INTERVIEW | Olly Neville
Olly Neville, former chairman of the Youth Independent (YI), UKIP’s youth organisation was unceremoniously fired in January for expressing his support for gay marriage on the World at One programme on BBC Radio 4.
Following his sacking, Mr Neville claimed UKIP was “on the wrong side of history” on gay marriage and proceeded to publicise on Twitter emails that were sent him by party leaders.
The Gay UK chats with Mr Neville about his sacking, UKIP and what it is like to be catapulted into the media spotlight.
Why did you first join UKIP?
I joined UKIP because I am a libertarian, and they are a self-described libertarian party. UKIP’s manifesto had a few decent policies – flat taxes, low regulation, tax cuts for the poorest, mainly economic things whereas most other party’s manifestos were dire at best. When I joined their policy on issues like Equal Marriage was a free vote. I thought UKIP were what they said they were, genuinely libertarian leaning, a party that genuinely wanted to shrink the state, and supported internal debate as Nigel Farage (leader of UKIP) said it did. I never realised I would be quite so wrong.
What was your first formal position within the party?
I first was elected Young Independence Elections officer in around August 2011, I went on to become Social Media Director in March 2012.
When were you first elected to the role of Youth Chair?
I was elected November/December time.
How long did you hold the position?
About a month.
What are your reasons for supporting gay marriage?
Ideally, I would like to see marriage de-nationalised or privatised – so no state involvement at all. However that option is not on the table, if the state is going to be involved at all it should do it equally. I see no legitimate reason why the rights of one group in society should be denied. Simply put I have found no good arguments against equal marriage, whereas there are many very good reasons – equality of opportunity, equality before the law, the state having no right to interfere in agreements between two consenting partners etc. Sexual orientation is no basis to deny people access to marriage. If two people want to get married and a religion or a venue is happy to let them do so then no one has any right to stand in their way.
Why do you think UKIP have adopted an anti-gay marriage stance?
In my eyes their opposition is pure political opportunism. They changed the policy to oppose equal marriage because they thought they could win votes. They wanted to woo angry socially conservative members off the Tories, and get some headlines. Being the only significant party to oppose Equal Marriage beside the BNP was also sure to get UKIP media attention. It’s not a principled stand it’s a short-term grab for votes and attention.
How did you respond to that policy being decided and what stopped you from leaving the party?
At the time I was on the Young Independence Council – the executive of the youth wing. Pretty much everyone on it opposed the policy and disagreed with it. YI is a lot more socially liberal than the main party. I opposed it but being in UKIP you put up with a lot of nonsense policies – the immigration one for example or the idea that we need to double the military budget. Young growing parties have teething stages and bad policies come in. I didn’t realise that UKIP were going to make the policy quite so central, indeed I didn’t realise that until the party chairman angrily emailed me telling me how central the policy was after my interview. That was shocking, I hadn’t expected UKIP to try and win so much political capital out of actively denying rights to minorities. I didn’t leave because the youth wing was still very sensible, the future of the party as I saw it were behind equal marriage, let the angry social cons have their day for now.
Did you anticipate the reaction you had from party leaders after the comments you made on the BBC?
No, the interview with the BBC was about 10-15 minutes long and mainly about the growth of YI. The comments on equal marriage were not a central part of the interview. But even so I didn’t think UKIP would go quite so crazy, after all Nigel Farage talks about legalising drugs, Paul Nuttall talks about bringing back the death penalty etc, Nigel had said that he believed in free speech in the party and indeed the UKIP party rule book states officers are allowed to voice their own opinions. I didn’t think they’d agree but I never expected so much vitriol.
What made you tweet the emails you had from party leaders?
When it got leaked that I had been fired for supporting equal marriage there was quite a reaction. Whenever people criticise or go against UKIP their equivalent of the SNP’s ‘cyber-nats’ come out in force on Twitter to attack those that disagree, usually quite passionately and aggressively. There were all sorts of defences used by UKIP’s online members. The emails from the party Chairman show quite clearly why I was fired. I tweeted them to provide clarity.
Do you regret having done so?
Not at all, I wanted everyone to see why I had been removed, for standing up for something I believe in.
How did it feel when your fellow colleagues’ resigned in protest over your sacking?
It was actually really unexpected. I’d felt pretty isolated when getting bombarded with angry emails from party higher ups so when suddenly a load of people said that they were leaving too it was nice to know that I was supported, that other people who could look at the situation objectively found the parties treatment of me beyond the pale as well. Many of the people who left I already really respected within UKIP and YI and so for so many of the parties young ‘big hitters’ to leave at the same time really made me realise that it was good to take a stand on your principles as people would respect you for it. The fact so many people left from high up in YI that the council has had to shut down until the next elections really spoke volumes about how wide the gap in opinion as between ‘old’ UKIP and the Youth Wing.
Are you still a member of UKIP?
Do you belong to another political party?
No, I am done with compromising. Being in UKIP was a huge compromise that ultimately blew up. I would rather stick to my principles than toe party lines. The way UKIP changed its view on gay rights just to win over a few angry Tories and get a few more points in opinion polls really hammered home how principles have no place in politics and no party really has any. UKIP are like all the others, willing to sell out for a sniff of power. I don’t want to be in anything like that.
What is your view on the Conservative party’s pledge to leave the European Court of Human Rights?
I’m Eurosceptic but Europe and the EU has never been a high priority of mine, just like it isn’t a high priority of most of the electorate. As an anarchist I’m not a fan of any centralised bodies, be it EU, ECHR, UN etc but there are so many much bigger issues in my opinion. It’s a bit of a sideshow to the real issues but that’s what a lot of politics is.
Has the UKIP sacking had an effect you personally or professionally?
Not hugely, obviously it catapulted my name into the media for a few days, which was a bit weird. Finding my picture in the metro on my way to work was a bit of a double take moment. I had a lot of people – former employers and friends I hadn’t talked to for a while contacted me to congratulate me on taking a stand. I also got a lot of positive feedback on the Internet, apart from the UKIP tribalists obviously. Strangely no one at my work seems to have realised it happened, it was my second day at a new job when it came out and my phone didn’t stop ringing the whole time.
Do you think UKIP’s strong showing in the Eastleigh by-election demonstrates public support for UKIP’s position on same-sex marriage?
With pretty much every poll showing overwhelming public support for Same Sex Marriage I doubt it. People vote on big issues like the economy, welfare, education. UKIP wins votes because it positions itself as an anti politics party. It’s anti establishment, anti that notion of corrupt careerist MP’s. I think UKIP does very well setting itself up as a party for the disillusioned and the angry, not just those angry at politics in general but those from former parties who feel let down – whether its Labour for deserting the working man, the Tories from deserting ‘right wing principles’ or the Lib Dems for deserting civil liberties. UKIP promises all things to all people – its un-costed Manifesto promising £600bn in spending cuts but only outlining about £40bn in spending increases demonstrates that.