I Tried to Find the Lesser Evil at Ukip's London Hustings
Maybe that's the best we can hope for.
Since Nigel Farage stepped down in July after his long-held "political ambition was achieved", five successors have sought to succeed him. But who can reel those names off? Or tell you what any of the candidates stand for?
I went down to the final Ukip hustings in London last night to find out who British politics' next top villain is likely to be. And in an age where we're often asked to choose the lesser of two or more evils, I wanted to find the least bad candidate.
Or, to put it another way, would anyone actually nice be there?
To get into the venue I walked past John, a 75-year-old bloke who'd made the pilgrimage from Northampton. He was waving a placard: "Diane for No. 10". He told me he thought candidate Diane James has got the "charisma, courage, looks and intelligence to lead Ukip to victory" and was keen to stress that he's not racist: "I believe in my country and people. We're not banning, we're controlling. I love European people – European people are beautiful."
When I got in, the room had filled with guests and there was a palpable buzz of excitement. The crowd seemed lively. The room had a sort of Antiques Roadshow vibe – kind of like a village hall, except in central London, not far from Parliament.
As I waited for the candidates to arrive I got talking to Frank, an 87-year-old South Londoner. "Our own original culture is gradually disappearing. It's going to be taken away from us – that's the problem," he told me. 'This is going to be a long night,' I thought.
The event got off to a good start when the chairman proclaimed that Brexit "came clothed in the yellow and purple of our party". The crowd perked up and cheered.
As things got underway, it became clear that Diane James – the favourite – hadn't bothered to show up. She hasn't deigned to show up to any hustings, in fact.
I thought of poor old John from Northampton with his sign.
So it was up to the four other candidates to see if they can lure votes away from her.
First up was Liz Jones. She pitched herself as the "continuity candidate for Nigel". Not sure how, to be honest – for all his flaws, Farage can really work a crowd. Jones did her best, but came across as a wannabe thesp desperate for approval. That, confusingly mixed with a headmistress from the 1950s. She made a not so subtle dig at Diane's absence: "I want unity for this party, but where are you Diane? I miss you Diane."
Up next was Phillip Broughton. He was bright-eyed, power hungry and the youngest one there. He pushed his working class northern roots: "I've worked in supermarkets. I know what it's like to do a real job in the real world." He's wasn't wildly charismatic, but talked about "broadening the message, changing the tone". He said he's mostly in support of a £5 membership fee to build a "true people's army".
Things only really got interesting when MEP Bill Etheridge started talking. He was the most jovial of the lot. I tried my best not to warm to him, but it was tough at first.
Not to worry, though! As the evening wore on, he got increasingly terrifying. Case in point: he thinks Farage is the "greatest politician of our time". He also got the most rapturous applause of the evening when he called for the BBC to be privatised. "We're paying taxpayers' money for left-wing propaganda rammed down our throats!"
At least he didn't take any cues from one Herr Adolf Hitler, having told a 2014 meeting of Ukip's youth wing that the Führer was "the most magnetic and forceful public speaker possibly in history".
Just kidding, Bill! ;-)
The last person to take the stand was Lisa Duffy. She was received a little coldly but managed to win the crowd round by talking about – you guessed it – Islam. She has rarely been out of the media in recent weeks, largely because of her one-woman crusade to liberate Muslim women and use them as a weapon for her own political ambitions. The former shop cleaner called for a "total ban" on Muslim schools, as well as banning the veil in public. This went down a storm and she got the second biggest round of applause of the night.
The whole thing left me feeling pretty exhausted. My optimism now waning, I went on a final hunt for a softer side to Ukip. I stumbled across Josh, 17 who was deep in conversation with Liz. I was soon disappointed: it was Godfrey Bloom's infamous "Bongo Bongo Land" remarks that led to him joining the party: "Everyone was calling him a racist, so I looked into the party to see what it was like," Josh explained. "I actually agreed with lots of what they had to say. On the issue of immigration, it's about space rather than race."
Feeling a bit claustrophobic myself, I ended the conversation.
Lisa Duffy was one of the last people milling around once all the talking was done. She was having a giggle with three older women when I butted in: why does she focus on one issue – British Muslims – and never bother with any others?
"I have worked with a lot of British Muslim females. I want them to have the same equality and rights and same opportunities as my two girls have," she said. And what makes you think they don't have the same rights as you already? Her campaign manager, Jay Beecher, was desperate to get Lisa the hell away from me, but she shooed him away. "I don't perceive to speak on behalf of anyone," she said. "A lot of them don't and they have spoken to me." Well, that sorts it then.
Placard-waving John was the last person I saw before I left. He looked so happy I wondered for a second if he was drunk, which was a bit weird considering his hero didn't show. I left my search for the lesser evil a bit dejected. But hey, perhaps Diane deserves that crown? Having not turned up or said anything, there was really very little I could hold against her.
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