Ukip pick Roger Helmer: just the chap for Newark by-election?

May 7, 2014
Jack Bremer

A man with something to say on homosexuality and looters gets to stand where Farage chose not to

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

YOU can't accuse Ukip of trying to varnish the truth about its politicians.

After party leader Nigel Farage declined to stand as the candidate in the upcoming Newark by-election - despite intense speculation that Ukip might steal it from the Tories and win their first Westminster seat - the party looked around for another suitable chap and have found Roger Helmer.

He is a 70-year-old businessman turned MEP and a former Conservative who apparently stands for everything his adopted party is looking for in a candidate.

He is on record as questioning the existence of "homophobia" and suggesting that if two homosexual men are allowed to marry, then incest should be allowed too.

Back when he was still a Tory, he posted an infamous tweet during the 2011 urban riots saying the Army should be allowed to "shoot looters and arsonists on sight". It prompted the Daily Telegraph to respond: "He should have no place in modern Conservatism."

The feeling was evidently mutual and after representing the Tories as an East Midlands MEP since 1999, Helmer defected to Farage's party in March the following year.

All of which was enough to persuade the Newark Ukip constituency association to overwhelmingly endorse him this Monday as their candidate to fight the by-election caused by the resignation over sleaze allegations of the former Tory MP Patrick Mercer.

The choice was okayed yesterday by the party's National Executive Committee and personally backed by Farage, despite the fact that the party leader had been called on last year to admit that Helmer had gone "too far" with his incest remark. "If two men have a right to marry, how can we deny the same right to two siblings?" Helmer had asked in a blog post. "Are we to authorise incest?"

The more recent issue regarding his views on homosexuality came up when he told The Sun last month: "Different people have different tastes. You may tell me you don't like Earl Grey tea. That may be a minority view but you are entitled not to like it if you don't like it."

As The Guardian reports, Helmer rejected the suggestion that he was endorsing homophobia. "I simply made the point that people were entitled to their personal preferences. It is morally acceptable to prefer heterosexuality over homosexuality, or vice versa. Most of us prefer one or the other."

After his selection in Newark, Helmer said: "It would be a huge honour to be elected to serve as Newark¹s MP and I will be giving my all over the next few weeks to achieve that outcome."

How likely is it?

Farage has high hopes of Helmer, saying: "I had a feeling from pretty early on that Roger would emerge as the Ukip candidate in this contest."

"He is a massively experienced and respected figure on the national political stage and on the local political stage as well. I know that the Ukip membership will rally to the cause of making Roger our first directly elected MP."

Political pundits aren't so sure. As Don Brind wrote recently for The Week, with the by-election due on 5 June, Ukip are way behind both Labour and the Conservatives in terms of organisation. The Tories chose their man to replace the disgraced Mercer last year and Labour made their pick more than a month ago.

Brind believes this will be a classic three-horse race, with Labour possibly getting the chance to sneak through the middle if Helmer can split the Tory vote.

So, it all depends on how tempted Newark Conservatives are by Helmer, the man and his message.

Bear in mind, they did vote in Patrick Mercer by a whacking majority of 16,000 at the 2010 election ­ at which point the electorate was already aware that the former Army officer had been sacked from Cameron's shadow Cabinet in 2007 for saying he had met a lot of "idle and useless" ethnic minority soldiers who used racism as a "cover".

To be fair, though, they were not yet aware that he had been taking cash for questions or that he had recounted to an undercover reporter a meeting with a young woman in Israel who told him she was a soldier. "You don't look like a soldier to me," he admitted telling her. "You look like a bloody Jew."

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