So it seems to be a day for heavy politics like candidate selection. UKIP is tearing itself apart over this issue, which is surely interesting – if you can’t select candidates you’re not a functioning political party. For example, here’s a piece from the Indy‘s Paul Gallagher, describing a wave of resignations, sometimes en masse, from the party after disputed selections.
The really weird bit is that all the selection disasters involve the same man, Neil Hamilton, for it is he. Hamilton keeps putting himself forward, very often he gets on the shortlist, and then Nigel Farage intervenes to stop him. Well, obviously. Farage has more than enough gut sense that he doesn’t want a busted chancer like Hamilton anywhere near his election campaign.
There’s also a second layer of conflict here. Gallagher’s piece makes this clear as follows.
In Boston and Skegness, probably the most ‘kipperish of constituencies, the 22-year old ex-Tory councillor Robin Hunter-Clarke who is UKIP branch chairman drew up a shortlist of five back in August including an important local ‘kipper, Paul Wooding, and Neil Hamilton. Farage recently had the UKIP national executive committee veto Hamilton off the list, because NEIL HAMILTON.
As a result, Hunter-Clarke, surely to be known for ever more as the ‘Kipper Nipper, had to find a replacement, and he found just the man looking at him from a mirror. This pleases nobody, because it isn’t as if Wooding, who is a postman by trade, would have been any happier with celebrity Hamilton running against him. The locals want their guy; Hamilton wants his; the Nipper appointed himself, with the blessing of the national executive.
The obvious question: who is it, other than Neil Hamilton, who wants Neil Hamilton? The answer turns out to be spread-betting jillionaire and top political donor, Stuart Wheeler, who has threatened to pull his money like he did from the Tories if Hamilton doesn’t get a seat. Wheeler is bankrolling Hamilton to try any seat that looks winnable.
Right – so the party leader and the money have fallen out.
But this just kicks the can down the road. What does Wheeler see in Hamilton? What Hamilton sees in Wheeler is clear. Plants grow towards the light. Chancers burrow towards the cash. Wheeler is a mark. The question, then, is what spiel Hamilton is using to work him. I want a deep profile of Wheeler at this point, because he’s important – he played a big role in the great narrowing of the Tories in the late 90s, in Hague’s disastrous swing to Tony Martin conservatism in 2001, and in the invention of UKIP. But we’ll have to do with Michael White back in 2009:
I’ve met Wheeler a few times; he even invited me to a dinner at his Mayfair penthouse once, which is a decent thing for a Tory of his stamp to do for a Guardianista and oik. Hence my belief that he is a nice person, certainly admirably courteous. But that was the summer of the Tory leadership contest where he supported first Liam Fox, then David Davis against his fellow-Etonian. When he asked me why he should not support Fox, I fear I replied that I thought him a political idiot.
Again with the nice, I see. But White doesn’t mean Wheeler is a political idiot, he meant Liam Fox. The record shows White had a point. Wheeler, however, is described as follows:
Very decent of him. But backing a rival party in words, deeds or chequebook, is always potentially a hanging offence in most parties. It strikes at the very heart of a party’s rationale: claiming to be right and seeking to get elected. Those who flirted with – or joined – Goldsmith’s Referendum party, which did John Major a lot of harm in the 90s, were often kicked out.
Right. That includes Wheeler, and all his mates.
Eton, Oxford, a stint in the Welsh Guards, a law degree and a stint in merchant banking: these are not unworldly qualifications. Neither is founding the hugely successful IG Index, the pioneering spread betting firm, nor being a gambling mate of Jimmy Goldsmith, John Aspinall and Lord Lucan, all of them colourful, all of them dead.
I reckon Wheeler is troubled by the Referendum party experience – after all, UKIP is a bit like it – and Hamilton’s playing him through this repetition compulsion, making out that he personally would have made it through 1997 if it hadn’t been for that pesky Goldsmith. Perhaps Wheeler’s studying for finals, too, being the last of the gang left alive. The answer, of course, is to place a real pro like – of course – Hamilton rather than a dangerous amateur like the rest of UKIP.
The problem for UKIP is that this isn’t bullshit. They really do have a lot of people who are in the party because no other party would have them. Placing old Tories or celebs mitigates this. At the same time, the ‘kipper USP is being the genuine local protest party, and you can’t be that if your fate is determined by some sort of cold war between Stuart Wheeler and Nigel Farage over a slimy old pol like Neil Hamilton.