Joey Essex – reality TV star, professional numbskull and general demotic It-boy – seems to be taking over the election. Because he is young and supposedly famous (if only for being famous) party leaders are now, unbelievably, queuing up to appear in his imminent new ITV2 mini-series.
The latest was Nigel Farage in Grimsby. So we had Nigel and Joey in high-viz life jackets aboard a fishing boat. We had Joey describing Nigel as a “really really reem guy” [a compliment]. And we had Joey announcing with his customary razor-like wit: “I don’t know about like any… about anything. I’ve only just started this journey. I’m learning every party as I go along. And today I’m with Nigel.”
But such is Joey’s power that he cast a long shadow over a planned highlight of Nigel’s trip: sinking a pint of Farage bitter at the Hope and Anchor in the city’s Victoria Street.
Yes, you heard right: Mark Smith, landlord and Ukip council candidate, sporting a rosette in the regulation yellow and purple, had specially commissioned a real ale in honour of his hero, non-violently evicted a handful of distinctly unthreatening school-age Trade Union Socialist Coalition protesters (later inviting them back in provided they didn’t create a “disturbance”) and prepared a plate of the Ukip leader’s favourite fish and chips.
Everything was ready. The pub, confessed a barmaid, had never been this crowded. The mauve-suited local candidate – an anxious Victoria Ayling – was waiting, increasingly active on her mobile as the minutes ticked by. At which point we got the news. Nigel was having fish and chips with Joey at the Captain’s Table in Cleethorpes! “ITV2 are controlling the day,” lamented the man from Sky News.
Mr Smith was admirably restrained. Was the great man coming? “I’m no wiser than you are.” What about the fish and chips? “It’s a shame.”
But his face said something more akin to, “How can that bastard stitch me up when I’ve done so much for him?.” For by now Nigel was off to schmooze businessmen in Skegness.
At least Joey seemed to be the problem. According to Ms Ayling, Farage had been advised not to come on “security” grounds. Surely not the teenagers? “We only wanted to ask him some questions,” explained one of the local 15-year-olds, Adam Shelton. “We don’t like sexism, racism or homophobia.”
But we Faragologists have been here before – the famous Croydon European election no-show when local Ukippers allegedly decided it would not be “safe” for him to brave a demo. You can’t help feeling Nigel is rather street-confrontation averse. Even a bit meeting- the-electors averse. Did he really need to slip in through a side door of Grimsby’s town hall, bypassing some 25 jolly, mainly middle-aged and quintessentially English TUSC protesters? Yes, they chanted: “Nigel Farage we know you: you’re a racist and a Tory too.” And “Don’t believe Ukip’s lies. They’re only Tories in disguise.” But they were cosily confined behind a well-manned police barrier. Some banter with them would have surely won Farage votes.
His earlier rally was an all-supporter event. The chairman read out the audience’s written questions with relish. Such as, “This is a really interesting one. You’re going to enjoy this Nigel. How can you ever trust David Cameron to have a referendum?”
To loud applause, Farage summed up his approach to post 7 May inter-party talks. “I don’t want to sell out. I don’t want a ministerial car. But I do want to drive the agenda of British politics in the next five years.” As he well knows, prospects don’t come much scarier than that.