What a week! I was thrilled to have a chance to confront Nick Clegg but my excitement was tempered with disappointment that neither Cameron nor Miliband agreed to take part — although both were invited. I’d love to have challenged Miliband about the effects of uncontrolled immigration: wage compression, for instance, and the erosion of job opportunities within working-class communities. Why did he chicken out? My bet is he knows these facts are unanswerable. Cameron is, by all accounts, having kittens about Ukip but I think I can set his mind at rest. Our current wave of support seems to be thanks to working-class former Labour voters, which makes perfect sense. An excellent new book by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin, Revolt on the Right, explains that these sensible working-class voters feel alienated from Labour but unable to vote Tory. So poor old Cameron can’t blame Ukip any more for his failing fortunes.
But back to the debate with the man who did show up. At the time, after our first tussle, I was very pleased that the YouGov poll showed Ukip in the lead by 57 per cent to 36 per cent. What I later found out was that the result was actually about 68/25 but the sample was re-weighted. This was, I was told, because a high proportion of ‘older people’ answered the poll. The pollster therefore imagined the result was skewed. However I have an alternative term for these ‘older people’ that YouGov seems to think unrepresentative. I call them voters.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to me in these debates has been the realisation that it isn’t just the political classes we are up against, it’s virtually the entire commentariat, too. In the spin room, it was clear to my press team that most of the media were desperate to write up a Clegg win — even those working on newspapers that are supposedly hostile to the Lib Dems. Journalists were itching to start tweeting that Clegg had trounced me, even after it was quite clear he hadn’t. But why? It just goes to show that the Westminster bubble — press and politicians alike — floats further away every day from the people they claim to speak for and to.
The day after the first debate I gave a speech in Cologne, organised by the youth wing of the Alliance for Deutschland, Germany’s fast-growing Eurosceptic party and, to my surprise, it was a sell-out. In the audience were Rhineland Germans holding Ukip placards. The Ukip brand clearly is broadening.
The next morning, we headed back up the motorway towards Brussels, only to find ourselves stuck behind a horrendous accident. Helicopters, police cars, ambulances, fire engines — we were stuck for four hours, but the curious thing is that no one got cross. German men and women stood on the autobahn quietly chatting. Not one raised voice or shaken fist. I imagined the scene if there’d been a four-hour delay on the M25 during rush hour in my part of Kent, and marvelled.
The delay was particularly stressful because of the news that my mother, who was taken ill the day before, was deteriorating fast. While I was stuck in German traffic, she was being wheeled in for emergency surgery and it was awful not to be there. The next morning. when she came off the life support machine, I was able to visit her in intensive care. Despite the fact that she is going to face a long recovery, it looks like things are going to be OK. The outstanding medical care my mother has received in a south London hospital confirms my view that in emergency treatment and intensive care our NHS is world class. My whole family is profoundly appreciative.
The most enjoyable moment of the week was on Saturday at Twickenham at the Schools’ Rugby final between my old place, Dulwich College, and Warwick School. Dulwich’s reputation for rugby is extraordinary. It is not so long ago that two old boys, Andrew Sheridan and Nick Easter, were in the same mighty England team. I met my son and a load of old boys and we cheered like maniacs for Dulwich, who won 53–5, victorious for the third year in a row. There was a very good party after that.
On Monday evening, I sat down with some trepidation to watch Nigel Farage: Who Are You?, a Channel 4 documentary by Martin Durkin. He spent weeks filming me, and any temptation to be guarded soon went out of the window. It was a pretty fair characterisation, I thought. The most extraordinary moment came when the liberal-left commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown unleashed her loathing of me. At one point, she even said the media needed to be ‘controlled’ to limit my exposure. With enemies like these, who needs friends?