by Paul Oakley (April 2019)
The following is the first chapter of Paul Oakley’s forthcoming book, No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care: A UKIP Brexit Memoir, available May 1, 2019.
Upon completing my fourth term as prime minister, David Starkey shall be commissioned to write the official biography. That work will set out my life story in full. Until that day some background is necessary to explain how it was possible for a Conservative Party stalwart like me to overturn his convictions so comprehensively.
Incredible as it may sound, one day I decided to flip from the hard right of the Tories and join the UK Independence Party instead. Here is the story of my journey.
In 1992, the notorious pro-EU member of parliament, Kenneth Clarke, addressed a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference. After that meeting, the bright-eyed chairman of Shrewsbury Young Conservatives set fire to a European Union flag in the street outside. That handsome young man was your Dear Author, and I’m very proud to have been the very first person ever to have burned that rag.
Then, in the midst of the British Parliamentary rebellion against the ‘Treaty on European Union’, more commonly known as Maastricht, I spent some weeks running errands for Bill Cash MP in his Great Col-lege Street office. He and his fellow ‘bastards’ were doing their best to kill this latest manifestation of EU federalism. If Prime Minister John Major fell in the process, well, that was just too bad. The whole exercise was a waste of time, though, as the Treaty was approved and, more importantly, I couldn’t persuade Cash to call for outright withdrawal from the EU itself. And yes, you did read that correctly.
At the tail-end of that internship came the Young Conservative Conference. Dangerously, it was held in Southend, the constituency of proud EUphobe, Sir Teddy Taylor MP. As such, Conservative Central Office were categorically not going to allow any debate on the party’s European policy. However, the final session before close of conference on Sunday was to be a balloted motion chosen by delegates. So on Saturday morning, a group of us decided to work very hard from the moment the hall doors opened; not by listening to any of the speeches on the bloody ‘Traffic Cones Hotline’ or ‘Citizens’ Charter’, but by talking to as many attendees as possible.
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‘Could you vote for us to debate this motion congratulating John Major on his foreign policy?’
‘Absolutely. It’s about time this party began to back the Prime Minister.’
‘Could you vote for us to debate this motion congratulating John Major on his foreign policy?’
‘You must be joking. He’s betraying us in Europe.’
‘That’s precisely the point. Do help yourself to one of these little stickers.’
The stickers in question featured the EU flag. With a big red line through it. They fitted nicely onto a blank white space on the conference photo pass and looked very official indeed as the press began to query.
The motion was selected. Overwhelmingly. Party officers became uneasy as far more delegates put their names forward to argue against it than for it. I, too, put my name down—to back it. Head Office was grateful for every supporter they could get so I was duly-approved. By the time they found out that the speech wasn’t an endorsement at all it would be too late.
I sought out Sir Teddy.
‘Do you have a spare copy of the Maastricht Treaty please? One that you don’t need returned?’
After telling him why, he laughed.
Sunday morning arrived and the debate began. One by one, the Majorettes did their best from the podium. One by one, delegates got rid of them by stamping their feet in unison and shouting ‘Off! Off! Off!’ I’d been lurking near the exit at the side of the hall. My name was announced for three speeches hence, so I slipped off to the bar for a single pint even though it wasn’t yet noon.
National YC Chairman, Andrew Rosindell, sent someone to fetch me. Gulping the last of the beer I headed back to the hall which was suddenly quiet as people were knackered with all that stomping and booing.
‘John Major deserves our full support for his European policy.’ I stopped. The quiet continued, but only for a moment.
‘You traitorous shit, Oakley!’
The Chairman calmed the hall down. I cocked my head to one side. ‘Only joking.’
I started again. And the subsequent national and international press headlines concentrated on the following words:
‘John Major wants us to be at the heart of Europe. Well, it’s about time that we were at the throat of Europe.
‘This is a copy of the Maastricht Treaty. It’s harder to get hold of than the ‘Satanic Verses’ in Iran.
‘And I hope that the Prime Minister has the courage to do this.’
I’d then torn the treaty in twain, holding the pieces in the air for the inevitable photographs.
Yet, although your Dear Author received the only standing ovation of the conference, two aspects of that speech still leave a sense of sadness to this day.
Firstly, the Conservative Party filmed all debates which were then sold as premium-priced VHS tape souvenirs. Mysteriously, the entire footage of this one has been ‘lost’ by them.
Secondly, it was tinged with the sexual harassment which is endemic in the Tory Party. Fortunately, this debate was held on the Sunday morning when all were about to disperse. Had it been listed but 24 hours previously, there’s no doubt I’d have been molested that very evening by a number of predatory young women. Several of them admitted this in the months thereafter. The choicest of strumpets, too. What a lucky escape. Harrumph.
In 1996 there was an unveiling of a memorial to A E Housman in Westminster Abbey. Former student of Housman, Enoch Powell, was undertaking the dedication. I hadn’t seen Powell since the previous year when I’d invited him to address the students at Bar School on the threat of EU federalism. We’d had a pleasant lunch afterwards in Lincoln’s Inn during which we’d disagreed about Friedrich Nietzsche but concurred in our view that Parsifal was Wagner’s finest opera. Physically frail then, he was still mentally incisive.
The intervening months had been cruel and Enoch had to be assisted to the Abbey lectern by his wife Pamela and a nurse. His oration was incoherent.
Afterwards, the Housman Society had a reception on the terrace of the House of Commons. Powell was enthroned on a white plastic chair looking across the Thames. I stood over him and tried to exchange pleasantries.
‘He can’t hear very well, I’m afraid,’ said Pamela Powell.
Things became very Quentin Durward. I got down on one knee and thanked him for all his work fighting the European project.
‘I make this pledge to you, sir. There will be many of us carrying on this battle after your death.’
He said nothing but beamed.
In 1997, I was elected chairman of the Greater London Young Conservatives on a jihadist anti-EU platform. By this time it was difficult to defend the Tory party which bowed to Brussels and sweated with sleaze. I was particularly angered by a scandal which hit the tabloids during that year’s general election. The Tory MP for Beckenham, Piers Merchant, was exposed as having had an affair with ‘night club hostess’ Anna Cox. He was married and 30 years her senior.
On reading this the whole newspaper was crumpled up and stuffed into the wastepaper bin, squashed down with my furious foot.
Get your own mistress, pal. Anna’s my bit on the side.
We’d first met while campaigning for Michael Portillo in Enfield Southgate and she’d asked if I would give her a pearl necklace. I never did. However, amongst other things I did take her backstage to a Stranglers gig at the Royal Albert Hall, a gift more valued than gold by all young women.
Election night ’97 was spent at Conservative Central Office with my actual girlfriend, Justine Lovatt, who worked in the research department. Crates and crates of Heineken lay in the corridors and went unquaffed as the results came in. I thought it was great that John Major was reaping the rewards of Maastricht. In the inevitable blood-purge of the party which would follow, every pro-EU MP would be banished and I’d claim the safe seat which was richly-deserved.
I and Justine left Smith Square as the sun was rising, but before Major’s public admission of defeat. We didn’t want to hear his excuses. There was a crowd of hard-left Tony Blair supporters outside whom we’d been strictly instructed to ignore. They jeered and hooted at the two of us.
‘You’ll be sorry,’ I shouted back.
And they were.
When William Hague replaced John Major as Tory leader, one of his first steps was to abolish the Young Conservatives as we’d become much too anti-EU for his taste. Sound. So, I lay low for a while, simply standing as a council candidate a few times in Lefty areas. I finally got around to taking the Tories’ Parliamentary Assessment Board in Milton Keynes in November of 2002. Christina Dykes, Director of Candidates, wrote on 13th January in the new year to say there’d been a pass.
‘You did well in the exercises and the assessors were pleased with your overall performance. However, they did feel you should work at your presentation. Your quick wit sometimes made you seem aggressive– that is something of which you should be aware.’
Brilliant in all respects then.
At the 2005 general election under Michael Howard’s leadership I stood for the forlorn hope seat of St Helens North and garnered a result of 7,410. Despite our efforts, some wankers called ‘UKIP’ had put up a candidate too and had the audacity to steal 1,165 of my votes, pushing we Conservatives into third place behind the Lib Dems.
Then David Cameron was elected party leader. He introduced an ‘A-List’ of politically-correct candidates. I was interviewed for this by Nigel Evans MP and wore a pink shirt and pink tie to look like one of them metrosexualists. That didn’t work and my application to be a Cameron Cutie was rejected.
I tried for numerous constituency vacancies thereafter but was only shortlisted by the EU-realists of Rochester and Strood and by Slough which was chaired by a mate from the anti-EU ‘Bruges Group’, Robert Oulds. Rochester selected Mark Reckless and he went on to win the election in 2010. This was a hoof to the head for Tory central office as Mark was solidly anti-EU. Indeed, the branch had been placed into ‘Special Measures’ specifically to stop his selection. Slough chose Diana Coad. Also One Of Us, she didn’t win the election.
Despite applying for many more seats, I ended up with nothing and the thing that probably did it for me was the Freedom Association. One of their campaigns was ‘Better Off Out’ which, as you may suspect, made the case for Britain leaving the EU.
TFA Director Simon Richards asked if I’d manage ‘BOO’. I thought it best to check with Davina Merison and Gareth Fox of the candidates’ department. They passed the decision on to John Maples MP whom
Cameron had just appointed party Deputy Chairman.
‘Definitely not,’ Maples told me. ‘And if you’re selected for another seat you’ll have to disavow your support for this campaign.’
Dream on old son.
My last Tory conference was in 2010. It had, for many years, been held in cheap and cheerless Blackpool and Bournemouth but Cameron corporatized the event and moved it on rotation to Birmingham and Manchester. It seemed as though those latter conferences had coincided with a euthanasia policy for older party members. As there’s no such thing as a B & B at fifteen quid a night in these cities, many elderly activists had foregone their autumn jaunts to the seaside. They were replaced with blank-eyed spads with clipboards whom nobody knew.
It was Birmingham that year. I booked into the hotel just before midnight and then headed to the secure zone. The very first person whom I saw on arriving at the bar was Lucy Bostick. She looked very ticked-off, but not with me.
Here is the best-ever and most insightful quote of all time from Miss Bostick:
‘This place,’ she said. ‘Is full of cunts.’
After that well-deserved Tory loss in the 2010 election, those on the candidates’ list had to reapply; my interview was on 21st February 2011. It was held by a ‘Party Professional’ and a ‘Senior Party Volunteer’. The former was a fat little schoolboy who plainly didn’t like me and the latter was a crinkle-eyed branch chairman who clearly did.
It seemed to go fine but the results of the assessments were held back for yonks. This might have been through incompetence. It might have been through cynicism, knowing full well that those who weren’t re-adopted would probably sod off entirely, thus denying the party much-needed campaigners.
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In the interim, candidate selections for the Greater London Authority took place. I applied for the Greenwich & Lewisham superseat and also for the separate London-wide top up list. In respect of the former, the final hustings was upstairs in the Mitre pub in Greenwich on the evening of 2nd March 2011. I gave a chest-thumping performance and came second behind Alex Wilson whose branch was hosting the event and whose members were the majority of voters. That was exactly where I wanted to come. The Tories couldn’t win the seat and I certainly couldn’t be arsed giving up every weekend for the next 14 months campaigning for a lost cause. Naturally, I hadn’t said that to the selectors.
I contacted Hugo Mann at the Candidates’ Department the following day to tell him the result. The sift for the capital’s top-up list was still pending and this placing in Greenwich and Lewisham had to be a silver star. Eventually, on 18th March, he got round to sending me this bland missive.
‘I regret to advise you that you have not been shortlisted for interview on this occasion.
‘We had a record number of applications for the London wide list this time, the majority of which were from applicants of a uniformly high standard.
‘On behalf of the selection panel, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for taking part in the process.’
Not even a first interview? Feedback was demanded. Even I wouldn’t expect to be adopted as of right, but this was surprising given the Greenwich and Lewisham placing. Having heard nothing, he was chased three times over the next three weeks. Tumbleweeds.
Sun-Tzu wrote this:
‘Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.’
Tory Head Office has always disagreed with Sun-Tzu.
You can see where this is leading.
So, Oakley, having failed to get anywhere under David Cameron’s Conservatives, you contemplate running off in a sulk.
There were also two bad angels on my shoulders in the shape of UKIP activists ‘Uncle’ Mick McGough and Tim Aker whom I regularly bumped into at EU-realist events. Both whispered of the good things that awaited if I moved over to the Dark Side. As their party was only at around 2% in the opinion polls, it wasn’t that attractive. At first.
On 14th May 2011, the Taxpayers’ Alliance was holding a Westminster demonstration, the Rally Against Debt. This was a counterblast to the various Leftard demos which had taken place calling for imaginary public spending cuts to be reversed. The evening before there was a meeting at TPA HQ in Tufton Street. They’d got out the waterpaints and were making up posters. Best one: ‘I don’t consent to being stimulated’. Back from the post-meeting pub, I called UKIP leader Nigel Farage who would be speaking.
‘Can I have a word with you tomorrow?’ ‘Sure.’
The next day proved the point that we swivel-eyed right wingers were not used to having demonstrations. There were far fewer of us than you’d expect at a pinko parade. Nonetheless, there were some interesting speakers in the shape of Harry Cole, Jacob Patch and Martin Durkin. There were also some uninteresting ones. Tory MP Bill Cash gave one of the most tedious speeches in all recorded history. The hugely-overrated Priti Patel MP mumbled quietly for about a minute. But Farage, as ever, was outstanding.
Afterwards, the Westminster Arms. I had my quick, quiet word with Nigel except that it turned into a long conversation and various pals ambled up to eavesdrop.
‘You can stay where you are and fester,’ said Farage. ‘Or come over to us for some fun.’
Sod it then. I’m doing it.
This could have been carried out discreetly, but instead I demanded silence from the mob and gave a shouty speech while gesticulating in the direction of Millbank and Tory head office.
‘I wouldn’t normally endorse sharia law, but in these circumstances it is apposite.
‘Conservative Party! Hear me! ‘I divorce you.
‘I divorce you. ‘I. Divorce you!’
This email went to Tory HQ that same evening. Many congratulatory beers having been purchased for my delectation that afternoon, it’s surprisingly polite.
‘Please do not worry about the issue of feedback now. As someone who has passionate conservative convictions and is not a Cameroon nihilist, I am resigning from my 20+ year membership of the Conservative Party and have joined the UK Independence Party. I look forward to standing as a hard-fighting candidate against “David Cameron’s Conservatives” in numerous elections in the future.’
There was no reply. Incidentally, I still haven’t heard back as to whether I’d been reappointed to their candidates’ list. Perhaps I’m still on it after all.
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Paul Oakley is the General Secretary of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). He is the author of the forthcoming book, No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care: A UKIP Brexit Memoir, to be published by New English Review Press. Follow him on Twitter @pauljamesoakley.
Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast