Iain Dale's Friday Diary: UKIP - a ragtag and bobtail pressure group of well-intentioned and enthusiastic amateurs
Tonight I’ll be on Radio 4’s Any Questions. It’s the fourth time I’ll have appeared on the programme, so you’d think I would be used to it, but not a bit of it. It’s one of those programmes where there’s a tremendous opportunity to make a complete idiot of yourself. I have a real fear of opening my mouth and nothing coming out. It’s never happened yet, but you never know. It’s a politician free zone tonight with my fellow guests being an economist, a scientist and the head of the National Farmers Union. I guess I am the light relief!
People always ask if we have any clue as to what the questions are going to be, but no matter how many times I protest that the first time we hear the question is when we are on air, people give you a knowing look. In fact, of the six or seven questions asked, if you have half a brain you can normally guess the subject area of three or four of them due to the week's news. It doesn’t take Einstein to work out there will almost certainly be a question on the detention of David Miranda, and also on the fracking protests. But there’s always a googly that they like to throw at you – something so unexpected that provokes a reaction similar to that of a gulping goldfish. Each panellist is desperate to come out with the answer that makes the audience laugh loudest but you have only a split second to formulate your hopefully incisive and witty answer. It’s that question we all dread the most.
The stupidity of the fracking protesters in Balcombe knows no bounds. The usual professional green activists, who we no doubt fund through the benefits system, have gathered at a site where no fracking is taking place, nor is it likely to. These are the same people who no doubt pitched their tents at Greenham Common, supported Swampy and have hitched their skirts to the great global warming swindle. If they think fracking is so terrible, why haven’t they protested at the hundreds of other sites in the country where it has been going on for years? I’ll tell you why. Because they don’t give a damn about fracking. All they care about is rebelling against society and attaching them to the latest leftist-green cause. They’re the true watermelons - green on the outside, red on the inside. And Caroline Lucas is the perfect exemplification of this. I’m all in favour of people’s right to protest, but at least have the decency to have the vaguest idea what you’re protesting about.
The resignation of UKIP’s chief executive after only eight months in the job tells us a lot. It got a lot of media coverage, which shows how far UKIP has come. If this had happened a year ago it would have barely merited a line in the Daily Telegraph. But it also tells us UKIP is still a ragtag and bobtail pressure group of well-intentioned and enthusiastic amateurs. There’s a lot to be said for harnessing a revolutionary spirit and appearing slightly disporganised, and you can get away with it when you are recording a couple of per centage points in the polls. But when you’re in double figures people’s expectations change. I like Nigel Farage and admire him, but he continues to treat UKIP as his personal, private property and despite protesting that he has let go the control he has traditionally exerted, you get the feeling that he protesteth too much. UKIP’s biggest problem has always been that it is nothing without Farage, but if he is to show true leadership he has got to allow other people to get on the with the job. If, as is rumoured, Neil Hamilton, takes over as chief executive, he’ll need to assert himself very vigorously right from the start. I don’t envy him, or anyone else, the job.
Talking of UKIP, I have been looking through their MEP candidates. The challenge for UKIP MEPs is to actually last the course of a parliament without being put in prison or defecting. So far, 20-30 per cent of their MEPs seem to do one or the other. There is quite a bit of scrapping going on following the publication of the shortlists, and now those on the lists are at the mercy of the UKIP membership who will cast their vote, so there's lots of grievous self-promotion going on. What are we to make of the fact that rent-a-gob Jon Gaunt didn’t even make it onto the shortlist, or indeed outspoken columnist James Delingpole? But it is those who make it that bear a bit of scrutiny. Many are scratching their heads as to how Tory Europhile turncoat Janice Atkinson (nee Small) is seen as the third most competent MEP candidate behind Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. She spent years working for Tim Yeo and was always seen as on the dripping wet side of the Tory Party, and yet here she is, a dead cert to become a UKIP MEP. It’s a funny old world. She is two places above Easteligh by-election candidate Diane James, widely considered to be the best candidate UKIP has ever put forward.
In London, current incumbent Gerard Batten is placed second on the shortlist behind Paul Oakley - Oakley is a former chairman of the London Young Conservatives. Batten will not be happy.
Daily Express political commentator Patrick O'Flynn is top of
the Eastern shortlist and many believe rightly so. The man who helped
mastermind the paper's 'UK out of the EU' campaign is a solid and decent bloke
and would do UKIP proud. Michael Heaver, a 23 year old, also
makes it onto the Eastern shortlist in fourth place. The feeling is he
should be placed higher as he is exactly what the party needs - a young, fresh
face, who is informed, intelligent and does very well with his radio and TV
appearances. The membership would be foolish not to back this lad.
Finally, will UKIP get a MEP in Scotland? In 2009, they got around five per cent of the vote; to get an MEP in 2014 they need 10 per cent. The Tory vote is in a political coma in Scotland. Could UKIP benefit in the year of the Scottish independence referendum? The party is opposed to independence. Top of the Scotland shortlist is the inimitable David Coburn. A born and bred Scot, gay, and with the ability to give very good media and public speaking performances, he is the best hope UKIP have of getting a MEP in Scotland, though will Farage's recent troubles north of Hadrian's Wall provide him with a handicap?
It's now up to the membership to cast their votes. Closing date is the day before the start of UKIP's Autumn Conference. The stringent assessment programme has meant some good characters have made the shortlists, but will the talent be enough to give a UKIP victory in the European Elections?
On Wednesday night I went onto the Broadland District Council website to order a garden waste wheelie bin. Unbelievably, there didn’t seem to be a way to do it online, so I emailed them to ask how I could do it. I then got an autoreply which said they would do their best to reply within ten working days – ie. two weeks. Well, thanks a lot for that. If I answered emails after two weeks, my company would go down the pan. What gives local councils the idea that they can treat their customers with such contempt? I expressed my displeasure on Twitter, and to be fair, they responded by tweeting that they are reviewing their ‘auto-replies’. Well, at least I have achieved something. Still haven’t got an answer on the bin, though.