Ukip pick Neil Hamilton after Bolter bolts over ‘sex abuse’
Disgraced former Tory MP seeks selection in South Basilton after Natasha Bolter quits Faragistes
EDITOR'S UPDATE on 11 December: Since this article was posted, Neil Hamilton has withdrawn for the Ukip selection process at South Basildon. His decision followed the leaking to Channel 4 News of a letter to Hamilton from Ukip's finance committee querying an expenses claim.
You couldn’t make it up. After suffering a PR disaster when 35-year-old Natasha Bolter quit Ukip yesterday claiming the party’s general secretary tried to bed her, the party has parachuted in a new candidate to replace her – none other than Neil Hamilton, the disgraced former Tory MP.
As Danny Finkelstein, political commentator at The Times, tweets: “The party running against Westminster bubble, insider MPs and brown envelopes is going to run Neil Hamilton. Have they reflected on this?”
Bolter, a former Labour campaigner who wowed Ukip members when she addressed their party conference in Doncaster in September, was fully expected to be selected tonight as the parliamentary candidate for South Basildon.
But she walked out after claiming that when she went to be interviewed about joining the Ukip candidates list by Roger Bird, Ukip’s 41-year-old general secretary, he sexually harassed her.
Bird, she says, took her to his London club, the Oxford and Cambridge. “When I went I could see that he wasn’t really interested in what I had to offer as a politician,” she told The Times. “He took me down to the snooker room and said ‘I find you very attractive’. He said, ‘Would you like to come home with me?’”
Ukip has confirmed that Bird has been suspended pending a full investigation into Bolter’s claims of sexual harassment.
Bird not only denies Bolter’s allegation but, according to Chris Mason, the BBC political correspondent, says he and Bolter later enjoyed a consensual sexual relationship.
Bolter flatly denies this. She described to The Times a second visit to the Oxford and Cambridge Club in October. “He asked me to pop into his office first at 5pm. If the general secretary of the party rings you and says that, you go.”
Because she arrived dressed in jeans, Bird insisted on buying her a £169 dress and shoes at a branch of Ted Baker. She said he then told her that she “now looked like a girl who could get in a taxi”.
“That pissed me off,” Bolter said. “I felt like slapping him. Before, when I was in jeans, I was obviously an Underground or a bus kind of person.”
Bolter claimed that at this second meeting, after a heavy meal, Bird “leant over and tried to kiss me”.
“It was obvious that he wanted to sleep with me,” she said. “He said, ‘I can help you, I’m supporting you.’
“I was quite adamant that I’m not going to sleep with him or anyone [in Ukip]. It’s hard enough for women. We shouldn’t have to sleep with people to get to the right place.”
Bolter, who is of mixed race, also told The Times: “I’ve seen racism in every single branch of Ukip that I visited.”
One question being asked this morning is why Bolter waited until the eve of her selection before making the claim against Bird. More than one reader has commented under the Daily Mail’s version of the story that she looks like a Labour Party “plant”.
Raising just as many eyebrows is the choice of the former Tory MP Hamilton to seek selection tonight as the Ukip candidate for South Basilton, a highly winnable seat currently held by the Tories.
Hamilton, once deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, has become a minor TV celebrity since being defeated in Tatton in 1997 by the BBC correspondent turned anti-corruption campaigner, Martin Bell.
Bell stood in the Chesshire seat in response to allegations that Hamilton took cash for questions from the owner of Harrods, Mohamed Fayed - a charge Hamilton denied.
Hamilton’s wife, Christine, made a name for herself appearing in the first ever version of I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out Of Here!, while Neil himself includes “entertainer” on his CV.
The dubious choice of a man like Hamilton, and the vanishing act of Bolter, the party’s most high-profile ethnic minority candidate, should certainly test the PR skills of Ukip’s new spokesman, Paul ‘Gobby’ Lambert.
As The Guardian explains, ‘Gobby’ got his nickname working for the BBC. It was his job to shout questions from behind the TV cameraman in Downing Street at politicians going in to see the PM - such as: “Are you ashamed, minister?”