An openly gay arts enthusiast who has been a television producer, film critic and, most recently, director of the New Culture Forum think tank, Peter Whittle is often asked why he decided to become a Ukip politician.
When he answers, Whittle usually has just two words: Nigel Farage.
Speaking to City A.M. last week, Whittle says he joined Ukip in 2012 after being an “on and off” Tory because Farage was “without question the most courageous politician on the scene – I agreed with everything he said”.
Whittle, who has been Ukip’s culture spokesman for the last two years and is now standing as the party’s candidate for mayor of London, says high levels of immigration are “historically of enormous importance” and Ukip is the “only [party] being honest about it”.
Whittle says mass migration from Europe has suppressed wages and caused housing shortages in London – and the best way to address such concerns is by backing Britain leaving the EU.
“Ukip has managed finally to make the link in people’s minds between migration and membership of the EU,” Whittle says, adding, “The free movement of people means that we simply cannot control who is coming in and who is going out.
“Ukip, and certainly me, are not anti-immigration, and certainly not anti-immigrant,” he adds. “What we want is a fairer, more ethical position.”
Whittle says that if elected mayor, he would work to address the housing shortage in the capital – but says one “cannot break the link” between housing and “uncontrolled migration”.
“I’ve had arguments with people who talk about housing,” Whittle says. “They talk about the need for more housing without addressing the demand side. They talk totally about the supply side. You cannot build without knowing how many people are coming into London, into the country.”
Whittle says migration puts similar strains on social services and transport, adding it is the “responsibility of the mayor to talk about these things”.
“This is about space. It is purely about space,” he says, adding he will push for new rules giving Londoners who have lived in councils for five years or more first preference for council housing.
Whittle says he is running as a candidate for the “third party” in London, behind Labour’s Sadiq Khan and Tory Zac Goldsmith, but insists he is confident that his eurosceptic message will win him votes, especially in outer London. He adds that with Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, he expects Ukip will pick up more backing from ex-Labour voters, many of whom he says are “offended” by Corbyn’s “Britain-hating” and “anti-Western” tone. Whittle says Ukip, on the other hand, “makes no bones about being a patriotic party”.
Whittle is likewise optimistic that the eurosceptics will come out on top in the forthcoming referendum on Britain’s EU membership, saying Prime Minister David Cameron’s EU reform efforts have been “quite pathetic” while the leave campaigners “have “events and arguments on our side”.
And even though Ukip was set up to secure UK independence from the EU, Whittle insists that the party would continue even after a “leave” result as an alternative to the mainstream: “I see a long-term future for Ukip.”
“People who vote for Ukip vote for all sorts of different reasons, not just necessarily about Europe,” he says. “There is obviously an enormous disaffection with the way we have been governed, and also a huge distaste, bordering on contempt, for the political class.”