Jay Beecher interviews Paul Oakley in Votewatch.
AS the dust settles on yet another UKIP leadership race, VoteWatch catches-up with former General Secretary Paul Oakley for his take on the party’s future.
Oakley hit the headlines again recently after quitting as UKIP’s popular General Secretary in protest of Carl Benjamin’s controversial involvement and the remarks he had made that were at that stage still being peddled frantically by the mass media.
Speaking to LBC’s Matt Frei, Mr Oakley said the “rapiness” of the party had distracted from its Brexit policy. “These EU elections were always going to be hard for us,” he said. “We were doing okay, then one of our candidates said he might cave and rape a Labour MP and all we got in the media after that was the rapiness of our party.”
“On a practical level we tried to shut it down by saying it was under police investigation and we wouldn’t answer any questions,” he said.
Oakley also said his advice to ‘shut him up’ was ignored when Mr Benjamin appeared in live television interviews just days later.
“We’re now on 0% in the opinion polls, and as general secretary I was incensed by that” he said at the time.
“I suggested to the NEC immediately after the election that we take disciplinary proceedings, and it was decided they must be completely formal.”
Oakley was right to feel pessimistic about the European Election. In the end, UKIP – which had been the leader of euroscepticism, had played the biggest hand in helping to bring about the referendum, and had enjoyed overwhelming success in previous European elections – was dealt a humiliating blow that would lead to the resignation of its leader and a subsequent violent descent into voter obscurity.
Speaking exclusively to VoteWatch, the straight-talking author and politician gave us an insight into his political career, his aspirations for the future, and whether or not he believes that UKIP has any mileage left in the tank.
“I was a Tory candidate in the 2005 general election and open about my demand for EU withdrawal” Paul told us. “Sadly, when David Cameron became leader activists had to feign interest in policies such as “The Big Society” and “Vote Blue – Get Green.” Tory Central Office then sidelined all anti-EU prospective candidates and instead promoted the so-called “A” list.
“It was hard to discern any “Conservative” attributes amongst such people (and no surprise when Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollastone and Nick Boles eventually resigned from that party in 2019). If my political activism was to be limited to delivering leaflets for this type of candidate then it wouldn’t advance the goal of helping to secure an exit from the EU one iota.”
Oakley is also keen to point-out – like so many long-serving eurosceptics – his admiration of Nigel Farage and the influence that he has had on getting more people involved in politics.
“Until Farage emerged as a national figure, anti-EU arguments had minimal traction” said Paul. “Those advocating withdrawal tended to be musty old colonels obsessed with Magna Carta and prosecuting John Major for treason. Boring.
“By contrast, Nigel’s popular and populist rhetoric resonated with the worries and aspirations of mainstream Brits. With him at the helm of UKIP I concluded that this country might – just might – win freedom from Brussels.
“So in 2011 I sodded-off from the Conservatives and joined a party that I actually agreed with.”
A barrister by trade, Oakley then rose up through the ranks to become a leading figure within UKIP. But it wasn’t all clear sailing.
“Everyone knows about the various catastrophes we’ve faced” he said. “Believe it or not, the vast majority of office holders and NEC members that I worked with actually wanted what was best for the Party and hence Brexit. Mistakes were made, quite a lot of mistakes in fact, but every single person in the top team had these goals in mind. Contrary to popular belief amongst many members, there have been very few actual dickheads.”
On UKIP’s outgoing controversial leader Gerard Batten – a founder of the UK Independence Party and until recently an MEP for London – Paul said:
“Gerard’s commitment to leaving the EU is unequalled; he even wrote a reasoned plan for it in his 2014 book “The Road To Freedom”. The Government should read it.
“There’s no doubt that he rescued the party after the Henry Bolton debacle. Gerard pumped the membership figures up from a low of 17,000 to 30,000.
“Then UKIP faced bankruptcy when chased by Labour-supporting solicitor Gerald Shamash for the costs of the Jane Collins libel action. Batten filled the party’s coffers and saved it. Fact.
“On the other hand, his decision to take on Tommy Robinson as an advisor was a mistake. It was obvious that the MSM and the old parties would use this to attack UKIP for being “racist” against the religion of Islam. That damaged us in the polls, no question.
But Oakley doesn’t write-off the issue of grooming gangs. Instead he takes a perhaps more sensible approach.
“Gerard took him [Tommy] on to advise about Moslem grooming gangs which just happen to prevail under Labour Councils and in Labour constituencies. As a result of his perceived toxicity, Labour have presented such concerns as “Fascist” and buried them. But one need only contemplate the bravery of Rotherham Labour MP Sarah Champion who was slapped down by her party for daring to say this might be a problem.
“Rather than referring to Tommy, UKIP should instead be pushing hard for an independent judicial enquiry into this scandal. Let’s have a senior High Court judge consider the evidence and rule conclusively about what went on.
When asked to name three things that he’d praise about UKIP, Paul was instant in his reply:
“The members, the members, the members. Every single activist who has sacrificed hours of their time and much of their money for the cause of freeing this country from the EU deserves to congratulate themselves.”
As to the negatives, he manages to sum them up quite nicely:
“To steal a catchphrase used by punk rock stars “The Damned”, it was eight years of anarchy, chaos and destruction. That’s the consequence of having no money and relying on passionate volunteers. Yet what exploits we achieved. Just think about it.”
On the question that everyone is asking – ‘has UKIP run its course?’ – he is slightly less optimistic.
“It has ‘a’ future” he admitted, “but not a rosy one. During the local and EU elections, the MSM were given a gift by one of our candidates which allowed them to focus entirely on the “rape philosophy” of UKIP and ignore our excellent manifesto. They’ve now used this pretext to ignore the party altogether and that’s why we were crushed in the May elections; the Peterborough poll and the Brecon by-election when UKIP was beaten by the Monster Raving Loonies. It’s hard to see how UKIP can come back from a 1% opinion poll rating in the next two-and-a-half months at a time when it should be leading the debate before Brexit Day. The people have spoken and UKIP must suck it up.”
Much of that sucking, however, has in fact been done for them already by The Brexit Party, who – led by former UKIP poster boy Farage – have been hoovering-up votes from former UKIP voters in their thousands.
“Looking at the familiar faces who are involved, it’s much like the UKIP of 2015” said Paul. “Sadly though, the same problems are being repeated. UKIP didn’t target supporters at by-elections until Carswell’s Clacton campaign; a process supervised by then-General Secretary Roger Bird.
“From what I’ve heard, TBP didn’t have proper electoral software for either of the two by-elections this year and that’s why they lost. They’ve had a honeymoon period, certainly. Yet they can expect the media to start attacking them incessantly as soon as one or other of their activists say something about gay floods; bongo-bongo land; shooting Remoaners or whatever. Tick tock.
“TBP and UKIP aren’t enemies” he insists. “Nor are the English Democrats, Labour Leave or the SDP. All decent Brexiteers need to come together in a Rainbow Alliance. Our actual foes are already doing so as we saw in Brecon when the Lib Dem was given a free run by the other federast parties. They cannot be allowed to win.”
Paul’s book, No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care, pits itself as “the hilarious tale of the UK Independence Party’s journey from rags to riches and back again from a front-line activist”, and is available to buy on Amazon.
“On joining UKIP it was refreshing to see that the party operated in a totally different way to the Tories” he reflects upon why he decided to write the book. “Conservative MPs and staffers keep their distance from the dreadful oiks who actually work the streets in elections for them. By contrast, UKIP MEPs and party officers mixed freely and comfortably with each and every member. It was, genuinely, a Peoples’ Army, within which all were of equal value to the goal of Brexit. That needed to be recorded and I started making notes as things went along. I didn’t initially decide to write a book but the book decided to write itself. Will there be any more? Perhaps I may turn my hand to crafting a romantic fiction bestseller. Who can say?”
Right now though, Paul tells us that he is focusing on the less chaotic gems of life: fishing, growing tomatoes, and going on holiday.
UKIP has now elected what feels like its one hundredth leader in as many weeks – choosing Batten-backed candidate Richard Braine.
“I voted for Hookem” Paul admits. “Although disagreeing with him on many matters, Mike’s the only one who had a national profile and a proven track record through his time as an MEP. The others are lovely but have never held national elected office and aren’t household names; we weren’t electing the president of a crown green bowls club but the head of a national political party. This matters because renown brings gravitas.
“To prove the point, try to name the current leader(s) of the Green Party without Googling them… Exactly.
“Nonetheless, I know that Richard’s a bad lad in a very good way. He designed the brilliant “Stop The Khanage” leaflets in the Lewisham East by-election and hoisted the array of UKIP flags on College Green which spoiled the footage of Sky News and the BBC on so-called Brexit Day in March. I wish him God Speed.”