In a recent blog, I talked about the appalling lies that appeared in the press during the euro and Newark election campaigns, and I mentioned that even more bizarre calumnies appeared in social media.
One day during the euro campaign, the whole euro-team was in Oakham, in the County of Rutland, and we stopped for tea and chocolate brownies in a very charming tea-shop, Buttercross House. It has a sunken terrace where we sat. I was vaguely aware of a couple of other customers down there, but I was astonished next day to read a Tweet which said “Just heard UKIP’s Roger Helmer and his loathsome colleagues in a tea-shop slagging off Oakham retailers”.
Given the propensity of the public to think the worst of politicians, this is now presumably an accepted truth.
But in fact, I’ve known and appreciated Oakham for many years — my son went to school there. I think Furley’s interiors store is magnificent, and over the years I have bought a number of light fittings there. I bought an excellent alpaca sweater, that I still treasure, in the alpaca shop. I used to enjoy lunching in the High Street deli, until it sadly closed recently. I have used the Lands End factory shop on the edge of town (and occasionally visited the Engineering Employers’ Federation just up the road).
In fact I have an extremely high regard for Oakham as a delightful market town with wonderful shops, and I go there as often as I can. I can’t recall every word of our conversation at the Buttercross Tea Rooms, but I can absolutely affirm than no one in my party was “slagging off Oakham retailers”, and they’d have got short shrift from me if they had.
If Twitter was bad, the following quote on Facebook was worse:
Jon Hutchinson: It’s fine if she does, UKIP are simply BNP lite – a bigot is defined as is the state of mind as someone who, as result of their prejudices, treats or views other people with fear, – I sat in Roger Helmer’s home a few years ago and he told me straight.. he wouldn’t employ a black person, he wouldn’t employ a woman either, and he wants the law changed so that they can do that… this is the party she is supporting, want to debate that? Fear is at the very heart of UKIP, little difference to Oswald Mosely, he captured much of the public vote too
I have no idea who this Jon Hutchinson is (perhaps I should buy him a dictionary, as he seems not to understand the meaning of the word “bigot”), and I have no recollection of him ever visiting my home (though he may have done so). But I am unlikely to have told him that “I would never hire a black person”, as I have done so on many occasions. I once ran a factory in Malaysia where I was the only Westerner, and the 300 staff were Chinese, Malay and Indian, with a range of skin colours. In Brussels, I well remember Isaiah, a Nigerian, who interned in my office for six months and proved to be competent, charming, courteous, and a big hit with the ladies. And I have employed several other ethnic minority staffers over the years.
As for “He wouldn’t employ a woman either”, this beggars belief. I have had women on my payroll continuously for at least fifteen years, and probably much longer. As I write, today, I have no fewer than four women on the payroll. Not bad for a man who “wouldn’t hire a woman”. Indeed although I have of course hired men from time to time (and I have an excellent man, Paul Oakden, in my UK office right now) I have occasionally been criticised for an undue bias in favour of women. I’d be glad to know how Mr. Hutchinson would respond to that.
As for “fear being at the heart of UKIP”, all I can say having spent more than two years in the party, is that I simply don’t recognise the description. Mr. Hutchinson is writing about his own blinkered prejudices, not about UKIP. UKIP is about hope, not fear. About a Britain free from the shackles of Brussels, a Britain of freedom, democracy, independence and self-determination.