Meet The Man Behind Brexit: An Interview With Dr. Alan Sked

Meet The Man Behind Brexit: An Interview With Dr. Alan Sked

Meet The Man Behind Brexit: An Interview With Dr. Alan Sked

GRI sat down with Dr. Alan Sked to discuss his founding of UKIP (UK Independence Party), why he became a Eurosceptic and advice for the next generation of public servants. Dr. Sked founded UKIP as a centrist, progressive and tolerant party but left when he believed the party was moving towards the far right of politics.

Dr. Alan Sked is an Emeritus Professor of International History at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a world renowned historian on the Habsburg Empire. Dr. Sked received his D. Phil at Oxford University, having been supervised by the famed historian AJP Taylor.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

GRI: What motivated you to enter into politics & what led you to start UKIP?

Dr. Sked: I became involved in politics in my mid teens. I was by then already a great enthusiast for all things historical. I had excellent history teachers at school and I suppose politics was seen by me as just contemporary history. Besides, although I was brought up in a conventionally pro-Labour, working class (council) household, my maternal grandfather was an outspoken contrarian who voiced different views and my scholarships to a private school in Glasgow gave me access to other views as well. However, the emergence of television and TV political programmes made me aware of Jo Grimond, the charismatic Liberal leader who led a Liberal revival in the 1960s. I was sufficiently impressed by him to join the Scottish Liberal Party. I even campaigned for David Steel in 1965 at the famous Roxborough, Selkirk and Peebles by-election, which he won.

I stuck with the Liberals and became Chairman of Glasgow University Liberal Club, President of the Association of Scottish Liberal Students and Treasurer of the Scottish League of Young Liberals. I even hosted Grimond at Glasgow University.

After I moved on to do my D.Phil. at Oxford, I was asked to stand as a Liberal candidate in Paisley at the general election of February 1974, which I did. I was only 23 and I lost my first deposit there. But once again, I had fun.

I grew disillusioned with the Liberals and left them when they coalesced with the SDP to form the Liberal Democrats. I was by then becoming a Eurosceptic and loathed their ideological Eurofederalism. I was much more sympathetic to Mrs. Thatcher in her growing battle with the EU and by then I had become head of the interdepartmental, postgraduate European Studies M.Sc. programme at the LSE. This I built up into the largest of any UK university. I headed it for a decade from 1981-1991, taught the domestic and foreign policies of the major European countries, selected the student body from around the globe, marked thousands of master’s dissertations and exams and co-chaired LSE’s European Research Seminar. By 1989, I had concluded that British membership of the EU was mad. The body was, in my opinion, clearly bureaucratic, undemocratic and profligate. It brought us no benefits and wasted our money. For example, at one seminar a leading EU bureaucrat said roadbuilding in member states would have to be determined by the Commission since ‘all roads must lead to Brussels!’

Hence I became a founder member of the Bruges Group set up by Oxford and LSE academics to promote the principles outlined in Mrs. Thatcher’s famous Bruges speech of 1988. Soon I was the leading polemicist and pamphleteer of the Group, which became the country’s leading think tank. I became a public figure.

One of my Bruges Group pamphlets, entitled ‘Cheap Excuses’ revealed that, despite what the German Government said, the German constitution provided no reason for not sending troops to fight in the First Gulf War. Needless to say, this ruffled some feathers. Later a German ambassador shouted at me: ‘I know who you are Dr. Sked. I know everything about you.’

In any case relations between the Bruges Group and the German Government never recovered. The lowest point came when I threw a German foreign policy adviser out of my office at the LSE. He wouldn’t listen to a word I said, despite supposedly having come to hear my views.

By the end of the Gulf War Mrs. Thatcher had been replaced by John Major. Quickly dissenting from her agenda, he went to Germany proclaiming that Britain’s future ‘lies in the heart of Europe.’

The writing was on the wall. I was convinced that with Major in No. 10, the Bruges Group could no longer advance the cause of Euroscepticism. Moreover, there was now the Maastricht Treaty to fight. So I concluded that only a new political party could put enough pressure on the Tories to make them take us out of Europe. Hence I founded the Anti-Federalist League (AFL) in the autumn of 1991.

The AFL contested the 1992 election and two by-elections in 1993. But since its name confused people (it harked back to the Anti-Corn Law League of the 1840s which converted the Tory prime minister, Sir Robert Peel from protectionism to free trade), we changed it in the autumn of 1993 to UKIP. This laid down in its membership form that it had no prejudices against foreigners or ethnic minorities of any kind and that it would not take up seats in the European Parliament. Things changed after 1997 when I resigned the leadership.

What are the positives of Britain leaving the European Union?

Dr. Sked: The main positive benefit of leaving the EU is the restoration of British national sovereignty. We are once more a self-governing country with an elected government accountable for policy to the British people alone and if dissatisfied the people can dismiss that government in a general election. It was not possible at European elections to change European government or policy. Again, under EU membership, European directives and regulations approved by majority vote, over British objections, were rubber stamped by Westminster without any debate as delegated legislation. That no longer applies. Nor do we have to annually hand over net contributions of billions of pounds £ (£11.0 billion in 2018) to unelected foreign bureaucrats to make up laws that, in my opinion, are designed to ruin us (such as the Common Agriculture Policy, Common Fisheries Policy and others; fortunately we never joined the euro.)

In short, we have become a normal self-governing democracy. True, there are still problems which have yet to be addressed,    particularly with regard to some of the finer details concerning Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, the major objective of Brexit has been achieved.

Economically, Covid has obscured the picture. Yet, the catastrophe predicted by the Remainers has not happened and we are the fastest growing economy in the G7. The City is flourishing. We have seen those two giants of European capitalism– Unilever and Royal Dutch Shell – move from the Netherlands to London. Royal Dutch Shell has even removed ‘Royal Dutch’ from its name. Finally, we have signed approximately seventy free trade agreements around the world, including rollover or continuity deals. This is a triumph as the dominant media narrative assured us that advancement of this scale would take decades.

Is there any advice you could provide young people looking to enter politics – perhaps any qualities they should be looking to develop or certain realities to keep in mind?

Dr. Sked: My advice to a young person entering politics — qualities to develop and realities to bear in mind.

Perhaps I should start with a quote from Lord Salisbury, the Tory prime minister – when asked what advice he would give to a young person who wanted to do good in the world, he replied: ‘Be prepared for a life of bitter disappointment.’ My own history refutes this. My political career involved co-founding the Bruges Group and then founding the AFL which became UKIP in order to pressure the Tories into leaving the European Union. Leaving the EU is precisely what happened. Cameron called a referendum under pressure and Brexit was achieved. So I feel I have been a success. And, as a result, I am far from being disappointed.

So what qualities should an aspiring politician cultivate? Well, honesty first and foremost, especially honesty with oneself. This entails realism. And it inspires trust in others. Self-deprecation and a sense of humour often follow. Both are absolutely     necessary. These in turn bring resilience, equally necessary since few things in politics are achieved quickly. Tools of the trade to acquire include eloquence, a good memory, a quick wit, good manners and a care not to be long-winded. A Conservative politician once gave me the advice to always  turn up at a meeting fifteen minutes late, and without having used the toilet. This would ensure both a sense of audience anticipation and the inability to talk for too long.

Realities to bear in mind include the fact that not only opponents will scrutinise your every word but so too will your rivals inside your own party. The latter will be more determined to pull you down since your success prevents or postpones theirs.
One final word of advice. To be successful you need a convincing narrative to support your candidacy. You must have an intellectually convincing case to which temporary disputes can cohere.

What was your proudest moment (s) in public service?

Dr. Sked: Founding and leading a political party, co-founding and dominating the country’s leading think tank. Also, losing the arch-federalist Chris Patten his seat at Bath in 1992 , thus preventing him succeeding Major as prime minister. In my view, had he succeeded, we would have joined the euro. (I played a role in him losing him the election by forcing him to declare publicly that he would not apologise for the poll tax, not by the few votes I gained. ) Coming fourth behind the three major parties in two highly contested by-elections (19 candidates at Newbury!) in 1993 thus allowing the AFL to survive and become UKIP.

Building up a national organisation for UKIP through the grind of founding one constituency party after another, drawing up intellectually coherent policies on a wide range of topics (but not immigration, not seen by me as contentious), drawing up a national constitution and party rule book, acquiring a party headquarters in Regent St., thus bequeathing to my successors the full organisation of a modern political party. It was no small achievement. Indeed it is unique in British politics. It was possible only because as a respected academic and public figure through the Bruges Group, I had the necessary public and political credibility. No one else could have done it. No one else has.

– Edited by Rachael Rhoades, Editor in Chief

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