UKIP leader Nigel Farage talks exclusively to Dean Carroll of PublicServiceEurope.com about rocking the political establishment, the idea that he might quit politics in 2017, why YouTube and Twitter have been the making of his party and an elected EU president
•We all know the mood music of UKIP's immigration policy but could you explain how it would work at a very practical level?
"We think the Australian system is pretty damn good. What we say about immigration in our election manifesto I suspect will be quite close to the way the Australians manage this. Number one - you have to have a skill to bring and there has to be some proof that you will benefit society. Number two - you can't come if you've got a serious criminal record or a life-threatening disease. And number three - whatever colour, culture or religion you are you go there to be part of the country. They are all very laudable immigration goals and targets. We do not think it's a benefit to this country for the population to head towards 75 million people."
You really think that is on the cards?
"That is where it is going rapidly, by 2025 probably."
Imagine there is a referendum in 2017, as farfetched as it might seem at the moment, and the British vote to stay in the EU? How will you react? Will that be the end of UKIP? Will you go back to the Tory Party?
"Personally, no, I wouldn't go back to the Tory Party. For the overall cause, no free country ever willingly gives up the right to govern itself and the independence argument won't die but it will have been put back for a long time."
So it will be more of a Scottish National Party approach whereby you keep going until you get the result you want?
"Yes, I think it would be and lot of independence movements are like that. Personally, I would have probably reached the end of the road. If we reach that point in 2017, I will have been doing this a long time and if I haven't succeeded then I haven't succeeded. But I genuinely think that a referendum on this subject would be just like the debate on whether we should join the euro. The more air and the more publicity it gets, the more likely it would be that our side of the argument would win."
You mention that it could be time to pass on the baton come 2017, if there's an unfavourable referendum result but from many people's perspective your charismatic persona defines UKIP really. So with that in mind, who are the rising stars of UKIP and the young talent who you have marked out for greatness in the future?
"There are thousands of them. They are the activists, the branches, the candidates. UKIP is essentially a grassroots movement and it's more bottom-up than it is top-down. While my drive and relentless energy has no doubt helped propel the party forwards, it is a lot more than just me."
So you cannot even give me one name of someone who stands out as a potential future leader?
"No. It never does to speculate on things like this."
Moving on, your YouTube videos have been a tremendous hit in terms of web traffic and the party is extremely active on social networks like Twitter. How important is technology in this digital age for politicians and has UKIP benefited more so than the mainstream parties, which perhaps take it less seriously because they get so much exposure through traditional mediums like print and broadcast news?
"It is very important. I don't think UKIP would have got here without YouTube and Twitter, I really don't. The conventional media would not have given us the airtime that would have allowed us to get the messages out to that number of people. What has happened since 2008 with the growth of social media has been really important to us. YouTube, for example, has made a huge difference."
Something else big happened in 2008. In relation to your own experience as a former city worker – what do you think of the Wild West behaviour of those financial services masters of the universe, who brought about the 2008 economic crisis which stills blights us all today? And how would UKIP, a party of deregulation, prevent further boom and busts if in government?
"Oh no, no, no. The politicians and central bankers brought about the crisis. If you change the law and say burglary is legal, then people will go and burgle. And that's what the cretins running much of the western world did. They completely threw out of the window all of the decent basic principles that we had in our banking sector for centuries. We did that at the same time as implementing a blizzard of regulation covering all sorts of minutiae that weren't especially important but damaged the competitiveness of many of the European market places. And the bankers were allowed to do what they did. That doesn't mean they behaved well. They didn't, they behaved pretty badly in many cases although the ultimate responsibility for this is with the political class and the central bankers who allowed this to happen. I have absolutely no doubt about that.
"As far as the United Kingdom is concerned when we talk about financial services we talk about banks. Well, what about the insurance industry? What about the re-insurance industry? What about the foreign exchange industry? What about the commodities industry? What about the fund management industry? What about the equities execution industry? What about gilts and bonds? There are so many things that London aided by hundreds of back-office workers in Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool and all around the country contribute to what is Britain's biggest industry. Unfortunately, the whole tent including many things we excel at and do well at in a global sense – not just in a domestic or European sense – are being rather tarnished by the bankers brush and that is a real problem."
It would be hard for anyone to disagree with what you are saying but it seems strange to have this line coming from UKIP – a party which, after all, believes in light-touch regulation, cutting red tape and so on?
"We went through the biggest period of regulation in financial services. The idea that it was deregulation that got us into this mess is a misnomer. During that time, we saw a massive growth in compliance departments and everything else although we got rid of the good basic rules. There is a distinction. We forgot the fundamentals and went for a mass of detail. And the UK mortgage market is just the pits with Northern Rock being the best example of that you will ever see. I firmly believe that if the Bank of England has been left in charge of the sector as it had been since 1694, then Northern Rock would not have got into that mess. I believe that with all my heart."
You have had many breakthroughs of late, not least the Eastleigh by-election election result. I think what many people are waiting for now is to see whether a high-profile Conservative Party MP is willing to jump ship to UKIP before the 2015 general election. Is this likely to happen and how symbolic would it be in terms of convincing voters that UKIP is a party fit to govern?
"The chances of it happening were extremely high before David Cameron made his European Union referendum speech, which is probably why he did it. But I also think that defections are not quite the Holy Grail that some people seem to think they are. It would be symbolic but it's not my absolute priority."
You are not even expecting Nadine Dorries to change sides with her already having said she is closely aligned with UKIP thinking on a number of issues?
"I loved her comments about that on Have I got News for You. I don't know the answer to that. Right at this moment, am I spending my time working on defectors? No. We are focused on the local and European elections taking place next May."
You have said in response to various allegations about the ethical stances of some UKIP councillors and candidates that "don't run party discipline". Whose job is that and is it now a priority given that the party is under more intense scrutiny from the media than ever before?
"We have a party chairman whose job overall is to manage the party and we have a party secretary who is a lawyer and between the two of them, they are the ones to sort out party discipline. The idea that the leader of a party should be able to quote chapter and verse on individual cases is absolutely ludicrous. That line of questioning would never be pursued with the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, for example.
"It is a very difficult balance because on the one hand we are a non-politically correct party that believes in free speech and debate, and we welcome strong-minded individuals that aren't just cardboard cut-out human beings. But on the other hand, we can't allow the basic UKIP message to be taken by extremism or by lunatics bringing it into disrepute. It's a difficult line to tread."
What is your forecast for the European elections next year – do you expect to come first and how many seats do you project you will win?
"I never expect anything in life; I just travel optimistically and see what happens. But we do have a realistic chance of coming top in those elections. It won't be easy as the entire establishment will be against us and they will try and make life very rough and very difficult. However, I feel we have a realistic chance of causing an earthquake in British politics next year."
And how about the UK general election the following year – how many seats will you get at Westminster?
"Ask me that question this time next year and I will give you an answer. That will depend not just on the European elections but also how well we have done in the local elections. For us to prosper under the first-past-the-post electoral system, you have to first build up a significant council base at the local level. I see that as being absolutely key."
So are you keeping your powder dry in terms of making a decision on whether to stand personally in a Westminster seat until you see that change?
"Completely. I am not going to comment or even think too much about it until next May."
It is probably an accusation you are sick of hearing but you have been accused of having a poor attendance record in the European Parliament. Would you adopt an alternative approach to participation if elected as an MP?
"You're quite right. I have not claimed as many daily allowances as I should have in the EP. This has cost me a great deal of money. If elected to Westminster, I would be in my home country. My own personal difficulty is I'm leading a national party and I'm an MEP. That is not a very easy position to be in. I am pulled in lots of different directions. I think I've attended the European Parliament enough and I think I've made a very big impact. I've managed to get the EP more publicity than any other MEP and they should be very grateful to me."
In terms of media appearances, you have appeared on the BBC's Question Time more than anybody else in recent times I think. So what in your view is the explanation for this phenomenon – do you have some sort of special relationship with the producers?
"No, I mean the BBC has to provide an alternative view. When you have three political parties in England, all of whom believe in EU membership and support mass immigration as well as wanting wind turbines to spoil our uplands and sea-scapes while opposing the grammar schools which worked for centuries – I could go on – they need another voice. So the BBC only has two choices, it's us or a commentator from one of the newspapers. And as we are elected, they tend to use us."
Yes but it always seems to be you rather than another representative from UKIP?
"No, I wouldn't say that is true. Paul Nuttall has been on twice. Diane James has been on twice. Patrick Moore even appeared once years ago. So they are using other people too. I think the BBC has to provide balance and it has to provide an argument and among elected politicians in Britain, it is only UKIP offering that.
"In terms of recognising UKIP's role, there has been a great improvement. In terms of overall BBC bias, on The Today Programme there has been no improvement at all. They need to sack everybody and start again. The Today Programme still thinks that the UK Chancellor is cutting public expenditure. Need I say more?"
Can you expand upon that allegation and give me other examples of bias?
"I'm in the car and the programme is on and I hear climate change for the fifth time that morning and I just scream. I'm afraid that there are many things that The Today Programme takes to be givens that I think ought to be debated. But, I am being praiseworthy in some senses, by saying that the BBC as an organisation has recognised that British politics has changed and its attitude towards us at by-elections and everything else has changed dramatically and that I welcome."
So are you getting a fair ride from the rest of the British media now, have things changed across the board?
"Yes, I do think so. Things have changed an awful lot."
In terms of the wider debate, some say the rise of UKIP is ironically representative of the Europeanisation of British politics where coalitions and multi-party systems are the norm. What are your thoughts?
"I don't quite get that. Yes, there are some similar upsets happening across the rest of Europe but they are all happening inside the eurozone and we are not in the single currency so there are differences. In fact, in the 19th century, these things were very common in Britain so it's not that new really. All that gets a bit over-egged, in my view."
With the various immigration policy announcements from the Tories recently, what do you think of the attempts to out-UKIP UKIP?
"They are making themselves look stupid and nasty. It's all a diversion. The fact is that the door is open to Romania and Bulgaria next year and they don't intend to do a damn thing about it. It is complete spin and it is backfiring on them, it's not helping them at all."
You have not said a great deal about Nikki Sinclaire and Marta Andreasen who since leaving your party have had some very unkind words to say about UKIP and your leadership style. What do you think motivated them to speak out in this way?
"You will have to ask them. I couldn't really care less. They're not important to me at all."
Another rather delicate narrative that always seems to come up about you is the failure to put all of your expenses online, as you had promised to do. Has this happened now and, if so, why did it take so long?
"Some of them are online; I've still got more to do. I've still got the first six months of this year to get up there but last year's expenses are up there. At some point over the summer I will do it. But I'm actually at the moment still answering correspondence from April, in my office at home. There are just not enough hours in the day for me to do my job. It's become overwhelming to an extent that I don't think most people would even believe. It is pretty common for me to work 18 hours a day, sometimes more."
So how on earth do you stay looking so well then – you are a chain smoker and a lover of beer and wine, and yet you usually look so fit and healthy?
"I've got the constitution of an ox, I always have had. When Dennis Thatcher was 70, he was asked at a meeting how come he looked so good at his age and he replied: 'Gin and cigarettes.' One of the things about this job is that there is a constant buzz and it just keeps you going."
Really, so no physical exercise or sporting activity is thrown into the mix – I assume you just don't have the time for it?
"Well, I squeeze in a bit. I can't play golf anymore, sadly, as my back is just not good enough after the accident. I go sea fishing, which often involves big hikes along shingle sands and being out in the ocean being chucked around the place. It is more physical than you might think actually. And I walk all around London every day to meetings, I won't get a cab. I cover many miles every day just walking around so I do get some exercise. And the waistline never seems to change, which is not bad is it really for somebody who by reputation spends all day in the pub. You actually pop in somewhere for a quick pint and The Daily Mail thinks you are in the pub for 10 hours."
Obviously, you have been through some traumatic events such as the plane crash and battling testicular cancer in your twenties. Has all this helped to craft your optimistic and carefree approach to politics?
"Definitely. Live for the day because you never know what is coming around the corner. And don't get old and regret you didn't try and do things. We all have moments where we get upset privately where you think 'bloody hell, what's all this about' but generally when you have been through a few bad experiences in life it helps to be quite level headed really."
UKIP has been gaining support across parts of the country among working class voters hit by austerity measures. But how would these people be better off under a UKIP administration that pursued lower taxes for the most affluent, a downgraded welfare state and fewer workplace protections for employees thanks to the reduction in Brussels 'red tape'?
"Well, firstly, fewer protections in the workplace will mean more jobs. The American experience proved that clearly and there is certainly room for that. There would be more work and more demand. We have got one million youngsters unemployed. If our small companies were freed from some of the excesses of employment regulation, then a lot more of those young people would be in jobs. That's a definite way that we will help people.
"Secondly, the key to UKIP's tax policy since 2006 has been simply that there will be no tax on the minimum wage. We want to encourage those on benefits to get back to work and for it to be worthwhile to do so in terms of being better off."
Yes but the problem with that argument is that the spiralling costs of consumer goods, utilities and property mean those on a minimum wage just cannot afford to live.
"There are some huge problems with housing and so on. I am not pretending we can wave a magic wand and change everything but I am saying that we would have a British government that actually wants to put the interests of ordinary working people first. That hasn't happened for a very long time in my view."
You have been very critical of the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. So who would you like to see get the top EU jobs next year when they depart?
"It would be lovely to think that somebody Eurosceptic would get in. All I ask next time around is for somebody that understands and believes that the nation state is the right building block. If we got that, it would be a huge step forward. Both these guys at the moment want to abolish the nation state. As such, they are running against the tide of history and the tide of what is happening all over the world – as the world breaks up into smaller units. I will be watching very carefully."
And what do you think of Tony Blair's call for an elected EU president and would you stand just to subvert the very idea of it?
"Who is going to give us a list to elect from? Barroso claims to be elected but we were presented with a choice of one candidate. It's farcical. Let's see what they propose. They could have democratised the EU at the time of the constitution. They could have radically changed the perception of the whole thing. They chose not to do so. It's a bit late now."