The best party of the week was held in David Davis’s House of Commons billet. Or so I am told. It was held in honour of Nigel Evans’ return to the House of Commons. MPs of all parties were in attendance. It was just as well Sir George Young had restored the whip the previous day – otherwise I fear they might have marched en masse to the whips office demanding justice for the Ribble Valley One. Quip of the evening came from an MP (who shall remain nameless) who said to Nigel. “Well Nigel, I attended your ‘coming out’ party a few years ago, so I thought I had better come to your ‘coming in’ bash.”
UKIP’s rise in the polls is a sight to behold. Part of it can be explained by the ridiculous spectacle of the Westminster media and political establishment trying to portray the party as something it is clearly not – a party of racists. Yes, UKIP has more than its fair share of nutters and oddballs, and it’s a shame some of them are standing for election, but to smear the whole party in this way is hugely counterproductive. All parties have members who are fruitcakes, racists or loonies. On Thursday, page two of the Sun really plumbed the depths. Its main story was about former Tory MEP Roger Helmer who, 14 years ago (yes, really) published a pamphlet which contained some pretty unpleasant views about homosexuality. Helmer, who defected to UKIP a few years ago, and represents them in the East Midlands, must be laughing his head off. Also on the same page was a story of a UKIP member who had held, shock horror, a “cannabis-fuelled party”. I wonder how many Sun journalists were there. I can’t remember what the third anti-UKIP story was, but it was in the same vein. At the top of the page. there was another UKIP story which told us that the party were now scoring 38 per cent in a poll, an all-time high. The irony of that story connected to the other three was clearly lost on the Sun subs desk.
A twitter correspondent of mine, Damian Stuart, asks this question: “Iain, perhaps you can explain this. A few UKIP nutters make the odd comments and the media asks: “is UKIP racist? 1.5 per cent of pre-2010 Labour MPs went to prison for fraud but we don’t ask if all Labour is a party of thieves. We don’t debate if the Shinners are a party of murderers, and every time a Muslim kills a non-Muslim in the name of Islam the media is at pains to say that this is a tiny minority, and that Islam is a peaceful religion. Why such inconsistency? Why attack UKIP harder than others? And in case you are wondering, I am far from a UKIP supporter?” I also am not a UKIP supporter, and will not be voting for them on 22 May, but I also recognise unfair attacks when I see them, and the media establishment is doing itself no favours. It seems Nigel Farage has taken over from Ronald Reagan as the world’s greatest Teflon politician.
Some political journalists made right twats of themselves, seemingly seriously believing that Boris Johnson would stand in Newark. As if. Boris may sometimes appear stupid, but underneath that mob of hair is a very shrewd, calculating brain. The same with Nigel Farage. It was interesting to see Farage agonise for twelve hours about standing in Newark. He made the correct decision. There is no point in fighting that sort of long-shot by election battle if you feel in your gut it’s not the right thing to do. He may well have won the by-election (although I doubt it), but it’s highly doubtful he could have retained it at the election. But back to Boris. The Westminster lobby were acting like headless chickens in their speculation on Twitter. None of them seemed to realise the Tories had already selected a candidate in Newark six months ago. Poor. Very poor.
It’s sad to see Jeremy Paxman leaving Newsnight. I’ve been interviewed by him a couple of times on the show and I can honestly say he one of the nicest, politest people I have ever met. The first time I came up against him I was honestly s******g a brick. This wasn’t BBC Radio Local; it was the big time. One word out of place and he’d go for my throat. I can’t actually remember what the interview was about now, but it went incredibly well. After the show he was keen to have a political gossip, and even walked me out to my car in the BBC car park at the old TV centre. Class. No other interviewer has ever done that, before or since. And it’s something I have always remembered. Be polite to your guests, treat them well and they will be your biggest advocates.
So who will succeed Paxman? By rights it will be Eddie Mair. He’s done brilliantly well when he’s deputised in the past. And it would suit me very well as it would remove him from PM on Radio 4, which is obviously my main competition at Drivetime. Not that I have an ulterior motive, of course! Never let it be said. But my instinct tells me that Newsnight may well promote Laura Kuenssberg or lure 5 Live’s Victoria Derbyshire down from Salford. I doubt whether she would take much luring. Alternatively, Ian Katz, the new Newsnight editor, may surprise us all and copy Sky News in hiring someone completely outside the Westminster Bubble.