Dry January is tougher than it sounds. Well, for me anyway. It’s now been some 28 days since I’ve had a drink, and you should see what that means for my campaigning strategy. ‘Ginger beer? Lemonade?’ Pub-goers around the country can’t believe it when I walk in and whisper my order over the bar. The fact is they don’t believe I’m really doing it. ‘I’m not all spin and bluster like those other lads,’ I usually reply. ‘If I promise I’m going to do something, I’ll bloody well do it.’ Still, I can’t say it’s never going to tempt me again. Especially not given the week I’ve had.
It all started in Milan. We jumped on the easyJet from Gatwick on Monday morning for a lunch meeting with the Casaleggios, the geniuses behind Italian comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, who got eight million votes at the last Italian general election. It was nothing short of fascinating. The Five Star movement is basically a wholly online political party. It has a culture of transparency and openness around it that really makes you think about where politics is headed, and how politics is changing in the Mediterranean specifically. Which takes us straight to Greece — the election results of which were, as I see it, a cry for help. Here’s a country that has been ravaged by the euro — and now wants an end to austerity to try another way of alleviating its euro-inflicted debt crisis. What follows now is surely an incredible game of poker against Mrs Merkel. The European Central Bank of course, grits its teeth nervously as it observes.
On Monday afternoon, I went back to Brussels. I still have to lead the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group in the European Parliament, on top of being an MEP, a Parliamentary candidate, and leader of Ukip. But my mind was geared towards a round-table hustings in Ramsgate, which was great fun. Going in, the entry poll showed a 49 per cent vote for the Tory candidate, and a 15 per cent vote for me. After the event, the results were quite different: 36 per cent for me and 33 per cent for the Tory. The Green and Labour candidates pulled out at the last minute — which doesn’t bode well for the Green party leader’s demands regarding the national debates. If she’s invited, will she even show up? And which one is the leader now anyway? They can’t seem to agree.
Then back to London. Back to being leader of Ukip on Wednesday, which was a day I got to be a little more like the old me. Still no booze, but at the end of a long day working on Ukip’s campaign strategy and more, I got to enjoy dinner near Bank, in the City of London, with some business people. I can never really decide whether I preferred being in business to being in politics. I do enjoy holding the establishment to account — but I also wonder how much better it might have been for my financial situation, and my blood pressure, if I had stuck with my old gig.
On Friday I drove to Bolton — ten hours in the car in total — for a dinner with the local business community at Bolton Wanderers FC. My deputy Paul Nuttall and I were the speakers, but our conversation throughout the night was dominated by Amjad Bashir and our growing concerns about him, especially the rumours beginning to permeate about a gerrymandered selection in Keighley. Dan Hannan, the MEP who took Bashir as a defector into the Tory party, had no idea that a number of serious allegations against him had been coming to a head for some time. Bashir knew we’d had enough of him, and decided to jump. And I was relieved that he went, too. He was the basis of numerous furious rows in MEP meetings. His political agenda appeared to be different from ours, and now he can lobby for an expansion of EU foreign policy including Turkey joining the EU, and for Palestine to be recognised as a state, from within the Tory party. Perhaps he’ll also get a more sympathetic hearing for his views on Pakistani blasphemy laws. I joked on Friday to Paul Nuttall that Bashir knew the end of the road had come, and that the other parties were welcome to him. I never for a second thought that the Tories would accept him. Caveat emptor.