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Nigel farage interview: ‘to do what i’ve done, you have to lack self-awareness’

Link to video Nigel Farage defends Ukip poster campaign

The posters have been condemned across the political spectrum as racist, divisive and ignorant. He knew the finger pointing poster would be controversial, but can’t for the life of him see how it could cause offence. “Shouldn’t do. We should have gone further, really. What we could have done is say we’ve opened the door to 425 million people who are after your jobs. That would have been stronger.” I suspect the decision not to had something to do with criticism of a notorious Ukip leaflet last year, which warned “The EU will allow 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come to the UK.” As the combined population of both countries did not, in the event, relocate to Britain on 1 January, you’d think he might be embarrassed about the baseless alarmism, but not a bit of it.

“Not at all. Two reasons, really. I think we don’t know the true figures yet. And there’s also the quality debate. People hate talking about this, but if you look at the Met crime figures for Romanian arrests, there have been 28,000 in London in the last five years. Is there a problem? Yeah. There is a problem.” Is he saying there is a culture of criminality among Romanians? “Bound to be. You have to go and see it to understand it. I’ve visited camps in Romania and Bulgaria, I’ve got a pretty good understanding.” Should British people be wary of Romanian families moving into their street? “Well, of course, yeah.”

The poster campaign was funded by Ukip’s main donor, the businessman Paul Sykes, but I’m not convinced that relations between the two men are quite as harmonious as Farage says, because he looks a little strained when I mention Sykes’ name. The pair considered dozens of different poster designs, he says so who had the final say? “Me.” Sykes would have paid for posters he didn’t choose? “We agreed. But if we hadn’t agreed, we wouldn’t have had them.” After a brief pause, “I’m not for sale,” he suddenly barks. “I’m not for sale.” But Sykes’ money is crucial, isn’t it? “Well, his money makes a huge difference to us, of course it does,” he says briskly. “I get on incredibly well with him, we’re pretty eye to eye on lots of issues, and getting agreement on this campaign and how to do it has been very easy. Very easy.” Yet Sykes still hasn’t promised to bankroll Ukip’s general election campaign. He says he’s waiting to see how the party performs in May, so I ask Farage what Ukip has to do to secure Sykes’ backing for 2015. “Well, you’d better ask him that.” Hasn’t Sykes told him? “No.”

The party’s finances are a perennial headache for Farage, and like most Ukip MEPs he has donated a chunk of his own money 11,000 last year, 4,000 this year. It was recently reported that the party is drawing up an MEPs’ charter, demanding a compulsory donation from each MEP of 50,000, but Farage says it will stipulate only a “reasonable sum”, which in his case will be “two to three grand”. He recently described himself as “broke”, but has a household income of just over 100,000. How can Ukip be a working class party if it will only accept candidates wealthy enough to donate thousands? “They wouldn’t have their jobs as MEPs if it weren’t for Ukip. They’re not getting their jobs as individuals.”

Money has become a tricky subject for Farage lately, since it emerged that supporters donated for free an office that he lists as a significant running cost. He insists he has done nothing wrong, so I ask if he can give voters a guarantee that every penny he’s received from the EU has been spent correctly.

“I can guarantee one thing. That I haven’t done it for personal gain. But how I’ve spent my time and money, and whether I’ve spent it because I’m an MEP, or because I’m Ukip, I would suggest to you is a very grey area. It’s a difficult divide. I’ve made no bones about it that I would use the wherewithal provided by the European parliament to go round Britain and campaign against Britain’s membership of the European Union. I think I’m just about within the rules. I think I’ve kept just the right side of the line. Albeit pushing right up to it, sure.”

And if he has strayed over the line and broken the rules? He doesn’t think it matters. “I mean, given the abuses for personal gain that have gone on with expenses in Westminster, I don’t think the general public are that interested in whether I’ve strictly observed the rules on what is campaigning and what isn’t. We always knew these criticisms would come at some point, but I have a completely clean conscience. If someone in Brussels wants to martyr me for that, then, well well, they won’t, they won’t.”

He told the Today programme last week that he would be happy to have his expenses independently audited, but he is now keen to correct this. “No, I didn’t. I said if every other British MEP wants to then I would. I mean, I am not going to be one out of 73 that is held up as an example of all that is wrong with the European Union. After all, I’ve been saying that myself for years, so this is absolutely ludicrous. If all 73 people want to go on to a new regime, then of course I’ll do it, but to be singled out in this way is frankly ridiculous.”

The other charge levelled against Farage is that he can be a hot headed bully, so I ask when he last raised his voice at a colleague. “Um, that’s a very good question. I had some sharp words with somebody two days ago. I told him to sharpen his effing act up. He said to me today, thank you for that. But I very rarely lose my temper. You know, really lose my temper. Very rarely, very rarely.” What about a barky growl? “Oh, I do that quite regularly.”

He is one of the jolliest politicians I’ve ever met exuberantly self deprecating (“Why would I take paternity leave? I’m absolutely useless!”), quick to laugh, great fun, and uncommonly at ease in his own skin. But I would guess that, when provoked, he can go off like a bomb. Interestingly, he says of the Clegg debates “He really, really tried to dig me in the ribs in that second one, but I knew I was calm, I knew I was in control. I think if he’d gone down that line in the first debate, I might well have snapped. Which I would have enjoyed but probably no one else would have.”

The day after our meeting, Farage had to suspend one of the stars of Ukip’s first ever party political broadcast, a council candidate, after racist tweets from his Twitter account were exposed. When I interviewed Farage in January last year, he was still a maverick figure on the political margins, and for all his charisma, it was hard to see how he could protect himself from coming to grief through his colleagues’ bigotry and battiness. I still can’t work out whether what he’s achieved since then says more about the failings of the traditional Westminster class than it does about Farage’s own acumen. But his apparent immunity to any amount of Ukip scandals is looking less and less like just good luck.

Nigel Farage knows he s lucky, having narrowly escaped dying when a plane towing a Ukip banner crashed on election day 2010. Photograph Neil Hall/INS News Agency Ltd

Then again, as he points out himself, he is a very lucky man. It’s surprisingly easy to forget that on election day in 2010 Farage very nearly died in a plane crash, when a Ukip banner the light aircraft was towing became tangled in the tail fin. At the time it seemed almost like a bad joke a metaphor for an eccentric political career nose diving into oblivion but obviously not to Farage. “Well, it was horrible. Yeah. It’s one of those things I still think about.” He can remember “every single millisecond of it”, and thought he was going to die. What went through his mind? “All sorts of things that shouldn’t have done,” he laughs. “I’m not going to tell you.” Go on. “Well, I thought a bit about things I’d done well, things I’d done badly. I thought about all the different girlfriends I’ve had, you know, about different forks in the road at different times.” Was he seized by regrets? “Well, we all have regrets in our life but I’m married, you see,” he laughs, “so I can’t answer that.”

He thought about pho
ning his wife. “But then I reasoned that probably that phone call would haunt them.” If he had called, he would have said “Sorry I’ve been such an appalling husband and a not very good father. But how would that help? It wouldn’t have helped. So I just sat there quietly. And then when the end comes, and you’re careering towards the earth, there’s almost a sense of resignation. Let’s hope it’s over quickly.”

He came to rest upside down, his head two inches from the ground “That was the difference between snapping my neck and not.” Covered in fuel oil, he thought he was about to burn to death. “And that was terrible. And I thought, nobody will ever know I survived this crash. And then, after a few minutes, it hadn’t caught fire, and I began to think it might be OK. But I couldn’t breathe, I just could not breathe. And I thought, you know, all those years of smoking if I get out of this I’ll never touch another cigarette as long as I live, I’ll be a really good person. If I get out of this I’m going to live such a good life, I’m going to be such a good person.” And has he kept any of his promises? “No! None of them.”

He thinks that since the crash, “I’m a little bit more aware of others than perhaps in my worst moments I would have been before.” Awareness of others has never been his strong point, he chuckles softly. “I think it’s been a weakness. But I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing otherwise. To do what I’ve done in this job, I think you have to lack self awareness.”