Tim Aker, head of the party's policy unit, takes Prospect through their "blue collar" election platformby Jay Elwes / August 20, 2014 / Leave a comment
Tim Aker is the UK Independence Party MEP for the Eastern Counties and the prospective parliamentary candidate for Thurrock in Essex. He is also a keen amateur darts player. “I got the highest checkout [closing three dart score] of the season last year—161,” says Aker, who complains that he has trouble finding the time to play.
These targeting abilities will be of substantial use in his position as head of the Ukip Policy Unit, in charge of writing the party’s manifesto. He spoke exclusively to Prospect about Ukip’s policies and how it plans to position itself in the run up to the general election.
“We’re beyond left-right, authoritarian-libertarian—those arguments are for university [common rooms],” says Aker. “Our people want to know how we’re going to make their lives easier, simpler and how they can just get on and feel more comfortable. That’s it. It’s a blue-collar platform, but for people that want to aspire to achieve absolutely anything.
“We want to take low earners out of income tax altogether. No tax on the minimum wage,” says Aker, though national insurance contributions will not be reduced. Ukip will also go into the next election promising to increase to £45,000 the point at which the 40p rate of income tax begins, a policy that Aker says will “stop George Osborne’s fiscal drag for middle earners.”
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And the top rate? “Abolish it,” says Aker. Above the 40p rate, there will be “no further rates,” he says. “We are for flatter, simpler and lower taxes.” When challenged that this might be regressive, Aker says: “On the inequality point—you don’t just deal with that through the tax system. You’ve got to look at making sure that poor kids can get the best education.” Ukip’s manifesto will put down plans for a “complete skills review.”
Aker says that the party is determined to reduce the deficit; the manifesto will outline substantial Whitehall cuts. “Foreign aid is an obvious target,” he says. The party is also committed to the abolition of the Climate Change Act, which he estimates costs Britain £18bn a year. “We are looking to shrink the Department for Energy & Climate Change,” he says, adding that, “there are elements of BIS [Business, Innovation and Skills] that we are looking into.” The plans to shrink these departments will be independently reviewed, though “not by the OBR [Office for Budget Responsibility], even though they are likely to tear it to pieces anyway.”
Aker adds that “there will be a Veterans Department to bring all of the different support organisations under one roof.” This, he says, would ensure “that veterans’ care can be fully supported and we will be outlining at conference policies what the Veterans’ Department will be actively doing.” Ukip’s conference will be held in Doncaster, Ed Miliband’s constituency.
On welfare, Ukip supports the benefit cap, wants child benefit confined to two children and is “firmly against the bedroom tax.” The party’s overall approach to welfare payments is based on the contributory principle and, according to Aker, the manifesto will say that “new migrants to this country will not be eligible for any welfare benefits until they have been paying tax and national insurance for five years.”
“There will be an offer for people who have paid into the pot and find themselves for a considerable amount of time unemployed—higher jobseekers’ allowance.” He adds, “We are prioritising people who work and pay into the pot instead of people who have made a living out of having children so that they can get more benefits and a bigger house.”
On new immigrants accessing public services, Aker says that “a condition of entry to Britain [will be to] have health insurance that the NHS recognises. Show your passport, show your medical insurance—simple.” On immigration, “we’d be more like Australia,” he says. “If you come here to do a job, that’s fantastic. But you must contribute more than you take out. You must show that you have been working in that profession for 12 of the last 24 months, that you can speak English and that you won’t need tax credits.” In addition, “we will have a plan to increase the strength of the border force,” an area he believes “needs to become a government priority.”
How does this sit with Britain’s need to attract foreign investment? If Ukip intends to limit foreigners’ access to Britain, will it also limit investment from overseas? “There is a discussion going on about whether foreign governments have the right to buy up stakes in our national assets and national resources,” he says. “There’s lots of concern that so much energy is controlled by foreign governments and without saying ‘we are not open for business’ we want to redress that balance… It’s an ongoing debate. You’ll see the conclusion of it in the manifesto.”
Aker also outlined Ukip’s plans to introduce what he terms a “direct democracy” mechanism, allowing the public to organise petitions which, if successful, could result in national referendums. Again, he says, details will follow in the manifesto.
This emphasis on the individual recurs in Ukip’s sceptical view of giving powers to intelligence services, a wariness made more acute by the passing in July of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, which Aker says was “rushed through” parliament. “I am appalled at that,” he says, saying that Ukip will insist on a “complete review of it and the rebalancing of what level of intervention the security services can have in our lives.”
Ukip has looked into public sector pensions: “I have, and then got very scared and ran away.” After a few moments, Aker adds that: “We haven’t looked into it.” He is clear, however, that Ukip will not suggest an increase in the retirement age.
As a policy offering, it is cannily composed. Tax cuts and climate scepticism will appeal to the right, the abolition of the bedroom tax and better vocational training to the left. But will it amount to anything? Ukip came first in the European parliamentary elections in May with 27.5 per cent, but it is currently only registering around 12 per cent in polls for the general election. In private, Ukip officials estimate that the party will win between three and six seats in Parliament—its first ever. Of these, Aker’s target seat in Thurrock, and Nigel Farage’s in Thanet South, Kent, are seen as two of its best opportunities.
In the aftermath of the European elections, Aker addressed a group of Ukip supporters. He told them: “We have got two elections to change this country,” first the European elections, and then the General. And of those two elections, “we have won one of them.”