The Rise of UK Tea Party: Exclusive Interview with Thatcher Aide
Breitbart News had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Nile Gardiner to discuss the UK Independence Party (UKIP), British-American Relations, and the Conservative movement. Gardiner is Director of the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center For Freedom. He is a frequent contributor to London’s Daily Telegraph. Gardiner served as Foreign Policy aide to the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. His new book, Margaret Thatcher on Leadership: Lessons for American Conservatives Today, is available on Amazon.
Breitbart News: Is Nigel Farage the right man to lead UKIP to success?
Dr. Nile Gardiner: Nigel Farage is an extraordinarily successful politician. He is a charismatic leader who has transformed the fortunes of UKIP. He’s turned UKIP into a major political force, a party that could well poll around a third of the British vote in the European Parliamentary elections this week. Farage is undoubtedly the right man at the right time for UKIP. He probably is one of the most dynamic politicians in recent British history - an effective debater who is able to appeal to a large section of the electorate. He comes across as an ordinary guy in touch with the concerns of the general British public. Farage has made UKIP a major political player.
Breitbart News: What is UKIP’s biggest obstacle moving forward?
Dr. Gardiner: The biggest single obstacle for UKIP is the British electoral system, which makes it hard for smaller parties to break through at the national level. It is a first-past-the-post (simple majority) system as opposed to a proportional representation system. The European Parliamentary elections are based on proportional representation, and UKIP will be well represented in the European parliament. In British parliamentary elections, with the first-past-the-post system, UKIP is at a disadvantage.
Breitbart News: Do you believe UKIP can win seats in the House of Commons (Britain's Parliament's lower chamber)?
Dr. Gardiner: If UKIP polls well in the European elections, with say above 30 percent of the vote, it significantly strengthens their position going into the British national elections to be held in 2015. It’s clearly an uphill struggle to get any MPs elected due to the electoral system in place. Can it be done? I wouldn’t rule it out. I think UKIP could possibly get a few MPs elected in 2015, but it’s going to be tough. It will be very difficult for UKIP to maintain that high a level of support for a parliamentary election. A lot of British voters use the European elections as a protest vote. They will cast their ballot for UKIP, whereas in a national election they may cast their ballot for the Conservatives, Labour or Liberal Democrats. I do think however that it is only a matter of time before you have a UKIP member of parliament in Britain, despite the system in place. A breakthrough is bound to happen eventually.
Breitbart News: What differentiates UKIP from the rest?
Dr. Gardiner: UKIP’s strongest policy initiative is its stance on Europe. UKIP backs a complete British withdrawal from the European Union. UKIP is the only party that advocates complete withdrawal. Opinion polls show that at least 40 percent of the British public are in favour of withdrawal. In some polls that figure rises above 50 percent. It could well rise to 60-70 percent in the coming years ahead of the upcoming 2017 EU referendum. With UKIP on Europe, what you see is what you get. That’s attractive to a lot of Eurosceptic voters who feel that David Cameron doesn’t necessarily share their views on Europe.
Breitbart News: You’re the Thatcher Chair at the Heritage Foundation. What would the Iron Lady think of Britain’s future in Europe?
Dr. Gardiner: If Margaret Thatcher were Prime Minister today, UKIP probably wouldn’t exist. Her views on Europe were very clear. In her final years, she believed firmly that Britain should leave the European Union. She believed that Britain needed to restore its sovereignty and that the EU had become a big negative for the British people.
Breitbart News: Would Thatcher today be a supporter of UKIP?
Dr. Gardiner: Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative leader, and her loyalty was to the Conservative Party, and of course the British people. She would always have stayed with her party, but she would never have criticised UKIP supporters. Her instinct was always to embrace fellow conservatives rather than make derogatory remarks about them, as PM David Cameron has about UKIP. Margaret Thatcher was always of the view that nothing good could come from condemning fellow conservatives. Her approach would be completely different than that of the current British Prime Minister. Cameron may lose the general election in 2015 because he has alienated conservatives who feel at home in the UK Independence Party. Margaret Thatcher would never have lost her core supporters, because she was a true conservative.
Breitbart News: How has the British media covered UKIP?
Dr. Gardiner: The British media has covered UKIP with a split personality. On the one hand, there is relentless media coverage of UKIP, and Nigel Farage is constantly interviewed on television. The party receives a very large amount of publicity. Stories about UKIP help drive newspaper sales and attract television viewers. Yet, at the same time, there is a great deal of demonisation of UKIP in the British mainstream media. A love/hate relationship with UKIP exists in the British media. There’s no doubt about it that while UKIP receives extensive coverage, a great deal of it is biased and negative. UKIP receives a level of scrutiny in the press that is far greater than the other political parties. A lot of the coverage of UKIP tends to be sensationalized and quite unfair. Norman Tebbit, who was a senior cabinet member of Thatcher’s government, wrote about this topic today in The Telegraph.
Breitbart News: is UKIP comparable to America’s Tea Party?
Dr. Gardiner: Yes I think it is. I wrote a piece for the Telegraph in January which said exactly that. Both the Tea Party and UKIP started off as protest movements. Both have gone against the political establishment. Both have been extraordinarily successful in transforming the political debate and political landscape, there’s no doubt about that. I would describe the US Tea Party as the most successful grassroots political movement of the 21st Century. UKIP has to a degree emulated the Tea Party’s success. There is a key distinction that should be noted though: the Tea Party largely operates within the Republican Party. It seeks to transform the debate within the GOP. UKIP is a separate political party. While it has to a great degree influenced policy within the British Conservative Party, it operates as a completely separate entity. Both UKIP and the Tea Party have played huge roles in shaping the Republican Party in the US and the Conservative Party in Britain. David Cameron may not like UKIP, but he has had to shift a lot of his policies to accommodate the rise of UKIP.
Breitbart News: Who could replace Cameron if the Conservatives are defeated in the 2015 British general election?
Dr. Gardiner: If Cameron loses the 2015 general election and there is a Labour government in place, Cameron would very likely step down as Conservative Party leader. There are a number of candidates who will emerge as strong contenders to lead the Conservative party. Chief among them will be Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. Johnson, who is half-American, is a very charismatic figure. He has done a tremendous job transforming London after years of Socialist misrule. Johnson would be a heavyweight candidate if he decides to return to Parliament. Other key contenders will include George Osborne, the Chancellor of Exchequer (responsible for economic and fiscal matters). He has done remarkably well turning around the British economy after the Socialists wrecked it. A lot of credit has to go to George Osborne for what he’s done on that front. Another leading candidate is Michael Gove, Education Secretary. He is a leading intellectual. He has brought in a lot of positive radical conservative thinking with regard to educational reform in the UK. He is probably the single brightest mind in the Conservative Party today. I think another leading candidate would be Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary. He is a staunch Thatcherite. He has done a superb job. These are all serious contenders for the leadership.
Breitbart News: Why should Americans care about what is going on across the pond? What makes it important?
Dr. Gardiner: What happens in Britain is important for America. Great Britain remains America’s strongest ally. The Special Relationship really matters, and there’s a lot of cross-fertilization between the US and UK. Strong Conservatism in Britain is good for the United States and vice versa. After all, the Thatcher revolution in Britain was the precursor to the Reagan revolution in America. Ronald Reagan adopted a lot of the ideas that Margaret Thatcher implemented in the UK. She was in power for a year and a half before Ronald Reagan became President. Reagan was greatly impressed with Margaret Thatcher’s leadership. The Reagan revolution was inspired by the Thatcher revolution. It is very healthy when you have strong Conservative leadership on both sides of the Atlantic.