So farewell then £80,000 salary, £150,000 expense account, secretary, team of assistants, constituency office, first-class travel, immunity from prosecution, Brussels blowouts, ludicrous pension and all the other perks I’d been so looking forward to enjoying from May next year onwards. Ukip has decided that it doesn’t, after all, want to have me as one of its MEPs.
The rejection came as a bit of a surprise, I must say. When the party chairman, Steve Crowther, rang to break the news, I felt rather as Brad Pitt might on being turned down for a mercy shag he’d proffered Ann Widdecombe. No offence intended to Ukip — I think they’re great people and a very necessary prick to the Westminster bubble. But if I’d been them, I definitely would have gone for me. Sure it would have been a risk, which would probably have backfired horribly. Think, though, of all the fun we would have had before it did!
Apparently I did fine on the public speaking part. But failed dismally on the interview (too recent a party member; not enough evidence of involvement in the nitty-gritty of Ukip politics) and on the psychometric testing. So there already is another string to my bow: ‘James Delingpole — the man so barking even Ukip wouldn’t have him.’
By spooky coincidence, I got the rejection call just as I was putting the finishing touches to my 500-word statement explaining to the party membership why I deserved their vote. It began: ‘Nigel once famously said that trying to get Ukip-ers to behave is like herding cats. Well I want you to think of me as a one-man herd of cats.
‘As I told some of you when I spoke at the hustings in Birmingham, I’m not remotely interested in becoming just another ruddy politician. Ruddy politicians, it seems to me, are the people who have got us into this mess. And I see my main job as trying to help get us out of it by whatever means -necessary.’
I went on to say that the very last thing I intended to do was spend any more time in Brussels than was absolutely necessary. Mainly I wanted to be a Ukip MEP so that I could appear on TV a lot more and annoy the greenies and the lefties.
Maybe it wasn’t so much a personal statement and more of a suicide note. I mean, I can see why, if you were a party worker who’d dedicated every hour God sent to leafleting houses and interviewing candidates and hosting cheese-and-wine evenings, it would be bloody annoying if some poncy show-off journo got to swan over to Brussels for a couple of days a week in order to pick up his cool 80 grand plus exes, purely on the basis of his being a C-list media celeb.
On the other hand, I’m very much a believer in a) division of labour — I’m good at the public performances and the lefty-baiting but simply can’t be arsed with the other stuff, so why waste me on things I’m crap at? — and b) raw, searing honesty. It’s the reason I connected so well with the party membership that glorious hustings evening in Birmingham. They loved me because I told it like it is.
And I loved them, too. Being a Brummie myself probably helped: I always feel comfortable among my own kind, even if my accent has got a bit posher over the years. I’d talked to one or two of them beforehand and what struck me — contra the Tory propaganda myth — was what thoroughly sane, decent people they were. Whatever it may once have been, Ukip is most definitely no longer the party of single-issue nutcases.
One of them was a committed Christian who had been drawn to the party in reaction to the coalition’s gay-marriage policy. Another had been converted at his comprehensive school — by his female geography teacher, of all people — and was -especially -enamoured of Ukip’s flat tax plans. Yet another had never been remotely interested in political activism before but one evening, shopping in Tesco with his wife, he had been shocked to notice that they were the only English people in the entire supermarket…
No, not racists. Not weirdos. Not extremists. Just ordinary folk who all felt so badly let down by the LibLabCon political class in the Westminster bubble that they’d finally decided enough was enough and that it was time for real change.
This is something, I think, that the Conservatives have failed to factor in to their 2015 general election plans. They imagine that if the economy is improving and they’ve tossed their natural centre-right constituency just enough gobbets of red meat, then it will be enough to win the day. But I don’t think they’ve realised how intensely this kind of cynical, Blairite trimming is resented in the provinces. The ex-Tories now swelling the ranks of Ukip feel they’ve been taken for fools too many times by out-of-touch Westminster elite. And they’re not going to be lured back simply with the sop of a Euro referendum, let alone with specious promises that in future local communities will get more of a say in whether they want a wind turbine dumped on their -doorstep.
My main concern about Ukip is not with its membership but its hierarchy. In their understandable desperation to prove that they’re not just a fruit-loop party of protest but a viable, electable force in their own right, they’re in danger of sacrificing those very qualities that make them so distinctive and attractive. They’re playing safe, and playing safe is what brought us David Cameron and his dismal coalition. Is that really the role model they wish to emulate?
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