Opium being harvested. Photo: Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
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Suzanne Moore: As I munched on the opium, I pondered the benefits of a drugs-based economy

Jean-Claude had certainly not been in love with me when I was conscious.

When I set off for India I knew only two things: what I had read in Midnight’s Children and that Indians were mad for whisky. I wasn’t sure if the second thing was racist.

Suffice to say that I spent the first two nights in a fleapit in Delhi, terrified by men knocking on my door all night long. “Johnnie Walker,” they hissed. “Give it, madam.” I’d bought some in Abu Dhabi but I was too scared to open the door and sell it to them.

But I got into it when I realised that you could finance a trip to Nepal by bringing back whisky.

The bit no one ever told you was how everyone got stuck in Kathmandu. After a few months in India, Kathmandu was a paradise. Brownies. Lemon meringue pie. Burgers. The hippies had turned the locals on, not only to shooting up heroin, but the munchies. The economy was seemingly based on drugs and patisserie, although once you ventured further afield the medieval poverty of the villages was truly scary. We would scuttle back, usually sick and craving sweet things.

It seemed to be the ideal place then to start eating opium. I was sharing a room with Jean-Claude, a French guy whom I’d become mates with on the road, but was having a peculiar affair with Daba. He was a beautiful Tibetan ex-monk. I was entranced by his long, black hair and er ... spirituality.

Except, like all eldest sons, Daba had no choice about being a monk and there is little spiritual about Tibetan Buddhism as it is practised. Having left the monastery, he now belonged nowhere.

Daba seduced me as we drank out of an ancient silver samovar.

“What kind of tea is this?” I said, as it hit the back of my throat. He drank this all day.

It took a while for me to realise that Daba was a lost alcoholic. But lots of things took a while to dawn on me as I munched my sticky little balls of opium. I carried on drinking “tea” with Daba, trying to see if me and Jean-Claude could get a cheaper room, and waiting to feel something.

Some days later, I was woken up by being slapped round the face by Jean-Claude.

“I thought you were dead.”

He was in a right state. I’d slept for 72 hours. No dreams. Nothing.

This was a bit alarming, I could see that. Not as alarming as what he said next.

“I love you but you cannot live like this. I want to save you. I want you to understand Jesus.”

Jean-Claude had certainly not been in love with me when I was conscious.

That was the wake-up call all right. I was on the next coach out of Kathmandu, with a completely pissed Daba, propped up by a weeping Jean-Claude, waving me off.

It could have been worse. I had an entire suitcase full of Johnnie Walker. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Israel's Next War

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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