Fishing, Manston and car tyres: TTG quizzes Nigel Farage on his grand plans for tourism
The Ukip leader might have amused delegates at the ITT conference, but how much does he really understand the industry? Sophie Griffiths finds out
Source: Phil Disley
The leader of Britain’s most talked about political party looks tired. Whether this is because he has been working 24/7 for the past few months on the European elections, or because he was up until 3.30am last night - smoking cigars and downing glasses of red wine - with delegates of the ITT conference, is unclear.
Nigel Farage however, dressed in his trademark pinstripe suit, is somehow still full of energy, and keen to explain his grand plans for growing tourism in Britain.
“I think the UK is missing a trick in a huge way,” he blusters. “Angling is the biggest participant sport in Britain apart from football.” I check to make sure he isn’t joking - this wasn’t quite the response I had been expecting to my question: “So how well do you know the travel industry?”
“The US east coast gets it big time,” he continues. “They had a moratorium on commercial fishing - it’s so big in Florida, it’s unbelievable.”
”I don’t want any travel directive. I hate the word directive - it’s reminiscent of communism and socialism and other such things”
Is this Farage’s plan for growing tourism in the UK then? “Of course,” he answers emphatically. “We should be doing the same as Florida - three miles off the shore, we should place some old car tyres and concrete bits on the sea bed and we would have a whole eco-system thing with lots of fish. We could do it in the West Country and South Wales - it would be the most incredible boost to tourism.”
Fishing for mackerel in the Atlantic seems perhaps rather less exotic than chasing down marlin in the Gulf of Mexico, however the reason for Farage’s tourism brainwave becomes clearer after I question whether he himself is an angler. “Yes!” he says forcefully, smacking his palm with his fist. “That’s how I know all about the subject.”
The big issues
Right. Moving on, I quiz Farage on his real knowledge of the UK’s tourism industry. “I know its size is massive, and that it is a huge percentage of our economy, but that it doesn’t get talked about,” he says. “It’s not being taken seriously, and it should be.”
So if Ukip were voted into government, would Farage ensure there was a tourism minister solely dedicated to the industry? “Yes,” he insists. “The industry is big enough to warrant a set minister.
“Air Passenger Duty is also a massive issue,” he says. “The idea that it is a green tax is absolute baloney! It’s just a form of tax, and it’s harming the industry.” Would Farage get rid of it?
“Yes, I don’t see the need for it at all.”
”Whatever you do in life, you’re going to have moments of self-doubt. Of course these moments are very brief, as are any negative thoughts.”
The Ukip leader also doesn’t “see the need” for European directives - package travel related or otherwise. “I don’t want any travel directive.
I hate the word directive - it’s reminiscent of communism and socialism and other such things - it’s a horrid word,” he says dismissively. I point out that the directive at issue is one which people throughout the travel industry have been working on for many years, and one which most would like to see passed to achieve greater clarity throughout the continent on package travel.
“A lot of people are prepared to sell their soul,” he retorts. “I don’t buy it. We don’t need Brussels - we could agree any promises individually with other EU member states. We could have inter-government cooperation as opposed to the supremacy of the EU.”
“I think the UK is missing a trick in a huge way. Angling is the biggest participant sport in Britain apart from football.”
But would he actually turn up to any votes on the Package Travel Directive, given the results of a study published by TTG last month, which revealed that Ukip MEPs showed up for just 61% of all roll-call votes in the European Parliament over the past five years - bottom of 76 parties containing three or more MEPs.
“Look,” Farage bristles, “any important vote, Ukip MEPs turn up to. The idea that we can influence Europe is ludicrous - we’ve failed at that for 40 years.”
And does he consider the Package Travel Directive important enough a vote to turn up to? “Yes,” he says. “And I’d vote against it. I don’t want EU laws.”
Turning from Europe to the UK, I ask Farage what he thinks about the state of the high street, and what he would do to help small businesses should he ever be elected to parliament.
“I am stunned at the extent to which local governments have failed high streets,” he replies angrily, “especially with parking charges. We need a complete rethink - it’s a huge issue. Ukip has a lot of members who are small business owners, and I think it’s under-estimated just how important parking charges are.
“Business rates are also a problem. I’d like local government to get a say in this, rather than Westminster choosing. Yes, some would charge very high rates, but some may charge very low rates and that could really help businesses in towns.”
”People take offence at every comment. We’ll finish up like the other parties - monochrome - in a dull, monochrome world. It’s ludicrous.”
At that point, our interview is interrupted as Farage’s phone buzzes. He answers on the second ring, and I get the feeling from his response that he is probably talking to a journalist - something which seems to be a frequent occurrence given the number of times he is spotted, harried-looking, on the phone during the ITT conference.
He must have a pretty thick skin, I suggest. “It can be pretty rough,” he concedes. “Whatever you do in life, you’re going to have moments of self-doubt.” For a nano-second, there is a glimmer of the toll Farage’s whirlwind life of election chasing and being hounded by the press must take.
The next second the showman is back. “Of course these moments of self-doubt are very brief, as are any negative thoughts,” he quickly adds.
Source: Phil Disley
No case for sackings
It’s hard to feel sympathy for the man whose party members seem to offend others on an almost daily basis. I point out to Farage that the world of travel is full of diversity, and as he has failed to fire several members reported to have made offensive comments, surely he can understand why people perceive Ukip to be considered a racist and homophobic party?
“You can’t sack everyone who has an opinion,” he bristles.
“Look, any important vote, Ukip MEPs turn up to. The idea that we can influence Europe is ludicrous - we’ve failed at that for 40 years.”
If they are offensive to others, why not? “Look, we had a councillor in Oxfordshire - I can’t remember his name, the one who blamed the weather on gay marriage [the councillor was David Silvester, who blamed the UK’s devastating floods earlier this year on the government’s decision to legalise gay marriage].
“He’s been a Conservative for 20 years and as soon as he defects to Ukip, the media jump on him. Maybe we should ban Conservatives? Perhaps that’s a good idea?” he jokes. It doesn’t feel very funny.
“You need a sense of balance,” he continues. “These aren’t senior members saying these things.”
And if it was, would Farage sack them? “We’d have a serious problem,” he replies. But would he sack them? He dodges the question. “We’d have a serious problem,” he repeats.
“People take offence at every comment. We’ll finish up like the other parties - monochrome - in a dull, monochrome world. It’s ludicrous.”
The irony - that a world filled with diversity which allows people to be who they want, and marry who they wish, is the very antithesis of a “dull monochrome world” - seems to be lost on the Ukip leader.
Nigel Farage’s grand plans for travel
On the Package Travel Directive
“I don’t want any travel directive - directive is a horrid word, reminiscent of communism. I’d turn up for the vote, and I’d vote against it.”
On airport expansion
“I look with astonishment at Manston airport [in Kent] - it’s a huge site with good roads and good rail connections, just over an hour from London… and yet it’s been closed down.
Whatever we do, whether it’s Heathrow, Gatwick or Boris Island - it will take 15 years. Manston could be ready in a year.”
It’s not quite ready to be a hub airport though…?
“Well, no, not a hub - but it could do holiday traffic.”
On Air Passenger Duty
“The idea that it is a green tax is absolute baloney. I don’t see the need for it at all.”
On travel agents
“I have used a travel agent - I sometimes use one if I do something a bit different, if I’m going to an unusual destination. If there’s lots of choice I want to go and see someone, but then I’m old-fashioned. We’ve all bought things online we’ve regretted.”
The Ukip leader warned earlier this year that the UK would be hit by an influx of workers after “the floodgates opened” and controls were lifted on Bulgaria and Romania from January 1. But has Farage ever actually visited either country? “I’ve been to Bulgaria - it’s an amazing place! Gorgeous seasons and mountains - as a holiday destination, it’s fabulous.”