Is 23-year-old Joe Jenkins the next Nigel Farage?
An interview with the man who ran UKIP’s Youth Wing for years
I’m waiting outside City Hall for Joe Jenkins, former chairman of Young Independence, the youth branch of UKIP, and current National Press Officer for UKIP.
Joe is a leading young light in a party that has just achieved it’s raison d’être, for Britain to leave the European Union, and we’ve been tracking him for a while. I’m here to find out what the future holds for the party and for the people who will be at the forefront of it.
Eventually, one of the only men in a suit who is under the age of 30 emerges from City Hall and it’s Joe. The 23-year-old who graduated from Dundee strides over purposefully and invites me back up to their office, used because they have two London Assembly members. After putting my bag through airport security at the door and being guided past an inexhaustible number of civil servants, I’m standing in a UKIP office.
It’s odd standing in an office that UKIP use in an official capacity to help govern the country. It’s by no means large, five people work in it, but they are all still obviously on the high that was delivered to them by the EU referendum result. To some extent, UKIP have arrived. However that makes you feel, it’s hard to escape that fact.
Gauging the atmosphere of the office, Joe’s extreme youth is an anomaly. Twitter accounts lie open on computer screens, presumably Joe manages the output of official channels and monitors the messages being sent out by the party’s more colourful characters. There are a couple of stereotypical ‘kippers lurking around, but the youthful presence of Joe makes opening up the UKIP machine and having a look inside a less alarming experience, it’s a bit strange.
Joe says that his Mum “always said I was very headstrong” and thinks that this is the root of his interest and subsequent involvement in politics. He had joined the Liberal Democrats when he was 15: “I thought they were a very progressive movement, they were going to give us free tuition fees,” but ultimately he felt let down and became disillusioned. “It was in their manifesto and they did the opposite.”
Joe resumed his political life up in Scotland when he went to university and was dismayed at the lack of campaigning around the time of the Scottish referendum for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. His organisation, United Kingdom United, became very popular and started collaborating with the Conservatives, Lib Dems and UKIP. From there he became Chairman for Young Independence in Scotland and then the whole of the UK, being invited to become more and more involved in the party, until he received a phone call from someone high up in UKIP who Joe won’t name as he’s no longer in the party. “At the time he was quite high up, picking candidates and everything and he said, ‘We want you to run against Nick Clegg.'”
He’s referring to when he ran against Nick Clegg in 2015’s general election. Joe says he wasn’t sure if he could do it. Around the same time he lost a close friend of his from university, “which was very hard, and I thought my chance was gone.” It wasn’t. Already juggling a full time job in London, also working as a political assistant in Essex, and writing his dissertation, Joe added to that list trying to become an elected MP. “I wrote my dissertation on a train. Probably why I didn’t do so well in it, but I still got a 2:1. Nick Clegg managed to hold the seat for the Lib Dems, with 40 per cent of the vote and Joe came fourth with 6.4 per cent. However, from there it took off. After that you are noticed.”
Joe recalls working with Diane James, who is now running for leader, and then moving on to talk about working on the Oldham campaign and how he managed to rent a house for everyone on the campaign to stay in that he describes as “a cesspit. Oh god it was awful.”
Then he came back to London and soon he had been asked to be a national press officer for the party, working closely with Nigel Farage on the london elections and also the EU referendum. “I’m only 23, and I’m feeling very accomplished in my political life.”
I start to wonder whether UKIP became a vehicle with which Joe would be able to work hard and achieve something, especially given his early disappointments with the Liberal Democrats and then having to do it on his own campaigning during the Scottish Referendum. “My politics was originally the driving force, but then I think it’s the development of a sort of family unit.”
“I don’t want to leave politics, certainly not for a while. At some point I definitely need to go and get a real job.
“What these people have given me, I hope I’ve managed to prove at times that that decision was right. It’s all about the politics though. If tomorrow my services were no longer needed I’d still be hugely supportive.
“I do have strong opinions on many issues but as a press officer it is difficult to talk about some of them because it’s not your role to question.”
What are some of these strong beliefs? “I believe in a strong, cultural identity here in Britain. I believe we’re scared here in Britain at the moment, we’re terrified of our own shadow. We’ve got an apologetic nation coming up with these social justice warriors, we’re apologising for everything, I mean for goodness sake, safe spaces, I mean give me a break.
“I’m a 23-year-old bloke, if you see another 23-year-old bloke in a safe space you’re thinking what are you doing? What happened to this generation. Democracy, freedom of speech, these are all core values of Britishness.” Joe speaks his frustration of being shut down and vilified at every turn. “They’re [the left] allowed to say what they want but you start talking about certain issues and they will berate you and say anything that tries to negate it.”
“We won, Brexit won, against all the fear and the scare.” Joe then turns his attention to a number of societal remedies that he prescribes, “We seem to be too complacent in our middle-class lovey world and we haven’t experienced hardship in the way that are forefathers have, we’ve been mollycoddled and hugged and loved too much.”
He rattles through a list:
“Tony Blair has destroyed the university culture but apparently we’re still advocating that everybody should go.
“Society seems to look down on people who are joiners, plumbers but the funny thing is that plumbers are making more money than people who leave university.
“Anti-semitism is rife within the NUS and the left is rife with anti-semitism and they veil it under this idea of anti-zionism. I am sorry, it is rubbish. Her [NUS President Malia Bouattia] political views are abhorrent and disgusting.”
Some of Joe’s ideas don’t seem as extreme as I’d expected, the rhetoric is toned down from what we are used to hearing from UKIP. I ask whether he thinks it’s easier, or becoming easier to be associated with UKIP.
“Maybe it’s because I am quite brash, but I’ve never really found a huge problem with it. I mean for goodness sake I started in Dundee, you can’t get much worse than that city for not liking us.
“No, I think it is getting easier, especially with Brexit. The majority of people in the UK voted for what UKIP’s message was, and I do think it was UKIP’s message that won the day. Half of the population voted for what we were selling. The lines that we put out regarding democracy, controlling our borders, immigration, these were the things that resonated with the working man on the street.
“I’m sorry, Bob down the street who is a builder has much more at stake because he doesn’t know when his next contract is going to come through.”
I ask if it feels weird that he has to apologise for sticking up for ‘Bob from down the street. He says it does, and that to some extent their filling the vacuum left by the Labour party. He sees the future of UKIP being unashamedly populist and right-wing. “We care about the NHS and we want to keep the NHS. I think we should also have conversations about re-nationalisation of certain things.”
Then the conversation turns to the topic of Nigel Farage.
“What’s Nigel like?”
“He’s a great guy.”
“I spent a long time with Nigel but I worked with him. He’s a very good boss, very kind and he knows exactly what he wants. I’ve never seen a man more politically astute in my life. Whenever he gets a bad feeling and says don’t do something you know not to do it. In an interview or something he’s just got this unbelievable knack of knowing.”
Joe tells me about the vacuum left behind by Farage. His days as a national press officer used to be filled with ‘Nigel stuff’ but now as a department they are “kind of in limbo.” As the interview takes place, the rest of the office are standing just outside huddled round a television watching the Olympics. Is Joe the man to fill that void? He’s equally charismatic, probably believes in everything UKIP stand for, and he doesn’t have a terrible moustache growing outside of Movember.
The interview finishes with a quick word about Brexit. “It’s essential we’re still around, it’s essential we’re still banging the drum for Brexit. Brexit means Brexit. If Brexit doesn’t mean Brexit we’re in trouble.”
Joe escorts me out of the building and thanks me for coming down. UKIP seem less scary now I’ve met them. Yes, so much of the things that they’ve said, done and put on posters, is horrifying. However, here we have a young person, someone who probably has more in common with me in terms of converging points of reference than many of his fellow party members, who felt abandoned by the established political sphere.
Maybe in ten years time Joe Jenkins will be a household name, appearing on the 6 o’clock news everyday like Nigel Farage did. Or maybe he will have gone off and got himself a ‘proper job’.