Being elected as a teenager and then being paraded at Ukip’s annual conference following his defection from the Conservatives has earned Robin Hunter-Clarke comparisons with the rise of William Hague.
The polls are pointing to victory in May for the 22-year-old councillor who, if elected in Ukip’s top target seat of Boston and Skegness, would become “Baby of the House” and the youngest MP Westminster has seen for almost 50 years.
Bernadette Devlin was just a few months younger when she won her mid-Ulster seat in 1969 on a “Unity” ticket of nationalists, republicans and socialists – a comparison that has him laughing.
“I knew it was a woman,” he said confessing to not recalling who he will nestle beside in the record books, before defending what someone so young can bring to the Commons. “New ideas, new initiatives are always a good start, but lots of people have raised my age before and it hasn’t been a barrier.”
Elected as a Tory councillor in his home town of Skegness at 18, Mr Hunter-Clarke defected in 2012 was asked by Nigel Farage to say a few words to the party faithful in Birmingham that year.
Ukip's confusing policies
Ukip's confusing policies
1/6 Deport migrants
Ukip MP Mark Reckless suggested he would deport existing EU migrants, a policy Nigel Farage rejected out of hand.
2/6 US-style NHS
Farage was caught on film in 2012 saying healthcare headed towards insurance-based system, though he has since said he would keep it free at the point of use.
3/6 Handbag tax
Ukip Economy spokesman Patrick O'Flynn said he would introduce a tax on high-price items like shoes, Nigel Farage disowned this idea.
4/6 Same-sex couple adoption
Ukip candidate Winston McKenzie likened adoption by same-sex couples to "child abuse", but the party rejects that view.
5/6 Gay marriage?
In early 2014 Ukip released a statement saying it would review its gay marriage policy, but later said that was an error.
6/6 Sex education u-turn
Nigel Farage told Leaders Live that he backed sex education for under-11s but later admitted that is not Ukip policy.
Aged 20, while studying law at Chester University, he won for Ukip in Skegness South in the county council elections, which also saw his father, Dean, join him as a Ukip county councillor. “He followed me into politics!”
However, just a few hours after our interview his own leader seemed to veer off message on Question Time on Thursday night when Nigel Farage blamed the supposed decline of politics on “the growth of a career, professional political class who do the same degrees, who have never had a job in their lives, go straight into back offices aged 23 and become career politicians”.
Speaking to The Independent, Mr Hunter-Clarke said he had come up against ageism before. “I don’t think [it’s] an issue,” he said. “You hear all the time that we need to get more young people involved in politics – well my message is ‘here I am’.” Momentum is certainly with Ukip and it would be no surprise if he won, having already fought off the disgraced former Tory MP Neil Hamilton to win his home town’s nomination. The ConservativeHome website ranked Boston and Skegness as No 2 in the top 100 “Ukip friendly” Tory seats just behind Clacton, where Douglas Carswell became the party’s first MP in October.
Immigration has had a profound effect in the area. Boston was famously described as being “at breaking point” by a Question Time audience member responding to Cambridge Academic Mary Beard’s claims that migration was not causing problems in the area.
Mr Hunter-Clarke agreed with local sentiment. “The big issue for people in Boston and Skegness is immigration. Something like one in five people in Boston is an immigrant. It’s quite a big proportion and it’s growing all the time.
“There are a lot of eastern Europeans coming here to work on the land, filling that market. I have people ringing me up on a daily basis saying ‘I can’t get a job’. They applied to go and work on the land and of course [the jobs] are going abroad to agencies. We say that’s not quite right. They should primarily go to our people first.” Boston-based Staples Vegetables, who supply all the major supermarkets, secured planning permission last month to build another 52 caravans, in addition to 63 already on site, for 300 incoming migrant workers on the minimum wage whose accommodations costs will come out directly from their pay packets.
With around 8,500 local people unemployed, Mr Hunter-Clarke said these are working conditions that Britons would not stand for and which has contributed to an “us and them” divide.
“I think there is that mentality, which is a real shame because a lot of them are very decent people. If immigration was controlled, as our argument is, they would have integrated into society and there would be no problem at all.
“People feel forgotten here, we really are the back of beyond. There’s a real lack of investment, especially in the roads. You’ll have noticed that if you came up here on the A52 – you get stuck behind tractors for ages. Private businesses don’t invest here because of the bad road infrastructure. We didn’t get a penny in the Autumn Statement, other than for the Boston flood barrier which doesn’t start work until 2017.”
Incumbent MP Mark Simmonds announced his intention to stand down earlier this year with the Foreign Office minister citing “intolerable” expenses rules for not being able to house his family in Westminster as the reason. Mr Hunter-Clarke’s Tory opponent will be the Daily Telegraph journalist Matt Warman, yet he is taking nothing for granted.
“We’re quietly confident that if we run a good campaign and we do exactly what we’ve said we would do, we think we can win it. It’s not a given, but it’s looking good. We’ve shown [in local elections] that if you vote Ukip you get Ukip, so we need to continue that through until May. How many MPs will we get? There have been a lot of figures bandied around by lots of academics. Some say 20, some say 70. Who knows? Anything in between that would be fantastic.”
Express delivery: Desmond gives £300,000 to Ukip
Ukip’s general-election campaign has been boosted by a £300,000 donation pledge from the owner of the Daily Express and the Daily Star, Richard Desmond.
Mr Desmond (pictured) is understood to have discussed the gift with Nigel Farage this month. The Daily Express has hinted at its support of Ukip in recent weeks and runs a column written by Mr Farage.
However, the party appears to be having a trickier relationship with its second-largest donor, Stuart Wheeler. Mr Wheeler has apparently told the Ukip leadership he will not give any more money to the party unless it finds a target seat for the former Tory MP Neil Hamilton. Mr Hamilton withdrew his name from contention from the South Basildon seat after Ukip asked him to explain apparent anomalies in his expense claims.Reuse content