SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW POLITICS
Suzanne Evans speaks to The Huffington Post about being unsacked, Nigel Farage's unresignation, Ukip's disappointing general election, why she wants to work with Owen Jones, why Jeremy Corbyn is like Farage and why she wants George Osborne to succeed David Cameron
As author of a well received manifesto and poised to take over as Ukip leader, Suzanne Evans had a good general election. It did not last. Engulfed in the internal party spasm that followed Nigel Farage's decision to go back on his promise to quit, the unresignation, Evans was forced to deny she was part of a coup against him. A TV appearance also cost her, briefly, the job of media spokesperson. She was sacked. And then unsacked.
The post-election period was not exactly a PR victory for Ukip. "No. No it wasn't," Evans, Ukip's deputy chairman, agrees, adding with a laugh: "We have put some new words in the dictionary."
A good performer and Ukip's most high profile woman, Evans was all over the television screens during the election. "Sometimes not for the right reasons", she jokes. Her observation on the BBC's Daily Politics that Farage was perceived as "divisive" by some people got her into a lot of trouble. An internal party directive was issued that she be cut loose. And the email ordering party officials to sever ties with Evans was leaked. The next day however, this was reversed.
Evans' point that not everyone in the country likes Farage was one he had made himself at a press conference just a day earlier."It was so silly," she says of the row. "Nigel had said it himself. It was all a bit bizarre. It was just stupidity in the pressure cooker atmosphere after the election."
She laughs about it now, but it is clear the internal-briefings against her must have stung. "People were meddle-making. I believe that phone calls were made to the press alleging I had said things on that programme that I didn't," she says. But Evans does not want to name the meddlers. "I don't know if I should say."
"But, I think anyone that's followed closely what has happened in Ukip over the past few months knows that there is a certain person who has been in the frame. I am told he was phoning up the press giving negative briefings that I was finished because I had said X, Y and Z when I had actually said A, B and C."
"Do you know what, I actually I had a call from a journalist who read the [leaked] email that had been sent and I just think I almost actually thought: 'this isn't going to happen'. I actually didn't quite believe it."
Evans says the one good thing that came out of the saga was that she was "astonished" and the amount of support she got. "I know that letters were written to head office. I had emails galore from people supporting me. Social media went in to meltdown," she recalls.
"You know, a lot of people were saying, 'I am a Ukip member, if Suzanne goes, I go'. I was having to write to them to say, 'please don't, I am sure it's all going to be fine'. And it was."
Evans adds: "It was nice when I was unsacked, I won't deny it."
On the morning of May 8, the day after the election, Nigel Farage resigned as Ukip leader. He had pledged to quit if he failed to get elected to parliament in South Thanet. Standing on the Kent cliffs with the English channel stretching out behind him, Farage anointed Evans as his successor.
"Nigel places a huge amount by his honour as a politician and he had said he would resign. And so he felt he had to do it. I tried to tell him not to. But he was adamant that what is what he said he would do and therefore he did it," Evans says.
"I did try and persuade him not to. But as I say, he was adamant. I was very flattered obviously. I was actually quite looking forward to doing the job for three months, which is what it would have been pretty much. But there you go, it didn't happen."
While Farage had said he was quitting. He cheekily left the door open for a return after a summer holiday. Once confirmed by the party's National Executive Committee, Evans was to be interim-leader until a proper leadership election took place. She held the post of leader-in-waiting for three days. On May 11 Farage unresigned himself. "I try not to count my chickens before they have hatched," Evans observes.
Had Farage decided after his break not stand for the leadership again, Evans indicates she would have taken on the job full time and led the party into the EU referendum campaign.
"I wouldn't have stood against Nigel. No. But if Nigel had decided not to come back for whatever reason, then possibly," she says. "Unless I decided I didn't like it in the interim three months. You never know, I might have decided I wasn't any good at the job or didn't particularly want to do it. But I certainly wouldn't have ruled it out, no."
Would Evans consider standing for leader once Farage eventually quits? "He is going on until 2030, he said the other day," she replies with a laugh. "I think I will be too old by then."
But she leaves the door open. "I would never rule it out. I never rule anything out - apart from parachuting and bungee jumping. I would never rule it out. I just don't know. I don't like to speculate on these things because there might be somebody else I would want to back."
On May 14, three days after the unresignation, an internal-Ukip war erupted into the public eye when The Times reported senior MEP Patrick O'Flynn branding Farage "snarling, thin-skinned" and "aggressive". O'Flynn lost his job as economic spokesman. Along with Ukip's only MP, Douglas Carswell, Evans was implicated in a move against Farage. As it was announced by the party she would no longer be the party's policy chief, reports of an abortive coup had to be denied.
Evans recalls: "On the same day it was reported I had been sacked, that I had resigned, that I had my contract come to an end, that I had stepped down and I had been pushed out. So there you are. The truth is my contract came to an end."
Ukip had swaggered towards election day predicting it would see several MPs elected to parliament. It was not to be. In the end just one Ukip MP, Carswell, was returned to Westminster. It was, Evans concedes, a "massive disappointment".
"We all desperately wanted to get Mark Reckless back in. We wanted to get Nigel in. We wanted to get Tim Aker in, he should have won. Lot's of other seats. It was a bitter disappointment," she says.
The only bright spot, she says, is the imbalance between the number of votes Ukip gained (3.8 million) and the number of MPs it won has shown the electoral system is "massively unfair". The SNP received 1.4 million votes but romped down to Westminster with 56 MPs.
Evans is up front about when she realised the campaign had gone wrong. "The exit poll," she remembers. "I remembered thinking about the exit poll in 2010. It was spot on. It was absolutely spot on. So I remember thinking 'my god, the one in 2010 was spot on, maybe this one is spot on as well'. It wasn't unfortunately. It was worse."
The 2015 exit poll predicted two seats for Ukip. Not just one.
At the election, Evans stood for parliament in the Shrewsbury and Atcham seat. She came third behind the incumbent Tory and Labour candidate on 14.4%. She was not expected to win.
Her analysis of what caused the overall result, an unexpected Tory majority and the failure of Ukip to breakthrough is simple enough. "I know exactly what happened. On the last Saturday before the election in Shrewsbury we had a street stall in the town centre. I was there. Three people, three postal voters who had already voted, came up to me and said, 'I just wanted to say I think you're great, I really wanted to vote for Ukip, but I voted Conservative because I can't bear to see Miliband and Sturgeon running my country'.
"That was it. It was that fear of having the hard-left Scottish nationalists who are terrifying. They are absolutely are."
If the result was the lowlight. What was the highlight. Evans struggles to come up with one. "The actual campaign? I am trying to think. I haven't really thought about it. No, I can't think of anything that is a highlight," she says.
Evans puts this difficulty down to the fact she spent most of the campaign "locked in a room at Ukip HQ" writing the manifesto. A job given to her somewhat at the last minute. There were times I was a little bit out of what was going on. It was a massive job."
"I was literally working 18-hour days. It nearly killed me, quite literally. I was exhausted," she recalls. Writing the manifesto was a high pressured job, especially given the press scrutiny it would be given following the 2010 document which even Farage famously described as "drivel". In 2010 Ukip's lengthy policy platform included the demand that taxi drivers wear uniforms and that the London underground Circle line be made back into a circle.
Evans says with pride of her 2015 effort: "The manifesto got almost universal accolades. It was a fantastic achievement. It was a long graft to get to that position. A huge amount of graft. I am very proud of it. I know I am biased but I think it was the best manifesto of the lot."
Now she has set her sights on a new challenge, bidding to become Ukip's candidate for London mayor. Again, as she admits, it is highly unlikely Londoners will elected a Ukip mayor. But she is also in the frame to be on the list to get elected as a London-wide Assembly member which uses proportional representation.
And following her job writing the general election manifesto, Evans has been asked to write one for the capital's elections. "Now I've been given a new contract to write the London mayoral and Assembly manifesto," she says. "I don't know when we will put the manifesto out, but the elections are in May."
The question of who leads Ukip may be settled for now. But the bigger struggle may be who ends up fronting the 'Out' campaign in the upcoming in/out referendum on the European Union. However Evans is exasperated with the topic.
"No that's not a question at all. I am really bored about this actually," she sighs. "It is just like before the election. I was doing wall-to-wall media interviews, we had a great manifesto, we had fabulous policies. That's what I wanted to talk about. The only question journalists were asking me was 'who are you going to go into coalition with' or 'who will you back in parliament' and frankly, what happened in the end, there was no question to answer. We wasted all those hours of broadcast time, all those masses of column inches, talking about something that didn't even come to pass.
"This is exactly the same situation now. Everyone is saying 'who is going to lead the 'Out' campaign'. The 'Out' campaign haven't even been given its formal authorisation yet by the electoral commission. It's not an issue."
But the leader of the eurosceptic movement will have a significant role in the campaign. Given her passion for Brexit, maybe Evans should do it? She roars with laughter. "I don't think that is going to happen!"
"Somebody like Nigel has been in Brussels for decades, two decades. I don't know enough about the minutia of EU legislation and if somebody pushed me a bit hard on a particular directive I would probably become unstuck," she admits.
"I could make a very good argument for the reasons why but I don't think I have enough detailed knowledge of the EU to do that and I am not a big enough figure anyway. No way."
Farage has twice warned since the election that the 'Out' campaign is slipping behind. Paralysed waiting for the results of Cameron's renegotiations in Brussels, the Ukip leader warned last week that Tory and Labour eurosceptics need to "get off their backsides".
Evans is confident voters can be convinced to vote to leave. "I think we can win this. I am absolutely convinced we can win this," she says. But she shares her leader's worries that the 'In' campaign has stolen a march. "Conservative MPs who are waiting for David Cameron's reforms actually need to come off the fence. They are sat there, they are getting splinters in their derrière. Frankly, I don't know what they are fannying about for."
In order to convince a majority of voters to choose to leave the EU, Evans says, it needs to be "a cross-party consensus campaign". The votes of Ukip supporters are not enough. "In politics there is a time for opposition, and I think Ukip has been a very effective opposition even when we have not been anywhere near parliament. But also in politics there has to come a time for consensus."
Born in 1965, Evans was too young to take part in the 1975 referendum on Britain's membership of the European Economic Community. "The wool was completely pulled over the eyes of the people at that time," she says. And she fears the same will happen again. "If we lose, it will be because we have been lied to again. I have no doubt, I don't doubt for a minute that the 'In' campaign will tell all manner of lies."
The referendum is also an existential question for Ukip, whatever the result, it could call into question party's very reason for being. Evans disagrees. If the UK votes 'Out', then Ukip will be needed "more than ever", she says. "If we leave, there are going to be people who are very nervous about what the future might hold. So Ukip in a sense will have a great role to play in easing that. Showing people the benefits. Showing people how we are actually going to leave."
Evans imagines Ukip's role of one of "hand-holding" the country through the "choppy waters" of Brexit. "It's not going to be easy whatever route we take out."
But what if, as current polls suggest, Britons vote to remain in the EU? Will Ukip accept a 'Yes' vote? "No," Evans says. "I don't think so. Ukip exists to campaign to leave the European union."
She says that just because people choose to stay in "at any one time" it does not mean Ukip will give up agitating for the country to leave - or shut up shop.
If Tory eurosceptics frustrate Evans. The emergence of a eurosceptic left, triggered by the imposition of austerity of Greece and the TTIP trade deal, excites her. She name-checks Giles Fraser, George Monbiot and Owen Jones as prominent leftwingers who have made eurosceptic noises. "These kinds of people are suddenly having the scales falling from their eyes. They are having a road to Damascus experience. It's fantastic," she grins.
Could Evans, the deputy chairman of the Ukip, see herself sitting alongside leftwing polemicist Jones on an anti-EU platform? "I'd love to," she exclaims leaning forward. "Oh god I'd love to be alongside him on the same stage. For me to be on the same side as Owen Jones against the EU... I have a lot of respect for him. I disagree with a lot of what he says and I am sure he disagrees with a lot of what I say as well, but I think the two of us working together would be fantastic."
Evans is speaking to The Huffington Post the day after Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn was greeted by hundreds of supporters at a central-London rally. The rise of the veteran leftwinger, who has made eurosceptic noises in the past, fascinates Evans. "I really watching it all with great amusement to be honest," she marvels.
And in a nod to Ukip's post-election troubles, she adds: "At least we haven't had the meltdown that the Labour Party seems to be having now as a result. Which is just astonishing. It seems to be crumbling in front of our eyes."
She explains Corbyn's popularity with the Labour grassroots: "People like conviction politicians. Even if you don't share their politics. I think there are certain people in politics, and Nigel is one of them, that stand out for standing up and being honest and saying what they believe in. And Jeremy Corbyn is clearly one of those people - one of those conviction politicians.
"In a sense he is another one that has not done much else apart from politics all his life. But he is different. People like people who are different. I think it is all terribly amusing to watch the rest of the Labour Party screaming blue murder at the fact he is gaining in popularity."
Ukip made gains across the north of England at the election and is now sitting in second place in several seats. However could a Corbyn-led Labour Party stem the Ukip tide in northern cities?
"Cobyn is interesting because some people think he would be a threat to Ukip," Evans says. "We have been taking votes in the north from Labour. People say Corbyn might well be an antidote to that. I disagree. Because look at what Corbyn believes. He has called Ukip supporters racists, he has said a lot of people who vote for us are racist. He has called people like me racist. Nice man. He doesn't believe that immigration should be controlled."
The rise of the 'authentic' candidate challenging the establishment is mirrored in the United States, where Bernie Sanders is coming at Hillary Clinton from the left in the race to be the Democratic nominee for president. And Donald Trump has leapfrogged to the front of the Republican pack - to the horror of the GOP leadership. Evans bristles at the comparison however. "Ugh, Donald Trump. Not a fan of Donald Trump. No definitely not," she says.
The migrant crisis in Calais is fuelling eurosceptisim in Britain, Evans believes. As is David Cameron's response which is "a front" and "just PR". Instead, Evans says, the army should be sent in.
"I've never liked David Cameron. I've always said he is all spin and no substance and I think this is a classic example of that man who talks the tough talk but isn't prepared to walk the tough line," she says.
"Yeah, I would want to put the army in to help keep control. I am not talking about going in guns blazing but just there as a presence to make sure."
"The way the government is operating it seems to have forgotten its first duty is to the British people. It is an absolute crisis on this side of the border as well. yeah, if it needs the Army to go into sort it out then I am for it."
Evans is scathing about the prime minister's controversial use of the word "swarm" to describe the people who have fled persecution outside Europe and have made their way to the French coast. "I think however awful and ghastly the pictures that we see are, we have to remember that these people are human and they are our fellow brothers and sisters. I think to use words like that is inappropriate, it is not a word I would use.
"I think its quite ironic that David Cameron is now sort of upping the rhetoric to try and make himself look tough but is actually not taking action and this is the same man that has criticised Ukip for using harsh language that has not gone nearly anywhere near as far as using the word 'swarm'."
Farage was among those criticising the prime minister's use of the word. Although he had himself, just hours earlier, spoken about the problem of "swarms of potential migrants".
Evans has no time for the people traffickers that are bringing migrants to Europe's shores. "These people are vile. They are evil. They are wicked. They will stop at nothing. We know they chucked people overboard. We know they killed people en-route," she says.
However she says Britain needs to launch a "counter-progaganda campaign" at European borders to tell people they are not welcome.
Evans says "you can't blame" migrants for wanting to make a better life for themselves in the UK. But adds it is "not something we can accommodate".
"We are seeing it already now with an increasing population, people in this country are starting to fall into poverty and unable to get work. So you would cure one ill by trying to help other people and you end up creating another problem here in this country."
For Evans, the English language is not a good enough reason for people to head for Britain rather than stay in the first European country they find themselves in. "If I was running in fear of my life, I'd go wherever I could and I could damn well learn to speak the language. Why wouldn't you? If you were genuinely terrified, and Isis is genuinely terrifying, why would you want to not stay where you first find safety and security?"
"Everywhere you go in the world, most people who have had an education of some sort speak English. So we can't let the whole world in for that reason."
Many Westminster observers expect David Cameron to step down as prime minister and Tory leader after his EU referendum. He has already pledged not to seek a third term in office. But Evans would rather he stayed in place for as long as possible up to 2020. "Leave it as long as you can David, you are doing us a lot of good," she says.
The most obvious successor is Bros Johnson. Evans is set to join the race to succeed him in City Hall and has some praise for him. "Personally I think Boris has made a good fist of being mayor of London," she says. There is a sting in the tail however. "But I don't think he has the personality to be prime minister himself. I think he is seen as a joker and too much of a wild card. People don't take him seriously enough. I am not sure he takes himself seriously."
And she is less than impressed with his more recent eurosceptic noises. "He changes his mind like the weather," she says scornfully. "Boris, for instance, has said he wants an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Ok. But now he is sounding vaguely eurosceptic because 'oh my gosh we might be losing a few more votes to Ukip. I better toughen up my eurosceptic credentials'. In just the same way that Cameron has done, which is why I left the Conservative Party. I don't trust any of them."
Boris could be a powerful ally for the 'Out' campaign if he jumps that way. He would be welcome, Evans says, "as long as he understands that 'No' means 'No' and if we win 'No' does mean 'No' and we are not having any second referendum thank you very much. That would be it. We want out."
Which potential Tory leader would be best for Ukip? "Oh my goodness me," Evans does not take long to answer. "George Osborne probably. I think he is very unpopular. Very unpopular. And he doesn't have..." she stops herself. "No, I am not going to bitch. It's not fair."
In a discussion about the Labour and Tory leadership as well as the emergence of a eurosceptic left, Evans bristles at the notion that she is rightwing.
"People see Ukip as being rightwing. I think that is rubbish," she insists. "I have certainly never considered myself to be rightwing. Other people have tried to hit me with that label but it is not one I accept. I think 'Left' and 'Right' is in this country, the words are totally abused and misused."
If not rightwing, what does Evans see herself as? "Well, I am in the common sense centre. I really am. On some issues I might be traditionally left on some traditionally right. I think it is about taking issues on a case by case basis. I think this rush to be in one camp or the other doesn't do politics a good service."
A glance at her Twitter feed suggests she is more often than not plugged into politics. Does she ever switch off? What does Evans do to relax? "I love entertaining, I think I am pretty good cook," she says afters some thought. And is looking forward to hosting a lunch with friends at the weekend. "I think I make the best lasagne in the world. Some of my Italian friends might disagree."
After the troubles, some might say chaos, of Ukip's post-election period, Evans concludes with a smile: "It's good to be back."