[Update at end of post]
If something happening on the fringe of the Tory Party does not even warrant a mention in the Telegraph, one can only conclude that it is not important or even surprising. That has been the fate of MEP Roger Helmer, doyen of a political incorrectness that borders on forthright bigotry, who has jumped ship to UKIP, to the relief of many in the party who wish he had done so earlier.
Helmer’s ability to open mouth and insert foot is legendary: during last Summer’s riots, he opined that Police should use “water cannon and plastic rounds first”, and that the authorities should “Bring in the Army. Shoot looters and arsonists on sight”. While some on the right urged those objecting to avail themselves of a sense of humour, most correctly identified the comments as less than helpful.
And we found that the MEP with 40 years’ devotion to the Tories still uses a shaving brush, when he called the price of these antiquities “exorbitant” and suggested that their cost would be lowered by having a badger cull. That, though, was trivial compared to his characteristically insensitive suggestion that some victims of rape bore responsibility for the crime.
The list goes on: Helmer has also suggested that homosexuality is a mental health issue. Here – again – he caused Young Dave the kind of grief that Prime Ministers can do without. So he had no complaint when the Tories decided not to listen to his wishes when he decided to step down from his lucrative Brussels berth. But, Helmer being Helmer, he flounced out and joined UKIP.
And the fascinating side-show now playing is the manner of the reportage: while it is certain to have been approved by the party leadership, the blame for Helmer’s departure has, in the creative retelling of the Mail, been dropped squarely on Sayeeda Warsi. Hack Kirsty Walker has taken Helmer’s word and inflated the story from there.
Only later on is it conceded that “Tory officials are said to have been concerned” about the suitability of Rupert Matthews, the next name on the party’s electoral list for Helmer’s patch. Matthews “has ... published numerous books on ghosts, UFOs and aliens”, so just the kind of upcoming politician that a party needing to focus on mainstream issues could do without.
But instead of accepting that the Tory leadership was unhappy with Matthews – and Helmer wanted him to be the successor MEP – the Mail instead heaps the blame on the only Muslim in the vicinity. Moreover, Sayeeda Warsi is another of those characters – like Speaker Bercow – whose imminent demise is so often being predicted by the Mail, but who never actually leaves the stage.
So this is just another personal attack pretending to be news. No change there, then.
[UPDATE 5 March 1140 hours: support for Helmer has come from Simon Richards, writing at Mail Online, who describes him as "a politician of conviction, ability and integrity", rather than a loose cannon that gives his party leadership a recurring pain in the back of their collective necks.
Richards believes that Helmer's departure for UKIP "could open the floodgates". So who is this august pundit? Alas, he is actually Director of the Freedom Association, and runs the Better Off Out campaign, so has more than a little interest in promoting an anti-EU agenda.
Richards, according to the blurb on the Mail site, likes tolerance and dislikes intolerance. So perhaps he could explain his apparently intolerant characterisation of Sayeeda Warsi, and his mistaken assumption that she alone takes decisions on candidacies in the Tory Party.
Rather, the Tories have, under Sayeeda Warsi's guidance, gone through their ranks of potential candidates and weeded out a number of potential embarrassments before they cause any trouble - potential MPs and well as MEPs. If Richards thinks that shipping out the oddballs to UKIP is some kind of trophy, he should think again]