I think I may soon have enough material for another comic memoir, this one charting my increasingly accident-prone career as a political campaigner. I’m not talking about setting up the West London Free School, which is still going swimmingly, but the strange direction my career has taken as a consequence of the political platform the school has given me. In How to Lose Friends and Alienate People in Westminster, I would blunder from one disaster to another, giving Gordon Brown a run for his money as the Mr Bean of politics. Who knows, it could even become the basis for an amusing sitcom in which Simon Pegg reprises his role as me. Not so much Yes, Minister as Your Fly’s Undone, Minister.
For instance, a few weeks ago I wrote a blogpost for the Telegraph in which I pointed out that the cuts are actually quite mild. Far from decimating our public services, all the government is proposing to do is peg back public spending to the level it was at in 2008/09. Hardly ‘draconian’ when you consider that the deficit last year was 10.2 per cent of GDP. I ended the post by saying, ‘I for one will be attending the Rally Against Debt’. I knew nothing about this event. I just thought it made for a good payoff line at the end of the piece.
The following day, the Guardian ran a news story on the front page of its website identifying me as one of the organisers of this ‘far right’ rally which it claimed was an attempt to kick-start the British equivalent of the Tea Party movement. Twenty-four hours earlier, I’d been a centre-right journalist trying to start a free school. Now I was the new Sarah Palin.
At first I got the jitters. It turned out that the Rally Against Debt was the brainchild of a couple of young Ukip members. Would the Education Secretary’s support for the West London Free School begin to waver if I became a vocal supporter of a Ukip-organised demo? Then I thought, ‘Sod it. We need to do something about the crippling level of public debt. This is a good cause.’ I became a cheerleader for this unlikely demonstration. I even wrote a follow-up post called ‘Why everyone who cares about Britain’s future should attend the Rally Against Debt’.
But there was a flaw in my cunning plan to become the Glenn Beck of East Acton. When I eventually got round to checking my diary I discovered I was double-booked. As the crowds gathered in Parliament Square on what promised to be an historic day for British politics I was due to take my children to the opening of ‘Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story’, a new exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands. There was no weaselling out of it. All four of them had been looking forward to it for weeks.
There was only one thing for it. I’d have to motor round the museum, dump the brats with Caroline and then race off to Parliament Square. But they were absolutely mesmerised by the tale of Captain Kidd, stopping at every exhibit and demanding to know its precise significance. Still, with a good deal of pushing and shoving I managed to usher them through by 11.45 a.m. and was about to leave when an attendant asked if we were going to stay for the ‘pirate show’. She might as well have offered my children their body weight in chocolate. Trouble is, the show wasn’t until 12.30 p.m. There was no way I was going to make it out of there before 1 p.m.
Even that was optimistic. Being a cowardly custard, I didn’t have the nerve to broach the topic with Caroline until we were sitting in the café after the show. She looked absolutely incredulous.
‘A rally against what?’ she asked. ‘It sounds completely made up.’
At that point, a very unhelpful man sitting opposite started laughing. ‘You got that right,’ he said. ‘He just wants to go to the pub to watch the Cup Final.’
It took another 15 minutes to convince Caroline it was a genuine political event, by which time it was approaching 1.30 p.m. Even so, it hadn’t started until 11 a.m. and there was an impressive line-up of speakers including Nigel Farage and Bill Cash. Maybe I could still catch the tail end .
I bolted towards the door and called Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, who was at the rally.
‘How’s it going?’ I asked.
‘It’s all over,’ he said. ‘We’re in the Westminster Arms.’
Damn and blast. When my grandchildren ask me where I was at the birth of the British Tea Party movement I’ll have to say, ‘A pirate exhibition’. It looks as though a career in politics, even as an MEP for Ukip, is probably beyond me.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.