When something goes wrong inside Ukip, commentators reach for the word “gaffe”. But the extraordinary story of the five-day candidature of Kerry Smith is not a gaffe – it is a sign of a party at war with itself.
The former Tory MP Neil Hamilton was in with a good chance of claiming the nomination in South Basildon and East Thurrock, after Natasha Bolter had pulled out of the contest in spectacular style. But on the very day of the selection, an internal Ukip report into Hamilton’s expenses claims mysteriously entered the public domain, and he quit the contest. Kerry Smith, the former candidate who was deselected in October without any public explanation, was the candidate again.
Not for long. Within three days or less, the transcript of a shocking telephone call made by Kerry Smith had been passed to The Mail on Sunday. Before it was published, Christine Hamilton, Neil’s wife and self-styled “battleaxe”, gleefully foretold that something was afoot by tweeting on Friday: “Beware the spy in the camp.”
Beware the spy in the camp….— Christine Hamilton (@brit_battleaxe) December 12, 2014
Patrick O’Flynn, the former Daily Express journalist who is now Ukip’s economic spokesman, tried to defend Smith on Sunday by telling the BBC that the offending comments were made “some time ago while he was on sedatives”. That prompted a scathing response from Christine Hamilton: “If someone rants racist & homophobic remarks when on sedatives what on earth do they do when firing on all cylinders?”
If someone rants racist & homophobic remarks when on sedatives what on earth do they do when firing on all cylinders. #JustAsking— Christine Hamilton (@brit_battleaxe) December 14, 2014
Neil Hamilton – whose views on apartheid have once again come to light thanks to my colleague Simon Usborne – and his pugnacious wife were on the hard right of the Tory party during the Thatcher era. They liked to mix with the rich. O’Flynn, like Ukip’s first elected MP Douglas Carswell, has more empathy with the poor. Kerry Smith’s resignation, because it embarrassed O’Flynn, can be marked down as a gain for Ukip’s nastier wing.
Something Brits do well
While I was away in New York last week, only two UK news stories had enough impact to make the The New York Times, amid the acres of print on the CIA and torture. One was David Cameron’s unsuccessful trip to Northern Ireland, of interest to the large number of New Yorkers of Irish descent. The other was the tale of Natasha Bolter and Ukip’s suspended general secretary, Roger Bird, which – according to The New York Times – was true to Britain’s “long political tradition” of quality sex scandals.
Rough winds do Shakespeare
Meanwhile, US television bulletins were obsessed with “no enemy but winter and rough weather” after more rain fell in San Francisco in one day than in the whole of 2013. I had forgotten where that quote came from until I heard it sung on Sunday night by a young actress named Blioux Kirkby, during a three-woman show in The Rose, a small London theatre so old that plays were performed there decades before New York was founded, and even before Shakespeare wrote his first play. The phrase was the Bard’s, of course. The show, which has ended its run, brought home just how much he had to say about the weather.
Taking Noel for an answer
A year ago, the author Dominic Shelmerdine, who regularly corresponds with the famous, asked the Speaker, John Bercow, for a Christmas card. “Mr Speaker does not send Christmas cards to members of the public,” he was briskly told. He passed that reply to the London Evening Standard. This year he tried again, and through his letter box there dropped a Christmas card signed by John Bercow. Such is the power of the press.