In June 2006 I was summoned from the newsroom to see the Editor-in-Chief, Simon Kelner, in his office. Would I like to become the paper’s gossip columnist, he asked? Not really, but Simon was insistent, and I signed up for two years in the pink socks.
It was happy hunting for a junior hack, the chance to throw paper planes from the back of the class. Nights spent hydrating the barflies of Westminster and Mayfair. I was always grateful to those characters who kept the column full, Nigel Farage among them.
It’s remarkable that Farage has lasted so long. I remember the weary condition in which he was discovered back in ’07 at Murphy’s House in Strasbourg. “The last time I saw him he was being dragged down the road by two of his staff,” reported an eyewitness.
Farage’s rebirth (and recovery from that terrible plane crash) has been impressive. Downing Street fears him. Shock polling data at the weekend showed that Ukip is pushing the Conservatives’ most at-risk MPs towards ejection from the Commons.
Farage says that his party will “fight every seat” at the next general election. Unlikely, but he expects to cause havoc for No 10 at the European elections in seven months, a contest framed by the predicted influx of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants to Britain from January, and their impact on schools, health services, housing and jobs. In his address to Ukip’s annual conference this morning, Farage will denounce the “Romanian crime wave” we are apparently already suffering.
In a political climate stultified by banality and platitude, Farage’s seduction is that vigour of the well-meaning oaf, who talks and drinks from the hip. But don’t believe the shtick for a second: he’s serious.