The aftermath of a general election is a difficult time for any party leader, unless like Mr Cameron you have received a shock majority. I had promised to stand down if I did not win in South Thanet, and confirmed this a few minutes after the result. My huge consolation prize was that Ukip took control of Thanet District Council with a working majority of ten. I am enormously proud of them, and expect them to be a beacon of good governance. However, the level of scrutiny they will be under as the first Ukip-controlled local authority will of course be enormous, as the establishment will be willing them to fail.
To the National Executive Council meeting. I said that I intended to resign, and the letter was being typed as I spoke. To my surprise the NEC were unanimous in their rejection of my plan and produced thousands of messages of support from Ukip members. Their view was that we had fought the most positive campaign of any party and that four million votes, given the unexpected Tory surge (induced by fear of the SNP), was a remarkable achievement. There was a real passion in the views expressed.
I left the meeting to sit in my office and think. In many ways, I was relieved that many years of non-stop toil were at an end. But now, not only was the party behind me, but our cherished goal of a referendum was on the table. There was little doubt in my mind that the referendum pledge would not have happened without Ukip, and that our hammering of the Labour vote had directly contributed to the Tory majority. The NEC were right: I had to continue.
At this point, the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a campaign office was released. People who had given all their energy to the campaign and were understandably exhausted made some wrong decisions, and one or two allowed themselves to display personal grudges and jealousies in public. Some regrettable things were said. Behind the scenes, all of this was being exploited by some Tory Eurosceptics who are keen to be the ‘face’ of the Out campaign.
It is true that Douglas Carswell and I have different styles and approaches to politics, but the important point is that there is far more that unites us than divides us. How the press and the BBC enjoyed themselves over those few days, with Ukip gaining coverage that it could only have dreamt of during the campaign. Thursday night’s BBC Question Time was in Uxbridge, and it presented a good opportunity to answer all of the difficult issues. On a personal level it was a horrible day, with a relative being robbed overnight. Worse still, on my way to Uxbridge I heard that a close family member had collapsed and been admitted to hospital. I really wasn’t sure whether to go ahead with the programme or not. But if I hadn’t, then no matter what the explanation it would have looked as if I had run away just when the party needed a steady hand on the tiller. All I had to do was keep myself together during the filming.
To No. 10 in the rain with Douglas Carswell, the Greens, Plaid Cymru, some Scots Nats and the Electoral Reform Society to hand in the petition of 478,000 names of those calling for electoral reform. I caused a disturbance in Parliament Square. A huge bin lorry pulled up: ‘Oi Nigel,’ came the cry from inside the cab. ‘Can I get a photo?’ It’s moments like that that make it clear to me that Ukip have touched a nerve among the public. We have a duty to be their public voice. Mistakes are made, consequences have to be dealt with. Accepting resignations is never easy. But when it comes from somebody as able, hardworking and decent as Patrick O’Flynn, it is tinged with real sadness.
Wherever you go iPhones and cameras are waving, snapping and making life difficult. I wasn’t happy to discover that the press office had semi-officially sanctioned a photographer to follow me around. She was tenacious, turning up everywhere: Grimsby, Camborne, Dudley and of course Thanet. I could hardly turn around without spotting her in the shadows. She was all politeness and decency, but being photographed and recorded whenever I had a moment of downtime wasn’t something I enjoyed at all.
So I am back in Strasbourg and will continue as leader, with a renewed emphasis on our ‘renegotiations’. In Westminster, Douglas alone carries the hopes of four million people. He was right: I could do with a break.
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