Yesterday evening, former Tory MP Mostyn Neil Hamilton repeated a course of action he took on the eve of the 1996 Party conference: he walked away from impending public humiliation. Then, it was his capitulation in the face of exposure by the Guardian; last night, it was to prevent his being stitched up by that part of UKIP which is unhappy about the baggage he carries.
Squeaky dirty trick finger up the bum time
Hamilton had been shortlisted for the seat of South Basildon and East Thurrock, thought to be prime Kipper territory. The selection meeting was last night. Also in play was Kerry Smith, who had been the party’s candidate before somehow being deselected. On the face of it, Hamilton arrived at the meeting in Pitsea, found Smith reinstated, and withdrew in his favour. Smith was then selected.
However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, there is rather more to the story. Hamilton had been a front runner for selection until a letter was leaked to Channel 4 News, and specifically to Michael Crick. The letter, from the UKIP finance committee, demands answers to a number of expense claims made by the former MP during the European election campaign.
Here's the baggage ...
Some of the demands, such as asking why he charged VAT on invoices, may look damning, but all that indicates is that Hamilton works via a limited company. This is, when Ken Livingstone does it, A Very Bad Thing Indeed, but for anyone with multiple income streams is a perfectly normal way of doing business. Indeed, for many years, the Inland Revenue (as was) encouraged it.
No, what we have here is a thinly disguised dirty trick emanating from the upper reaches of the UKIP hierarchy, and it tells us one thing, and one alone: the party has belatedly realised that, in general, they have to demonstrate that their candidates – and preferably activists – are free of so-called “baggage”, and specifically that someone has realised Hamilton carries rather a lot of it.
... and here's the denouement
Moreover, as the Guardian was one of the first papers to start its own website, the story behind the baggage, and what happened on the eve of the 1996 Tory conference, is available for all to see. Hamilton and Ian Greer had sued the paper. The Guardian held firm. Had the trial gone ahead, “Shagger” Major would have been called as a witness, the first serving Prime Minister that century to do so.
Alan Rusbridger, then as now editor of the paper, was unequivocal: “The Guardian has never doubted the truth of its original story. We would have produced damning evidence of Mr Hamilton and Mr Greer's lack of integrity if the case had proceeded. No doubt that is why they dropped the action”. The headline will live long in the memory: it read simply and damningly “A liar and a cheat”.
Hamilton then lost the UK’s third safest Tory seat. No wonder UKIP aren’t keen.