Who created Nigel Farage? Part II – Lord Adonis has himself to blame

Who created Nigel Farage? Part II – Lord Adonis has himself to blame

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Labour peer Andrew Adonis has been accusing the BBC of pro-Brexit bias. He has written to Director-General Tony Hall about this in the midst of some furious tweets in which one of his wilder claims is that Brexit and Nigel Farage were largely the creation of the BBC. Apparently, so desperate were the BBC to leave the EU, they gave Farage almost unlimited airtime and that is why Brexit happened. Or something like that.

This is preposterous for many reasons, with the biggest one being a decision Adonis was heavily involved in making – to allow Eastern European migrants into the UK with no transition controls in 2004. This decision was made quietly, using inaccurate and wrongly interpreted data, and was to lead in almost a direct line to Brexit.

In my view, BrexitCentral Editor Jonathan Isaby got halfway there when he pointed out last week that it was in fact Adonis’s friend Tony Blair (for whom Lord Adonis was first Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit and then a Cabinet Minister) who ‘created’ Farage. Jonathan pointed out that Blair’s changing of the European Parliament elections to proportional representation meant Farage and UKIP were given representation in a parliament. Jonathan continues that “with that representation came a duty on broadcast media outlets to take account of that support and enable them to air their point of view occasionally”.

Their ‘point of view’ became particularly important after 1st May 2004. In our book How to Lose a Referendum: The Definitive Story of Why the UK voted for Brexit, Jason Farrell and I compare Tony Blair’s approach to deciding what to do about the likely influx of migrants from Eastern European countries in 2004 to that of then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Schröder made speeches on the issue from 2000 and decided to impose transition controls (delaying and spreading out the impact of this immigration) after May 2004. Tony Blair’s 2001 election manifesto said nothing. There was no debate, no discussion and – importantly – no explanation of this policy.

The reasons for this are complicated. Firstly, in 2000, a 73-page report was produced by the Performance and Innovation Unit at No. 10 claiming that the foreign-born population in the UK contributes around 10 per cent more to government revenues than it receives from the state. The Home Office was charged with controlling immigration, but  put under considerable pressure from the Foreign Office (traditionally pro-immigration for diplomatic reasons),the Department for Education (keen on the money from foreign students), the Treasury (keen on extra tax revenue) and the Business Department (keen on willing and able workers to fill vacancies and fuel growth).

To the extent that immigrants bring skills that Britain might need, fill jobs that Britons might not do and are often younger and less needful of public services, this enthusiasm was understandable – for the country as a whole. But the country as a whole isn’t a human being. Human beings vote in referendums.

Then there are the sheer numbers. In 2003, the Home Office commissioned research by a UCL economist that predicted an additional net migration of between 5,000 and 13,000 from these new EU members. The authors had based the figures on Commonwealth countries from Australia to Swaziland and had stated that these figures would only hold true if all other countries also lifted transition controls. The reality turned out to be quite different. Between 2004 and 2012, the net inflow from the new bloc was 423,000.

Therefore, without any kind of mandate from the British people for the massive changes that would take place around the country, the UK became the only major European country to open its doors unconditionally to Eastern European immigrants. By February 2006, the Labour MP for Southampton Itchen, John Denham, had written a memo to Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and then Home Secretary Charles Clarke to warn them that the number of immigrants was far higher than the government’s figures had forecast.

Southampton alone had received about 14,000 Eastern European migrants in the eighteen months since the countries had joined the EU. They were putting immense pressure on public services and leading employers to pay lower wages. Denham noted that many new arrivals weren’t using the worker registration scheme, as many were self-employed, offering themselves to construction sites. The daily rate as a builder in the city had thus fallen by 50 per cent in those eighteen months.

What’s more, hospital accident and emergency services were under strain because migrants tend not to use GPs as the first port of call, as they do not have a similar service in the country they came from. A local further education college had to close its doors after 1,000 migrants attempted to sign up for an English-as-a-second-language course in one day.

Denham argued for the government to reassess how it was dealing with the surge in immigration. The response was indifferent. They had based their approach on evidence-based research from a credible academic source and they thought any fuss would all calm down. A Cabinet Minister close to the discussions in 2003 told us that a few ministers had suggested to Blair and Brown that a ‘migrant impact fund’ be used to help support the places around the country that were affected, and money be put towards training British workers to be able to compete with those that were coming; but the Prime Minister and Chancellor felt that this would be admitting there was a problem and they didn’t want to do that.

And this is what created Nigel Farage. Perhaps the biggest issue is that Tony Blair never tried to explain that he had chosen to increase legal immigration to Britain, and why. In a democracy, voter angst cannot be ignored. In Britain, it wasn’t just ignored, it was actively suppressed. Those who complained about the scale of immigration were told they were racist, or Prime Minister Gordon Brown called them a bigot once he was in his car, thinking he was safely out of earshot from the press, as he did after having met life-long Labour voter Gillian Duffy during the 2010 election campaign.

The best explanation for this was that many at the top of New Labour – and many of its activists – were influenced by the metropolitan cultural liberalism which saw immigration as an inherently good thing. The party leadership, trying not to appear soft on immigration for electoral reasons and wanting to create a modern, multicultural Britain with a dynamic open economy, also had a lingering belief that tightly controlling immigration was somehow tinged with racism.

Is it racist to be angry that a government decision has reduced your pay? Are you a bigot if you express frustration that you can’t see your GP or get a place in your first-choice school after a local influx of immigrants? There is no doubt that some of these frustrations were overblown or unfairly attributed to immigration rather than cuts to public services implemented by the Coalition government of 2010–15; but there was also a growing reluctance in politics to fully consider the social impact of immigration.

At the 2005 general election, Conservative leader Michael Howard’s slogan – “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration” – was greeted with outrage by the New Labour establishment. This then cowed David Cameron in opposition from speaking up on the issue as he tried to detoxify the Tory brand. But core Labour voters were beginning to think what Howard was thinking and looked to someone in politics who was prepared to take what at the time was a considerable risk by talking about it. Into this conversational void came first Nick Griffin of the BNP and then Nigel Farage of UKIP.

Farage didn’t become UKIP leader until late in 2006, and in his previous decade in politics had barely mentioned immigration, making his anti-EU case on the issue of sovereignty. But earlier that year, UKIP beat Labour for third place in the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election with Farage as the candidate. He noticed he was getting more and more support in traditional Labour areas, and so UKIP’s time, effort, money and people were re-tacked and re-jigged to reflect the cause of this change – immigration.

In his maiden speech as leader to the UKIP conference, on 8th October 2006, Farage told delegates that the party was “at the centre-ground of British public opinion”. He said: “We’ve got three social democratic parties in Britain – Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative are virtually indistinguishable from each other on nearly all the main issues,” adding: “You can’t put a cigarette paper between them, and that is why there are 9 million people who don’t vote now in general elections that did back in 1992”.

Many of these 9 million people were handed to Nigel Farage and the Leave cause by the decision to allow unlimited Eastern European immigrants into the UK without discussion, debate or even explanation, and to call anyone who questioned it racist. When you stifle debate by mainstream politicians, you open the door to ‘extremists’ – which is how Farage was viewed (and still is by many people).

Now, who was the Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit on 1st May 2004? Oh yes, step forward Andrew Adonis. You created Nigel Farage.