Looking at the Sunday papers on January 25th (Burns Night — and also Greek Election Day), I decided it wasn’t perhaps the best news day for UKIP. The defection of Amjad Bashir to the Tories a few months ahead of a General Election was not what we wanted to read. He has also been suspended by UKIP, in a move which the Tories are describing as “damage limitation” and “a smear”. Some are suggesting that the questions around Amjad’s conduct were cobbled together at the last moment to mitigate the negative publicity around his defection.
I know for a fact that these questions have been looming for months. In the early days, of course, we did our best to rally round and give Amjad the benefit of the doubt – as any party would. But recently the questions have been getting more insistent, and the answers more elusive. I understand that Amjad failed to attend a meeting with Nigel last week to review these issues. Those who look seriously at the timing of these developments may be inclined to conclude that Amjad elected to jump before he was pushed.
Naturally David Cameron rushed to welcome Amjad, and the Tories are celebrating his defection as a coup. I wonder if they have done their due diligence in the matter. If not, then in the weeks between now and May 7th they may come to regret their precipitate decision.
At least Amjad has not stooped to the level of knee-jerk accusations about racism. And nor should he have done. He has been treated with the greatest respect and courtesy by his colleagues in the party, even when his views on some issues – especially on the Middle East – sat rather uncomfortably with the general view.
The reasons he gave for his decision were interesting. He said that UKIP was “amateur”. Seeing the mess that so-called “professional” parties have got us into, perhaps a little amateurism — and common sense — would do no harm. But in fact as many commentators recognise (including Julia Hartley Brewer, with whom I was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live last night), UKIP is fast becoming much more professional in its organisation and presentation.
Amjad says that we have a ridiculous lack of policies — yet at our 2014 Conference in Doncaster we had a remarkable series of strong policy presentations from very competent spokesmen (and women). We have our “Policies for People” summary. And within weeks we will have the most comprehensive and professional UKIP Election Manifesto that we have ever seen. So I’m sorry, Amjad, but you’re just plain wrong.
Amjad says that “The Tories are the only party that can deliver an EU referendum”. And why, Amjad, do you think Cameron offered a referendum in the first place? Because of pressure from UKIP. No other reason. And how will your new Party Leader campaign in that referendum? To stay in the EU. That’s how. Cameron doesn’t want an EU referendum at all. He just wants to park the European issue until after the General Election.
And most extraordinary of all: Amjad claims that “Only the Tories can control immigration”. So how come, Amjad, that they have spectacularly failed to do so over the past five years? How come they’ve utterly broken their promise to get net immigration down to “tens of thousands”? Frankly if that’s the level of intellectual analysis that led Amjad to defect to the Tories, there’ll be a lot of hollow laughter amongst voters on the doorstep. Amjad also described UKIP as “delusional” — but it seems to me that his own comments on immigration set the gold standard for self-delusion.
The papers also carry the Matthew Richardson story. He apparently made some jocular comments along the lines of “Bigots are also entitled to democratic representation”. These remarks were taken at face value by the humourless leftist press, and blown up into a scandal.
We have to be careful with the word “Bigot”. As then-PM Gordon Brown so clearly demonstrated, there are some who apply the term “Bigot” to anyone of strong views with which they happen to disagree. My “man of principle” may be your “Bigot”, and vice versa. Only a few years ago, anyone who seriously raised the immigration issue was immediately dubbed a bigot by much of the main-stream media. It is greatly to UKIP’s credit that we took that issue, which matters so much to voters on the door-step, and dragged it back into the public square. Today, for the most part, we’re free to discuss it, and that’s a UKIP victory, a blow for freedom of speech and common sense.
But I don’t think Matthew was getting into that sort of analysis. I think he was just making a light-hearted and ironic remark, and poking gentle fun at opponents who like to describe UKIP supporters as “bigots” merely as a ritual term of abuse. The take-away message, I’m afraid, is that this close to a General Election we just can’t afford irony, because our opponents will take it literally and use it against us.