The “Simon Cowell of UKIP” tells his story.
Paul Oakley is a London barrister who’s also been a member of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) leadership since 2011. In No-One Likes Us, We Don’t Care he has given us a brisk, gossipy, whimsical diary of these years, during which a small pack of Brexiteers who were alternately dismissed and demonized by the British political and media establishment soared in influence – a process that climaxed in the stunning referendum of June 23, 2016 – only to lose its high-profile leader, Nigel Farage, and, as Brexit itself stumbled, plunge back into insignificance, after which, under Gerard Batten, it began a turnaround that’s still in process, even as the fate of Brexit remains in question.
An ardent opponent of Brussels rule – he proudly boasts of burning the EU flag and tearing the Maastricht Treaty in two at a conference – Oakley tells a rollicking story of political infighting, personality conflicts, organizational screw-ups, negative press, dull meetings, thrilling speeches, endless hours of conversations (and dart games) in pubs, good and bad polls, good and bad election results, sex scandals, financial scandals, scandals that pop up because some party flack said something that some reporter considered homophobic or xenophobic or racist, defections by Tories (beginning with Oakley himself) to UKIP, and, later, defections (not many) by UKIP members to Anne Marie Waters’s newly formed For Britain Party.
Oakley (who uses many an obscure Briticism – “scrote,” “cocked up,” “nous,” “nick,” “grass me up,” etc. – that will send American readers running for the OED) offers sketches of fellow pols whose names many Brits will presumably recognize but that will mean nothing to most Yanks. We see Oakley (dubbed by one party colleague as “the Simon Cowell of UKIP”) being sucker-punched by some jerk, harassed by police for handing out leaflets, frustrated by his inability to get through to an audience of schoolgirls who’ve been transformed into pro-EU zombies, and striving desperately to grow the party while also keeping an eye out for newbies who are, in fact, nutjobs. (Like churches, political parties attract kooks who’ve finally found someplace from which they can’t easily be kicked out.) At one point Oakley seems to be a shoo-in for the European Parliament, but balloting hijinks deny him his seat.
Many readers of Oakley’s book will be particularly interested in the bits about Nigel Farage, the Gatsby to Oakley’s Nick Carraway. This reviewer has greatly admired Farage in the past, but has been deeply disappointed by his blanket refusal in recent years to criticize Islam, or to countenance criticism of it by his party faithful (or, even more recently, by callers to his LBC program), and, especially, his condescension and hostility toward Tommy Robinson, whose only crime, after all, is candor. This book gives us a good dose of that unpleasant side of Farage: in 2013, when Oakley is waiting to find out if he’s been chosen to run for office in a forthcoming election, Farage asks him: “You’re not going to start banging on about Islam are you?” (No, Oakley replies dutifully, Islam is “a side-issue.”)
But Farage, for the most part, comes off well here. Still suffering (but never complaining of) severe pains from a 2010 airplane crash, he emerges as stoic, determined, disciplined, and classy as he endures daily abuse from the media and from strangers on the street and persists patiently in his laser-focused effort to free Britain from Europe. He’s obsessed with the idea that UKIP be seen as “serious” and “respectable.” (Hence his allergy to Tommy.) Oakley also shows us the private Farage who’s fully aware of Islam’s dangers. After the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, Farage confides to Oakley that he’s not surprised, because Europe has been flooded with jihadists, and Paris itself abounds in “pickpockets and beggars”: “I used to enjoy the stroll from the Gare du Nord to the Gare L’Ouest, but no longer.”
This book’s (perhaps unintended) hero is Anne Marie Waters. When she first steps onstage, Oakley frets over her “Islamo-scepticism.” Confronting her, he asks, as Farage asked him: “You’re not going to bang on about Islam[,] are you?” She promises not to, but soon she’s out there saying that “mosques need to be closed down” and that Islamic immigration “has to stop entirely.” After the Paris attacks, Waters excoriates “the criminalisation of those who criticise Islam” and east London’s “Sharia Patrols and Sharia Courts.” With Tommy and others, she launches Pegida UK, an anti-Islam group. She writes a piece headlined “Dear So-Called Feminists – Your Open Borders Bullshit Will Ensure Thousands Of More Rapes And Sexual Assaults.” In a transparent reference to Waters, Farage, who by now has quit as party leader, tells an interviewer that if UKIP becomes an anti-Islam party, “it’s finished.”
Where does Oakley himself stand on Islam? At first the answer’s unclear. But there are hints. He attends the launch party for Douglas Murray’s book The Strange Death of Europe. He defends Waters when Farage wants to toss her out. The mist finally begins to clear when Gerard Batten becomes party head and openly chums around with Tommy. Meeting the latter, Oakley writes: “I observe no wickedness within him. He’s your typical working class English lad of the type so despised by the metropolitan establishment.” Oakley also responds wisely to the British left’s dictum that we Westerners and our new Muslim neighbors have “far more in common than that which divides us.” While this is “true when it comes to the basic necessities of life,” says Oakley, it’s not true “when it comes to the core philosophies of life.” And he lists some of Islam’s many victims: Sikh girls raped by grooming gangs, Indian Hindus who are “knowledgeably wary,” Jews, Kurds, Pakistani Christians.
So he gets it. Still, at heart he’s a party animal, accustomed to subordinating personal belief to the party line and to separating private views from public statements. No, he’s not as strict about this distinction as Farage is, but he’s a world apart from Anne Marie Waters, who never minces words. Which, alas, is probably why, in the last couple of weeks, Farage’s new Brexit Party has gained staggering popularity, with UKIP trailing far behind. As for the For Britain Party, Waters has decided that it isn’t even worth running candidates. One might wish the whole thing were flipped upside down, with For Britain on top and Farage flailing; but the electorate is what it is, and Farage would appear to know the British people through and through – although, as the last three years have shown, this man who fought to liberate his people from an increasingly imperious superstate was, alas, incapable of imagining just how perfidious their own parliament could be.