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What is it about Kilroy?

Posted by Helen Saturday, February 05, 2005

The man excites the most extraordinary passions and I cannot quite understand why. The comments on this blog are enough to make one’s hair stand on end. When one looks at the ridiculously personalized attacks in the media one is lost in admiration: how can one man get so many talentless hacks quite so excited?

When Robert Kilroy-Silk first announced that he was joining UKIP and standing for the European Parliament, a perfectly sensible friend said to me that it is a bad idea as the British people do not really take to people like him.

Excuse me, I pointed out, but he has run an exceedingly popular TV programme for 17 years. If that is a sign of unpopularity and the British people not liking him then I am the Queen of Sheba. (No comments please about that – I am not.)

Is it the fact that the man is successful? There are plenty of successful people around, though not necessarily in politics or, for that matter, journalism. Is it that he refuses to play up to the prevailing trend and never puts on a “cheeky-chappie” persona? Could be.

Is it that he knows his own worth? Well yes, that is a heinous crime in the British media, unless you happen to be a film actor (of either sex) who comes back from Hollywood, tail between legs, to explain that he or she could not cope with tinseltown’s ethos. (More like they didn’t want you, the reader longs to shout, but this rubbish does get written up solemnly.)

Or perhaps it is the insouciance with which he stands up and rubbishes the entire media-political establishment, a view with which many people out in the big bad world are in sympathy– something that denizens of that world cannot admit to.

Coupled with that is the man’s palpable contempt for the hacks. He, let us recall, was a reasonably successful politician who got out because the Labour Party was being taken over by the Militant Tendency, while many of his colleagues knuckled under.

He became a very successful media personality, journalist and businessman, who was dropped by the BBC because of his opinions. His former colleagues, though, knuckle under. When Kilroy rubbishes the journos before him, he makes it clear that he knows what they are up to as he is one of them himself. Unspoken behind that comment, pronounced with Mack the Knife-type geniality is another one: but I am successful and you are not or you would not be here.

Much of this was obvious at that famous launch that everyone has an opinion about. As I watched the third party launch of my life in politics, I could not help noting the differences.

The biggest of these was the presence of representatives of all the biggies in the media. The place was packed with journalists, photographers, cameramen. Alan Sked, who was rather good with the media could not have managed anything like that.

The post-Sked leadership of UKIP mostly receive publicity when they put their foot in it (vide Godfrey Bloom), with the exception of Nigel Farage and his entirely admirable attack on the new Commissioners’ probity. (Even he managed to get things wrong and has not been capable of moving on to another subject.)

But Kilroy did it. The launch of his party was covered by every newspaper, every agency, every TV channel. And they hated it. The man was attacking politicians and their lies but all his listeners knew that the media has been complicit in those lies.

The journos had come to the launch to write two stories: one was about Kilroy’s tan, the other about Kilroy getting tough on immigration, that is, somehow, necessarily a racist policy.

I shall not comment on the tan – I know nothing about it. But I did think it was a bit silly to keep harping on about immigration as if it was still a taboo subject. Somebody asked Kilroy whether he could compare himself with Enoch Powell and whether he thought Powell had been a racist.

One longed to go up to the little chap or chapess and say: “Powell died some years ago. Get over it.” Kilroy did not put it quite like that but informed the questioner that Veritas intended to look forward and not back. He wondered whether he was going to be compared to Genghis Khan. (Actually, that would not be a bad thing. The man was an extremely successful military and political leader.)

Andrew Gimson of the Daily Telegraph thought the comparison with Powell was perfectly reasonable since both men were talking about immigration. Mr Gimson should get out more. An awful lot of people are talking about immigration.

The subject has become a big topic across the whole of Europe. Politicians in the Netherlands, to mention one country, are grappling with the subject and I doubt that any of them have even heard of Enoch Powell.

Then there was Colm Toîbin of the Times who asked if Kilroy had spoken the truth in his entire career. Coming from a journalist that is quite an interesting question. No, he was told, as a Labour spokesman, Kilroy had had to defend all sorts of daft things, like unilateral disarmament. But he was not going to do that again.

The best moment came when a young chap from PA (I think), one who had clearly gone into agency journalism straight out of college, asked if Kilroy had ever had a proper job, that being a prerequisite for being able to talk to ordinary people.

Even a Kilroy hater must rejoice in the answer, which consisted of a devastating put-down about being “unlike you” and running a company that employed “sixty grown-up people”.

Not only was this a silly question from a journalist (what on earth did the lad think a proper job was?) but it was also an example of “sloppy journalism”. If you are sent out on an assignment, you do your homework first. Kilroy’s career is not a secret. Ten minutes on the net would have saved the boy a great deal of embarrassment.

Where does all this knock-about stuff leave Veritas? Its political future is hard to predict, since much depends on circumstances the party and its leader have no control over. For example, what the Conservative Party will do or say in the election campaign.

It is, however, undeniably true that the proportion of people in this country who bother to vote is going down. The reason is clearly not that electors can no longer manage to work out where the polling station is but that they do not think it is worth their while to put a cross on that piece of paper. Much of that stems from a confused and imprecise but, nevertheless, accurate understanding that the people we elect are not the ones who legislate.

The gap between the people and the political elite in this country has not been this wide for a very long time and there probably is place for another party somewhere in there.

The question is what is the party stands for. The notion that you can campaign on something called British values is silly. What are they? Fox-hunting? Fish and chips? Going to bingo? Getting drunk on Fridays and Saturdays? Tending to your garden? Doing DIY? Warm beer and bad food? Ice-cold lager and somewhat better food? Who knows.

The main problem, it seems to me, is the basic notion of “listening to the people”. Of course, politicians ought to have some idea of what it is people want, but forming policies on that basis and nothing else gives you a bar-room manifesto. Some basic political ideas must be present as well. In fact, that is the problem with the main parties as far as most voters are concerned – they have no ideas and no convictions.

If Veritas is to survive and thrive, it must come up with a notion of what sort of country it would like to see. Yes, we want to get out of the euro-mess. But what do we do afterwards?

Without imitating or stealing their clothes, Veritas could look at the newly announced Conservative fisheries policy, that tries to answer that very question. Then do what the Tories seem unable to do and look at other topics in the same way.

Perhaps, a good starting point would be that we want to see a free people in a free country; a people who are self-reliant in a country that takes its place proudly in the world.

Of course, one has to accept that the journos will not write about it. But we, in the blogosphere, shall.