s deemed that May doesn’t deliver.
“Listen to David Davis. He made a speech last week saying that he thought it would be a decade before immigration would be under control, and what he was basically saying is that it will be open door immigration for the foreseeable future.
“The problem is you’ve got your Westminster types, you’ve got your media types, but for most people the referendum was about taking back control of the country and controlling our borders, and it’s clear the government has got no intention of doing either right now.
“When it becomes clear that we’re not going to get a clean Brexit, the anger will start to build again.”
“And when that happens, Ukip will have a radical agenda for turning Britain upside down and inside out, but I’m not going to tell you what it is. It won’t just be immigration based. It will be very surprising.”
I suggest that one of Ukip’s major problems is a vanishingly shallow talent pool that has compelled Nigel Farage to be its leader on no fewer than four occasions, but his answer hints at further problems.
Paul Nuttall, is he says, “weak but potentially a good leader”.
“Oh definitely. We’ve got to bring good people through and sometimes because of the incestuous nature of this thing good people have not been brought through or they’ve been killed off because of jealousies and that’s where this thing has gone wrong.
“There needs to be a deeper pool of talent from which to pick. Having someone like Neil Hamilton in Wales is a disaster. It’s not a unified party, we know that.
“Carswell too. He has done his level best to cause problems. It’s our feeling that he has to be gone. In the referendum, Vote Leave thought it was rude to talk about immigration, right up until they realised they had to, that it wouldn’t appeal to middle class Tory voters and Carswell falls into that category.
“Ideologically he is for open door immigration. His reasons for the referendum are not our reasons. As a libertarian, he believes in virtually no rules at all.”
Mr Banks compares Ukip’s internal problems to Labour under Corbyn, and also points out that it took that party decades to get any political representation.
“And after the 1945 government, you could argue, what was the point of Labour, when they’d done all the things they wanted to do? But it’s carried on.
“Look at Ukip. It’s there. It’s still got a lot of members. It’s bedded itself in to the national psyche, despite all this bad PR, every poll I see says 13 or 14 per cent for Ukip.
“The people who hate the Conservative Party for what they’ve done will not go back to the Conservative Party, and the same with the Labour Party, so there’s a base there.”
There certainly is. But whatever lies ahead in Mr Banks’s grand Ukip wargaming, it’s clear there’s a battle that must be won first, and that’s for Clacton, against Mr Carswell.
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