If you've got election fatigue, spare a thought for the beleaguered staff of United Kingdom Press Industry Media Events – shortened to UKIP Media Events – who have spent the last six weeks batting off the angry telephone calls of people who want to hector Nigel Farage and his immigrant-bashing mates.
Just to be clear: UKIP Media Events – in fact pronounced "U.K.I.P. Media Events" – is an independent events company that finds itself in the unfortunate position of sharing a name with a political party that a lot of people hate. It is not the wing of UKIP that organises the election rallies, golliwog raffles and debates about how to best save children from the gays.
It's a bit like a story I once heard: in the late-2000s, when the British National Party was reaching its zenith, someone from the City of London branch of French bank BNP Paribas called up a Brick Lane curry house to book a team meal, only to have the phone slammed down when he told them the name to put the booking under. "Is that the Raj, Brick Lane? Yeah, table for 12 please. It's for a party from BNP... Hello? Hello?"
I called up Tony Robinson, the CEO of UKIP Media Events, to find out what's it's like being the boss of a company that's easily confused with a political party that definitely isn't racist, but just so happens to attract a lot of very racist people.
VICE: Hi Tony, how are you?
Tony Robinson, CEO of UKIP Media Events: I'm alright. What am I going to be able to do for you, do you think?
Well, you're CEO of UKIP Media Events. I was wondering, do you actually pronounce it "Ukip"?
No, you don't. I'm the founder and the CEO and chairman, or whatever. I gave myself the most important job title I could think of, at the end of the day. It's a company I set up in 1991. We're 24 years down the road.
Yes. The origin of the name is that, in the early days, the company was known as "UK International Press". We publish business-to-business magazines, which have global circulations to specialised audiences. Then I started building exhibitions around 1997. I used to find I'd be getting on the stage, opening conferences and saying to people, "I'm the CEO of UK International Press," and I could see people thinking, 'Well, that's a bit strange – what is he doing here?' So that meant I changed the name to UKIP Media Events. And you'll notice we don't call it "Ukip", but "U.K.I.P."
So, some years later, of course, Farage and co popped up, which is fairly annoying of them, really [laughs].
Maybe UKIP should change their name.
I think Nigel Farage, being a fairly arrogant sort of chap, is hardly likely to change the name of his political party. We've put signs on the website that say we're not a political organisation, and we've got signs on the front door of the office saying the same.
Has anyone ever mistaken you for the political party?
About four weeks ago we had a woman who desperately tried to burst into the building 'cause she was absolutely convinced that Nigel Farage was in occupation.
Was she a UKIP fan?
I don't think so, judging from what I heard. I could try to wear a dark green coat and pretend to be the same person.
So has that been a big problem – people trying to get in or calling the office?
I wouldn't called it a "big" problem. But, obviously, the more we've been getting closer to the general election, the more people have been phoning the switch phone demanding to speak to members of UKIP. My team just told them we had nothing to do with them. I think quite a few people don't believe that, to begin with.
When I called the office the secretaries seemed pretty used to it.
Yeah, but you will probably notice they answer the phone saying, "U.K.I.P Media Events".
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So are you pleased that the campaign is coming to an end then? You might be able to get some respite.
Yes. I should think we're all pleased. Whether we'll get respite or not, though, [I don't know]. We have been fielding calls for the political party for, I don't know, seven or eight years. The intensity of them has been much greater as the election kicks in.
Has it been largely complimentary calls, or Farage-haters?
I think most of them have been people just wanting to be rude.
I actually have a few race and rally cars. Last year we took one up to Birmingham and places like Donnington race circuit. In that car we had UKIP Media Events stickers, as well as other stuff. By the time it got sort of north of Watford it was beginning to get abuse hurled at it. It was annoying, really, because the people who were in the car were perfectly innocent. People were giving "finger-based" gesticulations, you know.
Has it been a problem for the brand and for the business at all?
No, not really. Our brand – our magazine names and show names... If I asked you who published Auto Trader magazine you probably wouldn't know.
I can tell you it's Haymarket. It's the same with us. Our headline name – it's important in our industry, but per se, it doesn't really matter.
Is there anything that would convince you to change the name? Like if UKIP did something really, unbelievably atrocious?
I think we can keep on differentiating ourselves from the political party. I don't see any particular reason why I should change my name – I was there first.
We did have somebody contact us about two months ago, and the person was an ex-head of security, offering to provide us some protection during the lead-up to the general elections. He said, "People in Dorking do think you're the political party." So that's when I put up signs on the door saying we're not a political organisation. But I've never met Nigel Farage – I don't particularly intend to try to. I probably never will.
Do you mind telling me your thoughts on the political party?
I think he could do a bit of research on the history of immigration, and on the effects it has on economies generally, before putting up his anti-immigration policy. If you have a look at the effects in Australia in the 19th century – Australia's economy was very much built on immigration. That is also true of America. Immigration has been hugely beneficial in both cases. I would say the probability in the UK is that the upside of immigration is probably greater than any downside.
Okay. Thanks, Tony.
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