So farewell, then, Godfrey Bloom.
The man who became a caricature of UKIP’s eccentric/offensive side (delete as appropriate) may have resigned from his party, but I will never forget an incident which sums up the magnetic way in which he attracted odd goings on.
At UKIP conference 2007 (where I was manning a stand), the organisers took the ill-advised decision to open the main stage to speakers from the floor for twenty minutes. There would be no filtering of speakers, none of this controlling behaviour people see from the main parties. Given some of UKIP’s more unusual members at the time, it turned out to be a mistake.
The first speaker took the stage, an Uncle Albert-like figure towing a wheely shopping bag behind him. Shuffling to the microphone, the man drew a deep breath and bellowed:
“GODFREY BLOOM STAMPED ON MY FACE!”
As you can imagine, this caused some consternation. Undaunted, he repeated it, louder, like a battle cry:
“GODFREY BLOOM STAMPED ON MY FACE! AND I HAVE THE EVIDENCE!”
he removed a stained envelope from his jacket pocket,
“…RIGHT HERE, FOR ANYONE TO SEE….FOR TEN POUNDS.”
I never did find out if any faces had in fact been stamped on, and I didn’t have a tenner to stump up for the alleged “evidence”, sadly. But the whole incident was the kind of thing that could only happen to Godfrey Bloom.
The reasons for his departure tell us a lot about the nature of the UKIP beast. Technically, he lost the whip for calling a group of women “sluts”. In practice, he lost it because his antics had become an embarrassment to – and a distraction from – Nigel Farage. The UKIP bandwagon should have swept Farage onto the front pages, but instead they were adorned by pictures of Bloom batting Michael Crick over the head with a rolled-up programme.
Bloom was the embodiment of UKIP’s first 20 years. From the tweeds to the remarkably wide range of people he insulted, he revelled in causing a stir – and damn the consequences.
By definition, that model of politics is in conflict with the new UKIP which Farage is trying to forge. The “growing-up” process which he talked about in his speech at the weekend involves leaving behind the feeling that their party is a Famous Five adventure, and instead professionalising their operation.
Bloom’s behaviour made him into Farage’s Clause 4 – ditching him is a totemic departure from a past that threatens to hold them back if they wish to grow further.
That the UKIP leadership has been willing to do so is a sign of their ambition.
That they have done it through institutional procedures rather than Farage taking ownership of the decision is a sign that Bloom and his approach remain quite popular in the party’s grassroots. Farage evidently did not want to face down the Bloom tendency inside his party, but he also could not bear the damage it was doing to his national campaign.
The angst of UKIP’s growing up will be interesting to watch, as their pride in free-speaking eccentricity collides with the realities of winning votes. If they succeed, I’m sad to say that never again will the words ring out: “Godfrey Bloom stamped on my face!”