Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009

Profile: UKIP leader Lord Pearson

Lord Pearson
Lord Pearson defected from the Tories to UKIP in 2007

It is often argued that frontline politics needs more colour, that dull careerists are robbing it of any interest for most people.

In electing Lord Pearson of Rannoch as its new leader, the UK Independence Party has gone some way to rectifying that situation.

The Eton-educated insurance broker is always up for a public fight - the bigger the opponent, it seems, the better.

In his time he has declared war on, among others, Lloyd's of London, the Home Office and Marxism.

However, the foe which has taken central billing in the 67-year-old's cast of villains is the European Union.

'Head and shoulders'

For years he has railed against its inefficiencies and incursions on the UK's national sovereignty.

As leader of a party calling for withdrawal from the organisation, he should be in his element.

But he is also under some pressure.

Previous leader Nigel Farage - who stood down to contest a Westminster seat at the next general election - is a difficult act to follow.

A polished media performer, he took UKIP to second place in June's European elections, returning 13 MEPs.

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage has been an enthusiastic backer of Lord Pearson

Mr Farage has described Lord Pearson, his chosen successor, as "head and shoulders above" his four rivals in the leadership contest.

But in the bigger fight - to raise UKIP's profile in the face of opposition from the "main political parties" - he will be more David than Goliath.

Jonathan Aitken, the former Tory cabinet minister, would argue that it is a role well suited to Lord Pearson, born Malcolm Pearson in 1942.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "In my eyes, he has more moral and physical courage - and the remarkable tenacity that goes with those qualities - than anyone I have ever met short of an SAS commander.

"In my first week at Eton in 1956 I saw this tiny little boy on the football field, not only playing with skill but also tackling boys three times his size."

After school, Mr Pearson started a successful and lucrative career in the City.

Dissident groups

In 1964 he founded the insurance brokers Pearson Webb Springbett, which went public in 1984.

From 1975 he was involved in the so-called Savonita Affair at the insurance underwriters Lloyd's of London. His refusal to accept a claim involving cars supposedly lost at sea, but later found to be on sale on the Italian black market, led to reform and a new Act of Parliament.

During the 1980s Mr Pearson gave what he calls "financial and other assistance" to dissident groups in Soviet-dominated eastern Europe.

And, in 1990, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, one of his political idols and a vociferous opponent of Marxism, recommended him for a Conservative peerage, which he accepted.

While in the Lords, though, Lord Pearson's attitude towards the EU hardened.

He says it was his membership of the Lords EU select committee, from 1992 to 1996, which "led me to become a leading exponent of the case for the UK to leave the European Union".

Dutch MP row

In 2004, unhappy with his party's stance on the issue, he recommended that people should instead vote for UKIP in the European elections.

Lord Pearson lost the Tory whip and joined UKIP three years later, instantly becoming one of its best known figures.

But it was earlier this year when he came to wider prominence as a politician.

Lord Pearson invited controversial Dutch MP Geert Wilders to show his allegedly anti-islamist film Fitna in the House of Lords.

However, Mr Wilders was turned away from the UK in February on the grounds that he could stir up public disorder.

Lord Pearson responded with outrage, saying the visit was a "matter of free speech".

Eventually the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal decided Mr Wilders could come and he did so in October, giving a press conference with the UKIP peer by his side.

Lord Pearson is expected to make a much stronger public stand on Islam than UKIP leader than Mr Farage did.

But Mr Farage, who will continue to lead the party in Brussels, could not have been less impartial in advocating Lord Pearson as his successor, as the UKIP leadership election approached.

He told the BBC: "There are five candidates standing. Only one of them is a serious, credible candidate and that's Lord Pearson, who has had major achievements in his life in business and politics too... If it's not Lord Pearson, things will be tricky."

Some say that, if he fails in his bid to become MP for Buckingham at the next general election, Mr Farage may want to return to the party leadership.

This, it is argued, would make Lord Pearson little more than a flamboyant caretaker.

The peer, who advocates an "amicable divorce" from the EU, would probably disagree.

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