Interview: Mayoral candidate wants London free of the EU
The UK Independence Party is misunderstood and misrepresented, their candidate for Mayor of London tells me when we meet.
Gerard Batten is a somewhat unusual politician, in that he is a member of a parliament that he desires to have no power over the lives of his constituents.
As an MEP for London since 2004, he spends his days in Brussels trying to think up new ways to discredit and dismantle the European Union (or “ferment rebellion” as he describes it).
For a long time UKIP was seen as something of a joke by the political establishment, flirting with Robert Kilroy-Silk and appealing to the sort of voter who thinks the Tory party is full of bleeding-heart liberals.
They weren’t laughing so hard in 2004, when the party took more than 16% of the vote in the elections for the European Parliament.
The party now has 10 MEPs, 30 local councillors and two members of the House of Lords who defected from the Conservatives.
Perhaps that is why David Cameron felt moved to refer to them as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists.”
UKIP was founded in 1993, a year after Tory Prime Minister John Major signed the UK up to the Maastricht treaty.
Its aims and beliefs are simple: full withdrawl from the EU and the return of sovereignty to Westminster, the maintenance of the union between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and an end to the present immigration arrangements.
Batten descibes the party as “libertarian” and denies they are racists.
No one can deny that their message resonated with some Londoners – in the 2004 Mayoral elections UKIP candidate Frank Maloney came fourth, winning 6% (115,665) of first preference votes and 10% (193,157) of second preference votes.
Batten, a founder member of the party, is their candidate for Mayor of London in the May 1st election.
While unlikely to either unseat Labour’s Ken Livingstone or defeat Tory candidate Boris Johnson or the Lib Dem’s Brian Paddick, the party could win a seat or two on the London Assembly.
Though it should be noted that UKIP, who have nearly 17,000 members, advocate abolishing the Assembly.
Batten, who will be 54 next month, worked as a salesman for BT for 28 years before being elected as an MEP.
In person, he is fluid and likable, if somewhat exercised about the direction of the UK, and at times is reminiscent of Ricky Gervais in his tone and delivery.
His references to the views of cab drivers can seem more like Jim Davidson, but there is no doubting he is sincere in his beliefs.
A report in the Evening Standard last month claimed that Batten would end funding for Pride London and his comment that incumbent Mayor Ken Livingstone’s distribution of funds to gay and ethnic minority events is “cultural Marxism” piqued interest from PinkNews.co.uk.
Batten contacted us to say he had been misrepresented, and we decided to speak to him about his policies on immigration, race and the politics of Europe.
PinkNews.co.uk: Let’s start with the charges that UKIP is racist and has an agenda similar to that of the BNP.
Gerard Batten: We have people from different races and nationalities running for UKIP and among my friends who advise me on the Islamic issue, one of them is actually an ex-Sharia lawyer who converted to Christianity.
We don’t have a problem with foreigners or people of other races. You can have a multi-ethnic society and it can work so long as people feel like they belong to the same society. What doesn’t work is multiculturalism.
It creates division and especially when you’ve got now the idea of introducing Sharia law to the country. The whole thing is crazy. You can have a country where people have their own culture and their own customs but they’ve got to sign up to one legal system, one political system.
We want controlled immigration. The BNP have another agenda, which is ethnic cleansing, and if you talk to any of their activists that’s what they want. I know that because that’s what they’ve told me.
They were regretful about it but they had to explain to me that my wife and family would have to be deported at some point in the future if they ever came to power.
My wife comes from the Philippines.
I don’t understand their obsession with us, because they do seem to be totally obsessed with us.
The kind of people that join UKIP wouldn’t join the BNP. We get the occasional person who would go off and defect but they are possibly in the wrong Party to start with.
The conventional wisdom is that immigration is driving the British economy and responsible for our continued economic growth.
I spent the summer drafting a paper for our leadership on immigration and I analysed it.
They adopted the first policy that I suggested, which is an immediate five-year freeze on immigration until we sort our borders out.
Speaking personally, we have got to say that we have reached the point where mass immigration has got to stop.
The numbers are just incredible now. Britain, England in particular, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, way up there, above Japan, China and India. I don’t see how you can keep fitting more and more people into the same space.
If you bring in more people, yes you increase GDP (gross domestic product), but because we have been bringing in people who will work for lower wages you don’t make everyone better off, because you have to divide the total GDP between more people.
GDP per capita comes down.
And of course the more people you bring in the more services you have to provide for them. So yeah the economy will keep on expanding, not everyone will be better off, but where does it end?
It’s just not sustainable. I think we reached the point long ago where we should have had very strict controls on immigration.
We’ve had an open border policy from a Labour government and now half a million people are coming in. A million people every four or five years? It’s just not sustainable.
We have got to decide, who do we want in our country? What are their qualifications, have they got a criminal record?
All the things that most other countries in the world require before they will let somebody in.
You said the Evening Standard misinterpreted your comments about Pride London’s funding. What was the point you were trying to make? What do you think of Pride events?
I find it all a bit odd. I find it as absurd as the idea of a march of middle aged men who want to go out with blonde bimbos. There are a lot of them.
Let’s get the big things right before you start worrying about what particular groups want to promote.
The Mayor shouldn’t be funding those types of things. The Mayor should be looking at the big picture for London. What are the big infrastructure things that need funding?
What needs doing to improve life for everybody and he shouldn’t be doing these kind of things, partisan funding exercises.
First of all he shouldn’t be doing them in principle and secondly we are all seeing where this is headed now, with these investigations that are going into these things, where his cronies have been involved in these things that are highly dubious and are being investigated by the police.
(Lee Jasper, Mayor Ken Livingstone’s adviser on race issues, has asked to be suspended while allegations of wrongdoing with regard to the funding of black community groups and organisations are investigated by police.)
The Mayor also promotes and pays for the St Patrick’s Day parade and many other events that celebrate London’s diverse communities.
I would not do any of that. It’s not because I have something against gays or anybody else or the Irish, I wouldn’t fund any of this.
The only thing I might fund would be a St George’s Day parade because it’s the capital city of England and we could all unite behind that, because anyone that comes here, they come here because they want to live here and they should identify with the culture of the country that they
are coming to.
The Mayor has a duty to promote community cohesion, which is why these events are funded.
He doesn’t have a duty to do that. His duty is to make sure that London works.
That the Tubes work, that the buses work, that the roads work, that the police prevent and detect crime. Let’s worry about those jobs first.
If particular things need doing in particular boroughs then I think that’s the job of the boroughs, because they are closer to it, they understand it.
What do you think of the role of the London Assembly in overseeing the Mayor?
The Assembly hasn’t got very much power, all it can do is question Ken and hold him to account. Why pay for an assembly to do that when you could take representatives from all the Boroughs who can meet once a month?
All you have to pay is their travel expenses. I’m sure that they would enjoy doing it because local government has become very boring now as they have got less power.
It would be a sought after job – who is going off to the local Assembly to talk to the Mayor.
I think we have to keep the Mayor because there are certain things that need to be done on a citywide basis. Big cities like New York have a Mayor and there are those functions that have to be
We have touched on some of the major issues facing London, so let’s turn firstly to crime and policing. What could we expect from a UKIP Mayor?
The police have got to get back on the streets actually preventing crime and detecting crime. Crime is out of control in London now.
I’ve had police officers come to my house when we’ve been victims of crime and I’ve said ‘it’s out of control now isn’t it’ and they’ve said ‘yeah.’
I’ve said ‘what should I do’ and they’ve said ‘move.’
The best advice they can give me is move. Well it’s come to a pretty poor state of affairs when all the police can advise you to do is move house.
(Met police commissioner) Sir Ian Blair should go, he is a disaster, he is a politically correct sycophant to Tony Blair. He’s been totally useless. We need to get a depoliticised Metropolitan police.
They need to get rid of certain functions like the Royal Protection squad and the Diplomatic Protection Squad. They should be reformed to focus on crime.
Unfortunately over the last few months I have had to contact the police because of the amount of crime where I live in Newham, and I know they are very demoralised.
This is what’s wrong with the Blair government. Its ticking boxes and targets all the time and what you actually do is stop anybody doing anything in the end because they become focused on trying to tick the boxes and cover their backsides.
The incumbent Mayor has introduced a congestion charge, which some oppose and others celebrate. What are your plans for London’s transport system?
The problem is to do with congestion; there are just too many people. There are just too many people in London and Ken wants more and more – he’ll cram as many people in because it is politically correct to have as many immigrants as possible.
You can’t really start to solve the problem until you cut down the number of people coming into London. You’ve got to get traffic moving again. I would get rid of the congestion charge. This is another piece of politically correct motivated legislation.
Ken hates cars and he has famously said that if he ever got to power he would ban cars. Well he can’t quite do that but he can make life as difficult as possible.
We’d also get rid of parking restrictions. There are streets full of empty places where you can’t park because it’s got permit holders only.
Now we all pay road tax so why can’t I park there during the day when I’m on business or when I’m visiting someone in hospital or doing whatever I’m doing and then drive back to where I live in the evening.
Get rid of all the parking restrictions, or keep them to a minimum. It is a racket now to get money out of motorists anyway and I would put traffic wardens and the CCTV cameras to catch the people who are driving round with no tax and insurance.
Let’s start prosecuting them and getting money out of them who are really breaking the law.
Didn’t Ken himself say that 20% of the cars in London have no tax or insurance?
I’ve had taxi drivers telling me how they’ve had Eastern Europeans bashing into them and run off and leave the car because it’s clapped out old banger anyway.
Regarding Crossrail we would to scrap the central tunnelling and convert Brunel’s Hammersmith and City tube line to take longer Crossrail trains.
London continues to face a housing crisis, with the prospect of buying a house out of reach of many residents. What can be done?
Housing is a big problem. Because they are bringing in more and more people they are now talking about building on flood plain. It’s ludicrous.
One thing that we would do is to say that the housing stock should be used for people who are already on the long-term housing list.
So if somebody wants to come to Britain then it is up to them to find their own accommodation. They shouldn’t be able to go onto the council (housing) list, which is what happens.
And also there is a tremendous racket among Housing Associations to bring in asylum seekers and immigrants, because they get sums of money from the government and local authority for housing them.
When that money is used up they go and get more. It’s a racket. They benefit from it and they are fuelling the problem.
They are making tremendous amounts of money. I know someone who would tell you they know two property owners in Dagenham who own about five hundred houses between them and every one is full of immigrants and asylum seekers and people from Eastern Europe because it’s a racket.
They will buy a house and put ten Eastern Europeans in it and get a tremendous amount of money from it and of course it takes that housing stock out.
It’s no longer a resource that can be used by Londoners so ordinary Londoners and their children haven’t got somewhere to live they are priced out of the market.
To many people that view of the situation would sound racist.
What does it mean by being racist? It’s nonsense. I have friends from Eastern Europe who will sit down and say you’re mad what you’re doing in this country.
People who have been here a long time and they’ve worked and they’ve got their own place and they say what you’re doing is absolutely mad.
On the street last summer in the Southall by-election the most vociferous comments I heard about immigration were from West Indians and Afro-Caribbeans who were saying to me all politicians are rubbish we aren’t voting for anybody.
We came to this country forty years ago and we had to work and scrimp and save to get what we wanted and now people come in and they get it for nothing.
They weren’t racists, if that’s a Caribbean talking about a Lithuanian or an Estonian, are they being racist?
I think that this word is just bandied about without any clear understanding of what is actually meant by it. It’s an argument that is used to shut down any arguments.
Do you enjoy working in Brussels as an MEP?
Brussels itself is ok. I’m not a conventional MEP, none of us are. The people in favour of it (the EU) and the so-called Eurosceptics are all happy to go there and work for Brussels because they are happy to pick up the 200 quid a day. We don’t believe in it, I don’t believe in it.
I spend the majority of my time actually in London. In my view my job is to foment rebellion against the European Union. That’s where my focus goes.
Every MEP gets £30,000 to run an office. Running an office on £30,000 a year in London is actually quite difficult.
Some MEPs don’t have offices in London. Where does their 30,000 quid go? You’re not asked for any receipts, you don’t have to say where the money went, it goes in your bank account and that’s
the end of it.
I keep a scrupulous record of where I spend everything in this place because I suppose they are tightening up the rules but to be honest, I don’t think the British are the prime offenders here.
You’ve got people who over there who cream off money in all sorts of ways. The most disgusting thing I heard recently was about of the new Romanian MEPs, and this came out of a member of staff in the European Parliament.
They were employing kids as researchers, people out of university from Romania, they were paying them so much a month and then demanding a cash kickback from them.
Cash in hand so that they can keep their jobs. That’s just one example of what goes on there.
There’s going to be a big backlash against the (new EU) Treaty if it’s ratified across Europe. We’ll do very well in the next Euro elections in 2009 but I think anti-EU parties across Europe will do much better.
So, finally, how would it work? If we had a UKIP government suddenly elected in the UK, how exactly does one withdraw from the EU?
Repeal the 1973 European Communities Act – that it gives EU law precedence over British law.
You would have an Act of Parliament that repeals that but keeps all of the EU law that is in place because you can’t have it all taken away.
Then you would appoint a commission that would go through and repeal all this law but just leave in place all the bits that we need in order to co-operate with the European Union.
If on a Friday morning you withdrew from the European Union you would have an appointment with the European Commission on the Monday morning to say that we are not members anymore but of course you want to trade with us don’t you? You still want friendly relations?
And of course they are going to say yes because they trade more with us than we trade with them.
I had my researcher in today, we were going through my new book The Cost of the EU.
We’ve got a massive trade deficit with Europe, they sell us far more than we sell them. And what we want is trade and co-operation.
There are loads of things that you can do with co-operation.
Not everything that the EU is bad like the common recognition of professional qualifications for example so people can get jobs in other countries, all of those are good things.
But that’s good, letting Romanian criminals in because you haven’t got any powers to stop them, that’s bad.
So we want trade and co-operation but we believe that democratically accountable government is vital to live in a free country and what we are moving into is a kind of frightening scenario where power is being removed from people’s democratically elected representatives to this monolithic structure in the European Union.