Godfrey Bloom: Mavericks have an important role to play

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WHEN I was interviewed by a newspaper for a features piece and the interviewer, a senior journalist, suggested I was a “controversial” figure, just for sport I asked him what I had actually said which was really controversial.

He struggled, so I made him read quotes out and asked him if they were “controversial”. He reluctantly agreed that they weren’t really. Admittedly this was before I swatted a journo with a magazine in London (Lord Prescott would have used his famous right hook, but no matter).

Being a “maverick”, “controversial” or “eccentric” is, of course, a completely subjective judgment. In 2004, my comments on employment legislation and the impact of maternity leave on small businesses in particular went viral. I was completely vilified by the journalistic metropolitan elite – “sexist dinosaur” was one of the gentler headlines.

Yet I spoke at a Hull Chamber of Commerce luncheon a few weeks later and a dour Yorkshire businessman came up and asked me how I got into the newspapers with a statement of the blindingly obvious.

Yet again, the journos and TV presenters who inhabit the Westminster bubble went apoplectic when my speech on overseas aid shot around the country. This time I was a “racist”, which caused much amusement from my many Commonwealth friends.

The popular press, realising they had misread the public mood, changed tack. Ukip membership in Yorkshire increased and in August the party grew its share in the polls. So what is blindingly obvious to the man on the Leeds Omnibus is not usually so to those encapsulated in the Westminster bubble.

The modern political scene is now run by an unholy alliance of political journos, spin doctors at party HQ and the whips. The maverick is not wanted, he or she is never “on message”. Party leaders cannot bear them, they take the camera lenses away from them, they threaten political careers.

Newspapers are editorially committed to one of the two main parties so the political back-scratching continues. The maverick destabilises the whole cosy cartel.

Winston Churchill spent much of his time as a political maverick. He went from Tory to Liberal, then “re-ratted” to the Tories. He was a voice in the wilderness throughout the 1930s when he warned of German rearmament.

This surely would suggest the maverick has a very serious role to play in politics. They are often right, they certainly raise the debate, they are especially valuable when two main party politics are almost identical – as is the case with the modernised Conservatives and New Labour.

Ron Paul, a serious maverick if ever there was one, is proving a useful catalyst for debate between the Democrats and Republicans, where again there are no serious policy differences.

Enoch Powell is remembered for his speeches on immigration but his logic was devastating on the European Union and monetary inflation. Look back indeed, if you will, to the 19th century and consider James Fox and William Wilberforce, and even further back to John Wilkes.

Do not be fooled by the fake maverick. I would put the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in this category, bicycling to work with a funny haircut helps the political debate not a bit. The true maverick must have conviction. A seriously held, well-argued view. Otherwise it is mild eccentricity which amuses but does not add value. So there must be a message. Electoral reform, slavery, inflation, immigration or constitution. Yesteryear’s maverick is often today’s hero.

I fully accept many political commentators regard me not necessarily as a maverick but stark staring bonkers. Well, those usually who have never taken the trouble to come and see me, anyway.

I was the first elected politician who challenged apocryphal man-made global warming on television in 2005. Mad! Lunatic! Flat Earther! That criticism has gone a bit quiet now.

I would argue the genre is essential to politics, particularly if it stops further disconnect between government and the electorate, which is in no-one’s interest.

• Godfrey Bloom is a MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber.