Last night’s hustings for the UKIP leadership was held in Westminster at the Emmanuel Centre.  All the candidates were present for a change; Paul Nuttal, Suzanne Evans, Peter Whittle and John Rees-Evans. Of course, if two of those candidates have a secret pact, about which more in a moment, then we really face a choice of three.

Before the hustings my knee-jerk responses to the candidate list had been to feel uneasy about Nuttall and an absolute no to Evans for the disloyal and disparaging remarks that she has been making habitually for a year and a half and for her dream of taking UKIP onto the centre ground (whatever that might be). As to Whittle I had seen him in action at the London Mayoral hustings last year. He was out of his depth on a stage that included characters he should have wiped the floor with. His habit of punctuating his speech with “you know” was irritating. Frank Bruno’s perpetual “know what I mean ‘arry” was vaguely endearing at least. As for John Rees-Evans I’d never heard of him before his moment in the sun over a gay donkey.

Attendance was good for an October weekday night. I’d say around 150 people. The hall was full with just a few seats to spare.  I was expecting fewer members than last time imagining that they were world weary from all the shenanigans and less interested in a contest with a foregone conclusion (according to Ladbrokes). But I was wrong. The atmosphere was positive, quite a buzz in fact. I spotted three MEPs in the audience and two NEC members.

I’m not going to go over what each candidate said. UKIP Daily readers will have other hustings they can attend and there is YouTube for anyone who cannot get to a hustings. Members should make up their own minds about what is said. I’ll just say it’s a case of spot the difference with each candidate saying how much they agreed with the others. Quite a love in really. One of the themes was putting the past behind us, forgiveness, and uniting. They united so much that no-one disagreed with anything another candidate said. Nonetheless, the candidates came over well. That could be due to an improved sound system but each was an effective enough speaker.

Judging by audience reaction I’d say Ladbrokes have it about right with Nuttall the clear favourite. Evans and Whittle were about equal but outside London Whittle may not fare so well; so little known in some places, perhaps, is the party’s culture spokesman.  Thus, Ladbrokes putting Evans second is probably right.

Whittle did quite well because it was about four minutes into his speech before the first “you know” appeared. I will be voting tactically for Whittle, so abhorrent to me is Evans coming second.  This probably means I am a bad person because the mood was definitely one of reconciliation, of letting bygones be bygones as Nuttall phrased it. But forgiveness in the absence of apology is for the saintly only. Evans offered no apology for her disparaging comments on the membership last year and this, for joining Vote Leave which “fought UKIP” according to Matthew Elliot, instead of standing with the Party. It turned my stomach to see Evans copying the prevailing dogma of the evening. There was no mention of her moving UKIP to the centre ground as announced on This Week but a short while ago, nor explanation, when she got to immigration, of how at a fringe event at the Llandudno conference she was urging people not to mention immigration, Nigel or UKIP in the referendum campaign. The Party was no longer “toxic” it seems,  as she claimed recently, for she wished to lead the Party of racists and nativists after all.  Suddenly we were wonderful people who were taking Britain out of the EU. Evans was now UKIP after all and, as luck would have it, just in time for the leadership campaign.

One quality I look for in a leader is judgement. Hers for the past 18 months has been calamitous for she was backtracking on more or less everything she had at some point said. An apostate seeing the light and returning to the fold? Or an opportunist saying what she realised needed to be said but believing something else? In truth, she is an intellectual light weight with no real convictions to argue and certainly not with conviction politician of the night Paul Nuttall. Her vision is of herself. And at the end, when she was the last speaker in the summing up, she appeared ecstatic saying “isn’t this wonderful. The positivity is so energising”. For which, I say, read “isn’t it wonderful I am back”.

But I do believe it is time for the party to come together. If Evans is to be deputy leader, as some think likely particularly if she comes second, then I am trying to imagine whether I could accept that. If she apologises, admits she got some things wrong, and promises not to diss the Party again when interviewed by the media, then I am willing to swallow hard in the interests of the Party. But we are owed an apology. It would be the decent thing to make that apology now.

Is there a pact between Evans and Nuttall? Evans remarked on This Week that she and Nuttall were friends and were in frequent telephone discussion. It’s plausible therefore. But I cannot say for certain. We’ll know once Nuttall becomes leader. If he gives Evans of all people a prominent role in the Party that she has so egregiously slandered, and if he does this in the face of the many, many members who are mightily aggrieved with her, then Nuttall will betray a lamentable misjudgement of his own and disdain for the membership.

The leadership campaign is almost certainly a coronation of Nuttall and the only interest is whether Whittle can overhaul Evans. So I shall shortly turn to the NEC elections coming up for I see three headbangers are going to stand. God help us.

When my mother, Mrs Yeoman, named me Stout it was because she wanted me to be stout of heart. Mostly I am. But if the headbangers get into the ascendancy I will be sorely tested.

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