Tim Wilson used to be a parliamentary candidate for UKIP. He resigned from the party because of racism. As a result his reputation is being savaged by the UKIP faithful. I blogged about his departure here.
I subsequently offered him the opportunity to put his side of the story without edit here. I’m grateful to Tim for sticking his neck out in the way that he did. I don’t doubt that to do so took courage and my way of honouring that courage is to offer him my blog to put his own version of events.
Stuart invited me to write something so what I am proposing is a sort of 21st Century Apologia
I am a film-maker and Theologian. An odd combination, but I have also been an occasional goatherd, a nanny, monk and opera director. I have worked in factories and on farms. All forms of labour seem to me to be good and I believe we should approach everything we do with enthusiasm and commitment. We are lucky to be working at all!
I joined UKIP because I felt it was a new party that was destined to play a significant role in British politics over the next decade. As a gay man, I was fully aware of its reputation for homophobia and racism, but the local people I had met struck me as both charming and enthusiastic. I can say emphatically that, while I have been a member, I have seen no prejudice of any kind in the local party and in many ways it was a refreshing chance to look at hoary old issues with the eyes of innocence. It was very refreshing. There was some disunity and squabbling, but it was essentially good-humoured. I hope I have made some life-long friends in the party and I hope they see beyond the present crisis.
I had been a Tory and, while I felt comfortable in the Tory stable, I had put my nose tentatively into the liberal and labour camps, and I certainly enjoy a good debate and I am sympathetic to much of the social agenda of the left. We don’t need to agree with what our friends say in order to admire them and in politics as in life, we want to stimulate debate. More than that, I am willing to change my mind and I do not mind being the lone voice in the crowd. I was willing to give UKIP a go. Indeed, only UKIP had a policy to dump the appalling HS2 project which all other parties, for one reason or another, seem happy to go along with. That was decisive. I have seen the misery the HS2 project has already caused.
In January, the UKIP candidate for South Northants unexpectedly pulled out of the campaign and encouraged me to stand in his place. This meant a speedy trip to Manchester to be vetted by the party and some dithering about whether it was wise to put myself forward at all. As a former teacher and actor, I actually enjoy speaking in public and I like the thrill of being asked interesting and often difficult questions under a spotlight, but I worried that my primary goal was to mould the future of the party – I was not fully convinced that a high-profile role at this time was right, but I was reassured by party activists that UKIP alone had renounced the system of the party whip allowing candidates to present official policy but also to give it a more specific and individual spin. I spoke about HS2, schools and financial chaos in the local council. I was selected and immediately called for vigorus unity, a concerted and imaginative drive towards the election. Time was short and I knew that a conventional approach would not be successful.
No sooner had my campaign begun, however, which I had also explained during my selection would be run almost exclusively through videos, than I found myself faced with a man called Paul Oakden, the regional Organiser whose job it transpired was to vet any form of video and to approve all printed materials. I had planned to film something every second day, banking up a host of video-chats on local and national themes. I would supplement these with small animated “adverts” which I could produce myself and completed one of these fairly early on, picking up on a conversation I had with a farmer just outside Thorpe Mandeville who said he would vote for UKIP- “but don’t tell the wife. She thinks I’m voting Tory.”
The original video is here,
I also completed my first “chat” which is here
Paul delayed and delayed his response and I think two weeks passed before I finally contacted another Regional Organiser who told me that though he would “approve my videos”, Paul would still have to “ok them officially”. A few days later I got a terse email from Paul saying that the animation suggested I was embarrassed by the party and that he could not imagine there were many jihadis in Northampton. The video chat was primarily about education, but referenced Jihadi John who had been in the news when I made the video. It was quite unclear whether Paul Oakden was approving or vetoing the films at that point despite Barry’s “approval” and I called for advice. Paul was due to be a guest speaker at an event where I was also to speak, but he was “dealing with a crisis,” did not come, and would “call me back” later that day. He did not. The weeks went by and again, in desperation, I spoke to Barry who wondered if Paul had even seen the films, or maybe he had just read the transcript. “I was slightly anxious when I read the text, but your delivery on camera was very reassuring,” said Barry. I asked a number of people locally and nationally if they had come up against the Oakden issue and some other candidates had. I was not alone, but I was depending on a quick turnaround for the approval of my entire campaign. I could not wait a week or two every time I made a video. I think I must have told someone that Paul was rude and was told that I would get no apology from him for that. I made more films and still heard nothing from Oakden. At some point, I was told that Paul thought that any reference to Islam was unacceptable. Finally, I got the following message: “videos like this are far more successful politically if they’re short and punchy. Yours feel more like a lecture, and im not sure that’s the tone you should be going for..” Quite clearly, my planned campaign was in tatters and my regional Organiser was offering very little support. I reworked the animated advert with an anodyne vocal which I submitted and got my only approval from Paul: “Very good Tim. Fine to go. Many thanks.”
Now, during this time, I had been looking at a possible lecture in an Islamic centre. It was not to be specifically political but now that I was a candidate in the General election, there would inevitably be political interest. I took advice from members of the Islamic community, again requesting assistance from Oakden and getting none. I did not want to formally accept a commitment that would then be vetoed by my regional Organiser. On a day when I met a youth leader of a local mosque, I was given confidential advice by a UKKIPer described as “just my tuppence” which involved the following line: “Avoid concentrating on Islam – your expertise is clear, and as we discussed there is a lot that you can potentially do to help the party in this regard, but unilaterally doing it during your PPC campaign may prove counter-productive to the penetration of your message.” When I requested clarification, I was again told that anything about Islam would be rejected by Paul Oakden, so that was the issue in a nutshell. I found myself defending the party line on doorsteps of course and on the internet- I doggedly, for instance, defended Roger Helmer against charges of homophobia. This is another man in the party who has made the most appalling statements without apparent criticism, and only after Mr Farrage had told us all that Helmer had now changed his views, the old man went on to advocate aversion therapy. But, this is the point- none of the people in the local party would endorse his views and I saw that as hopeful. And even among those MEPs, there are some wonderfully inspiring people who would be tremendous in any party- Margot Parker for instance.
At about the same time, I learnt of the verbal assault on Humza Yousaf in Scotland. I was appalled. Humza is a colourful and dynamic politician whose first appearance in the Scottish chamber caused a sensation because he wore a Sherwani and also a tartan plaid. In so many ways, our views coincide, particularly in concerns about the loss of the Tier 1 visa which means foreign students who come to study here are tossed out of the country the moment their course finishes and they have no chance any more to spend two years or so practicing the skills they have learnt here and- by the way, paying tax! It is one of the many attacks that have been made on foreign students in the guise of “reducing immigration”.
The Scottish MEP, David Coburn, who also aims to enter Westminster, had talked about “Humza Yousaf or as I call him Abu Hamza”. Abu Hamza is a convicted terrorist, the man with hooks for hands, and Humza Yousaf is the Minister for Europe and International development in the Scottish parliament. Hamza and Humza are both variants, I think, of the arabic word for “strong”, but that is the only similarity and I do not think Coburn is an arabic scholar. I felt Coburn’s jibe was an insult; it was racist and frankly also Islamophobic (if that is actually a word). There was an outcry in Scotland about this, and Farrage was asked for his response. The leader of UKIP dismissed this as a joke and I despaired. I tried getting in touch with the UKIP hierarchy but every time I found myself faced with the same problem- I had to consult my Regional Organiser. At the same time, members of the local branch sought guidance and again there was precious little movement from Oakden. Within hours, events catapulted me into the arms of the media. There was a further report in Scotland developing the theme that this issue was just a joke and Humza and I agreed that it would be helpful if I spoke in his support to the Daily Mail. I called Oakden and left a message on his phone to, at least, call the Branch chairman, and then I did a telephone interview. It was clear once I had lambasted Coburn that the real problem for me lay in the issue of the joke. Quite simply, a joke is defined as something that causes laughter. If it fails to do so, it is not a joke- it is an embarrassment at best and an offence at worst. I have no problem with Monty Python making jokes about faith- it is their business to be funny and we would be the poorer society if we suggested there were subjects that were out of bounds to comedy. But, and this is the decisive point: a senior politician is elected to office in a position of authority and dignity. He has no right to poke fun at my religious beliefs or those of my neighbour. If he is extremely clever and witty, which dear Boris Johnson is and the sad Coburn demonstrably is not, then maybe humour can be a part of his presentation, but personal attacks remain out of order. It is like giving a teacher licence to mock the pupils- it is altogether unacceptable because of the position of authority and power the teacher assumes.
Added to which, was Coburn incapable of realising that a joke about race, or a joke about Islamic names squares very badly with the media image of UKIP as a racist party. It is not me who brings the party into disrepute, but Coburn.
I felt that criticising the leader of my party meant decisively that resignation was the only honourable thing to do. I also felt that that Humza’s case is more far-reaching than mine. He is already doing the job while I am a would-be politician stumbling towards an election, emasculated by Oakden. Mine was a sacrifice well-worth making if that helps to ram home the fact that this so-called joke is worth the sacrifice of my political career. That is how seriously I view it and how seriously I expect to be taken. I drafted what I thought was a careful document, making sure that I levelled no criticism at the local party members and also pointing out that the HS2 issue had been decisive in both my joining the party and standing for selection as a candidate. I had also been co-opted on to the committee and a clean break therefore seemed appropriate. There was no point in discussing this: the die was cast. The more I thought about it, the more astonished I was by the situation: here was a man, a senior UKIP ranker, mouthing off Islamic slurs while I, a lesser ranking member was effectively gagged and we were both fighting seats in the Westminster election. What message did this send save that a great religion that has survived nearly 1500 years can be mocked by a UKIP ranker with impunity- and that, at a time, when Islam struggles with its identity and the West struggles with the rise of terrorists who hide behind Islam. I asked myself who was the better equipped to speak about Islam? Coburn or Wilson? And could I say something within UKIP to set this right? No. I had been gagged by Oakden from talking about Islam! It was silence or speaking out for a man I admire, but more than that – speaking out against prejudice.
Resignation meant that I would no longer face the MP Andrea Leadsom on a panel this coming week, an event I had been eagerly awaiting. She is a lady who campaigned vigorously against HS2 and then, when it came to the vote, knowing her party would disapprove of active revolt, took at trip to Brussels. That is the problem with the party whip system and frankly our heart should go out to people whose passions are thwarted by the thugs in power, by the arm-twisting or the promise of public office. If something is right and if we tell the electorate we will do something, we should be in a position in the 21st Century to stand for our beliefs without fearing our careers will be in tatters for doing our job! Because that is the issue- we stand for election and enter parliament or the council through a particular door, Tory, Labour, Liberal, UKIP, but once elected, we represent all the electorate and I think the promises we make individuals and groups in the constituency should be binding, and the stories we hear decisive in how we act. If our party loyalty matters, then it must mean our party has a duty to put the best case. We should never be whipped into obedience or forced to run away. We should be convinced by principle and be prepared to take the hard decisions even if this means falling on our sword.
I neither regret joining the party- I thought I could change the debate and I thought -and still think- that racism and prejudice are not central to the UKIP identity; nor do I regret leaving, though no one can quite prepare for a media maelstrom. But, at present, the party is controlled by a hierarchy of has-beens who slipped into office during the last few years when frankly there was very little choice to be had. I agree with another Scottish man who resigned his seat a week or so ago- there are bullies in the party and they have power. But bullies also exist everywhere. Politics is a natural place for the thick-skinned and the schemer, but I believe it is also the place for people of principle and integrity and I will support such people with a passion no matter what party they champion. Humza has my vote and I have paid a very high price in this election, but I believe that there is certainly a future after this- despite some very nasty personal attacks by party members against both me and my partner who (I have to add because it has been revealed in a spiteful blog) is a torture victim and I should have thought has suffered enough. Some things should be out of bounds in politics and it is high time UKIP and others recognised that fact. I intend now to focus on repairing the damage caused by Mr Farrage’s tendency to dismiss what he does not understand and Mr Coburn’s evident silliness, I have no doubt that both men regret their decisions and maybe in time, Mr Coburn will quietly retire (which will give us all much relief) – I will use my energies to do something positive and if I have the chance to enter politics again, I will be all the more fearless in what I believe