Roger Bird, the General Secretary of UKIP, has been accused of sexually harassing Natasha Bolter during her three months as a party member. He claims they had a relationship, she denies it, and he has now been suspended by UKIP because of allegations the two may have attempted to rig the parliamentary selection in Basildon.
The story has naturally afforded great pleasure to UKIP’s many critics – ranging from the Times newspaper, which appears to be on mission to destroy UKIP by dredging up whatever dirt it can on the party at every opportunity, to the Liberal Democrats who are no doubt surprised and delighted to find a political sex scandal in which they, for a change, are not the main player. But does it really have “legs”? Or is it – as closer investigation seems to suggest – more a case of a thwarted ambition, dirty tricks and mainstream media bias against UKIP than it is about genuine skullduggery?
Perhaps the biggest problem with the story is that the main source of the allegations does not appear to be a credible witness. She claims it was made clear to her that Bird wanted to sleep with her, and she says it was made clear to him that she was not keen. But Bird has been able to produce text messages in which she said she “missed” him and described him as “fabuliscious” (sic).
The story began because Bolter wanted to be UKIP candidate for Basildon and perhaps she would have done well, but equally she has now started mud slinging because the party did not do exactly what she wanted. She had dreamed of being parachuted into a good seat and becoming an MP with the minimum possible work. She did not get that, so she went toxic.
What is staggering is that this came as a surprise to UKIP, but perhaps alarm bells should have rung when she joined the party and immediately wanted a plum seat. Her background was that she was a politically correct teacher who has claimed to have been a long-term Labour activist, although there is no real evidence that she contributed in a meaningful way.
If her former political activities do not leave UKIP voters worried then perhaps we can turn to the parts of her CV that have left the pundits confused. She claims to be an Oxford graduate, but on Twitter Channel 4 journalist, Michael Crick, admitted he was struggling to prove she ever attended the university.
On Newsnight her educational background came in handy when she said of Bird “he shouldn’t have favouritised me” (sic) in her attempts to run for parliament. Not exactly a typical phrase from someone who graduated from Oxford with a degree in PPE.
She did say that as a Catholic she would not sleep with someone to get to the top, and she only met Bird because of how powerful he was in UKIP. Although she did concede she also accepted dinner and a dress from him, and they conducted her first interview for parliament at a club.
Even more intriguing is the issue of her age. It is also unclear exactly how old she is, she has made a number of contradictory claims and so is now described as being “34-39ish”.
Whatever her age she had a ‘heart-felt’ change of political opinions from Labour to UKIP shortly after Douglas Carswell defected, and as the party really started to soar in the polls. At party conference in Doncaster she was enthusiastically touted around the press room as the “future of the party”.
At the time it was hard to see why she was being welcomed with such adulation: what had she actually done to become the golden girl? It is hard to imagine why UKIP got so excited about a young, attractive, ethnic minority woman. Surely not an example of positive discrimination and political correctness, perish the thought.
I am sure the investigation at UKIP will show the party fully vetted her and checked out all of her claims. But I won’t be popping down to Ladbrokes anytime soon to put money on that. When I met her I was pretty convinced she was just a bandwagon jumping careerist cut from the same cloth as people like Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.
It is hard to know what the outcome of the UKIP investigation into the goings on in Basildon will be, but aside from Roger Bird no-one really cares. The bigger issue is that UKIP seem to be addicted to taking any old waif or stray as long as their defection can grab a headline or two. This is no way to run a serious political operation.
UKIP need to ask themselves this question: would the party today refuse membership to an attractive 40-year-old ‘soccer mum’ if she held similar views to Lenin or Kim Jung Il? If we are all honest with ourselves we’d admit that her views would not be questioned and she may even get a genuine shot at political office out of her defection.
If the party gets filled up with left-wing careerists then there really is no point in bothering! If one of Natasha Bolter’s pupils was this tardy she would probably award them a big fat ‘D minus’. Must try harder! Bird never should have befriended Bolter, but then again UKIP never should have talked her up. Both have made mistakes but only Bird is likely to be punished.