Neil Hamilton interview: The former Conservative MP on Margaret Thatcher, boozy lunches with Nigel Farage, and the odd regret

Hamilton entered Parliament as MP for Tatton in 1983. After being accused of accepting cash for raising questions in Parliament, he was defeated in the 1997 election. Now the UKIP deputy chairman, he withdrew as a potential candidate for UKIP in Basildon in December after an expenses row

What did you do the night of the 1997 general election, after finding out you'd lost Tatton to Martin Bell?

We went back to our house and had a bit of a wake with some of our supporters. I think we opened a magnum of Champagne, which seemed the best thing to do in the circumstances. It was a non-election really, Martin Bell was a joke candidate. He didn't have any policies; all he had was a white suit.

Your grandfathers were miners. What drew you to the Conservative Party?

I'm just one of life's natural non-conformers. If there is a tide going, I want to swim against it. That's been the story of my life in many, many ways. I grew up in the mining valleys of South Wales and I wanted a bit more out of life than that, I suppose. I've always been an individualist.

How do you think this lot are doing?

I think [David] Cameron is a complete shyster. He is the Tory Blair. He tried to turn the Conservative Party into a kind of a soft-focus, pinko, liberal party with predictable consequences. He has done more than anybody, apart from Nigel Farage, to create UKIP.

You're not for the centre ground then?

When I knew Cameron 20-odd years ago, he was a convinced Thatcherite. I think the truth is he's just like a cork bobbing on the water – he'll go whichever way the tide is flowing. He's fortunate that [Ed] Miliband is even less electable than he is. The general election in May is an ugly contest really, isn't it? And the least ugly person will win.

When did you realise you were more of a UKIP man than a Tory?

The moment was having lunch with Nigel Farage [in 2002], which is a life-changing experience. He invited [my wife] Christine and me to be candidates for the European elections. But because we had to repair our finances after the disaster of the Fayed litigation, I couldn't accept the invitation at the time. But I thought that the least I could do for a four-bottle lunch was to join UKIP.

You have described Thatcher as a friend. Did you attend her funeral?

Yes we did. It was a most magnificent affair. I mean, in her latter years she was a pathetic sight, of course, affected by dementia. So one couldn't lament her passing, except in a historical sense.

George Osborne now holds Tatton. What do you make of him?

The trouble with people like Cameron and Osborne is, they don't really have a bottom line. Except maybe gay marriage, but beyond that I can't see that there is anything which you might call an issue of principle.

What are your views on gay marriage?

Well, I think it was a completely confected issue. There was no demand for it. [Although] we're actually going to our first gay wedding this September.

You and Christine have kept in high spirits throughout. What's the secret?

Where there's no sense, there's no feeling, I suppose. No, that's a flippant response. Obviously we're not automatons. Of course we feel the injustice of many of the things that convulsed our lives. But I've always had the attitude that there's no point in looking back and lamenting. It hasn't always been easy to gird up our loins and get on with it, but that's what we've had to do.

Do you think a younger you would be happy with how things turned out?

Well, it's been rather an unconventional career path, hasn't it? It's not exactly what I set out to do. I would have liked to have been Prime Minister and got to the top of the greasy pole. At least I can say life hasn't been dull. Once you're dead, you're dead and after a short interval, nobody but an obscure PhD thesis in the University of Ohio will be interested in my career. I ask myself, am I satisfied that within my own idea of what a good person is and a good society is, have I achieved my objective in living up to those ideals? And I come to the conclusion that, yes I have.

So if you had your time again you wouldn't do anything differently?

Well I wouldn't have chosen to cross the path of Mohamed Fayed [sic], Max Clifford or any of the others who have got in the way of an ordered trajectory. But clearly everyone would make changes to iron out difficulties and to have an easy, successful life.

Biography

Neil Hamilton entered Parliament as MP for Tatton in 1983. After being accused of accepting cash for raising questions in Parliament, he was defeated in the 1997 election. Now the UKIP deputy chairman, he withdrew as a potential candidate for UKIP in Basildon in December after an expenses row

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