Whatever Godfrey Bloom's fate, Ukip is still giving me sleepless nights

Maybe Ukip are a one-man band and a one-trick pony, but Nigel Farage is a reckless man with a very dangerous trick.

This was the week when Nigel Farage was going to prove to everyone that Ukip is neither a one-man band nor a one-trick pony. He succeeded in achieving the precise opposite. The delegates unleashed on Westminster’s Central Hall appeared less like a coherent political party and more like the cast of Are You Being Served on a reunion tour. Perhaps inevitably, events unfolded – or unravelled, to be more accurate – at pace and with hilarity. At times it felt like one was watching the entire boxed set of The Thick of It on fast forward.

It all kicked off with a Channel 4 exposé the evening before the conference. Michael Crick uncovered evidence of a rather heated teachers’ meeting, during Farage’s Dulwich College days, assessing his suitability as a prefect, complete with a letter of objection describing him as someone who publicly professed views which were "racist and neo-fascist". Farage’s defence seems to boil down to: 'Ah! Youth.'

By the beginning of the conference proper, a heavily made-up Farage, sweating under the lights – an apt metaphor for his "everyman" image melting under closer public scrutiny – made a keynote speech which even the Daily Mail described as "flat and managerial". Meanwhile, Ukip MEP and senior spokesman Godfrey Bloom was busy at a fringe meeting describing women who do not clean behind the fridge as "sluts".

Questioned about it outside the hall, Bloom said he was only joking and called the reporter a "sad little man". His aide tried to suggest that Bloom had used the term in its more antiquated meaning of "slovenly". The two versions of events are, of course, mutually exclusive; if the word was used without its double entendre connotations, there is no joke. Challenged by Michael Crick over the lack of any black faces among the dozens which adorned the front of Ukip’s conference brochure, Bloom proceeded to smack him over the head, with said brochure.

Cue Nigel Farage trotting out the usual excuses about Godfrey being a colourful character. LOLZ. As if this were not an MEP and the party’s defence spokesman – their defence spokesman, for pity’s sake – but a hapless Carmen Miranda impersonator who wandered into the hall by accident. Cue Diane James explaining that, yes, the party may attract some controversial characters, but the thorough vetting process meant only the best made it to their European election candidate list; she conveniently glossed over the fact that Bloom was one who had made it through this vetting process. What were the controversial characters who didn’t make it like?

As it became clear that the usual flannel would not fly, Bloom had the party whip withdrawn. Irritated, he continued to give interviews. They included one explaining that if journalists showed "impertinence", they could expect much worse than Crick and one in which he asked the BBC’s Allegra Stratton "has your mother never called you a slut?", then proceeded to tell her she had no sense of humour.

As was, perhaps, foreshadowed by the fact that Ukip shared Central Hall during their conference with a Carry On Memorabilia Convention, the comedy gold continued to flow the next day. A personal highlight was the anti-immigration speech, by first generation immigrant Amjad Bashir, which opened with "I wasn't born in Yorkshire, but I came as soon as I could". By the end of the two-day fiasco, "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists" seemed like a rather charitable assessment.

Now the laughter has died down, however, it is time to assess seriously the politics of the Ukip "phenomenon". I am not comforted by the fact Ukip has finally withdrawn their whip from Godfrey Bloom. Instead, I note that he is the fifth MEP out of their 13 elected to have the whip withdrawn. Instead, I worry about the fact that he was the best they could muster after their thorough vetting process. Instead, I question why the whip was not withdrawn when he addressed the European Parliament while drunk, or when he said employers would have to be mad to employ single, young women, or when he referred to the whole of the developing world as “bongo bongo land”.

I am not really concerned about Nigel Farage’s reported racist comments in 1981. I am concerned about his outrageous 2005 manifesto pledge to check any incoming migrants for communicable diseases. His alleged youthful neo-fascist views give me little pause for thought. His current association with neo-fascist parties at the European level gives me sleepless nights.

Before the conference Farage mused that they have no real ambition to form a government, but that – who knows? – maybe in 2015 they will find themselves holding "the balance of power”. In this age of coalitions, how many Godfrey Blooms lurk in Farage’s shadow, ready to assume ministerial posts? Maybe Ukip are a one-man band and a one-trick pony, but he is a reckless man with a very dangerous trick.

Nigel Farage waves after addressing delegates at the UK Independence Party conference in Westminster on 20 September. Photograph: Getty Images.

Greek-born, Alex Andreou has a background in law and economics. He runs the Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company and blogs here You can find him on twitter @sturdyalex

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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.