Outside Westminster very few functionaries acquire genuine fame, and it might be hard for the public to understand the excitement created by the announcement that Paul “Gobby” Lambert is joining UKIP. Gobby is a well liked figure in the Westminster figure, but it is not because he is a polite, quiet wall flower.
As his nickname might suggest, Gobby is the voice that can often be heard on the news shouting outside Downing Street questions like “are you going to resign Prime Minister”. Before the Autumn Statement he shouted to George Osborne “have you solved the deficit?” As if to add to the whole image it’s all done in a working class southern accent.
He’s known as a pitbull who is not afraid to take on the big names of British politics, skills he will need in his new role.
On one occasion Gobby went from making the news to being the news when he broke House of Commons rules by chasing Jonathan May-Bowles through the Palace of Westminster with a camera after he tried to hit Rupert Murdoch with a custard pie. The Commons authorities were so outraged by the breach in rules that they took Gobby’s security pass away. However, after a campaign he was reinstated.
He will now need to show similar single-minded determination because UKIP have suffered a series of PR disasters recently as they struggle with the transition from fringe party to serious political power. Scrutiny on their members has led to some difficult questions for party leader Nigel Farage. But Gobby’s appointment is part of efforts to professionalise the party, and comes as a result of the stronger financial position of team UKIP.
The leak of the salaries of all UKIPs staff was a low point, as was Janice Atkinson MEP’s comment that an Asian constituent was a “ting tong from somewhere”. Mistakes like this could cost seats in the General Election, and at this stage a good showing next year is within reach but not assured.
Whether Gobby succeeds in the role will depend on him drawing everyone within the party together and pushing them to be more disciplined when it comes to the media. He will also want to continue the strategy of making the party less reliant on Nigel Farage, this can only be done if other spokesmen have something worthwhile to say. But this is a fine line for a party that prides itself on refusing to be ‘on message’.
His appointment is also significant because it is part of a process by which UKIP begins to fill up their ‘sergeant class’ with experienced professionals. In the past they have relied on five or six hand-me-downs from the Conservatives, but there were never enough of them to fill of the staff positions they had. To make it worse they lost a number of experienced people to the European Parliament, and in fact Gobby fills the role vacated by Patrick O’Flynn.
His style will be much more ‘in your face’ than O’Flynn but in a pre-election knife fight that may be just what UKIP needs. And last time I met him he was a smoker, so that will keep Farage happy!