During the party conference season I found myself on a boat with around 40 Ukip Young Independent members enjoying a September evening cruising the waterways of Birmingham, hosted by the excellent Simon Richards of The Freedom Association and guest speaker, Roger Helmer MEP. There were some free drinks on offer and I expected it to be a little loud and raucous. It wasn't. Afterwards we retired to a bar where others joined us, including a fair few from the media.
Now I thought things will get a little loud. Not so. the debates were the usual political ones, the YIs downed wine, beer and sandwiches and cheered at deputy leader, Paul Nuttall's speech. It was more like a vicar's tea party for the church youth. All very boring for the media who were there to catch them out.
I have to confess that I tottered back to the conference hotel, the worse for wear in heels and a few too many large glasses of chardonnay, where things were a little livelier in the bar with the older crowd!
Politics attracts some very good and some very odd people. Most political activists are driven by a desire to change and influence policy; some because they want to belong to a club with like-minded people and some because no other club would have them. There's nothing like a Conservative association fundraiser from the home counties which has some pretty odd characters and often a pretty closed club for the over 70s.
I have always encouraged young people to become involved in politics and had some great kids working for me when I ran campaigns for the Conservative party and, latterly, when I become a parliamentary candidate. Two were with me from GCSEs through to A-levels and now they are at university. However, youthful exhuberance brings with it trouble for those at the top.
The media love a drunken young Tory, the ones that make indiscreet remarks and party a little too hard. It's just that they are in politics that creates the headlines.
In my second piece for HuffPo about Ukip I will try to put the record straight over the election of the Young Independent's (YI) officers.
Last week it was reported on these pages that the acting chairman of YI Oliver Neville was dismissed for having pro-gay marriage views. This was not the case, he was dismissed for continually and wilfully refusing to understand his responsibilities as a party officer in relation to the clear statement of party policy, as opposed to his own views.
As well as gay marriage, he embarrassed us on Euro elections ("a sideshow") - the original reason for Ukip's existence, legalisation of drugs and prostitution and, subsequently, confessed on C4 that he supports legalisation of incest and bestiality. He/his supporters have also started saying that they are in favour of open-door immigration.
YI is full of very good people (over 700), many of whom have been in touch with me to say they are totally supportive. Equally, Ukip is very proud of YI, and I look forward to working with the vice-chairman, Rob Comley, whom I am told is great and very sensible.
Ukip officers stopped the YI election because it was being run without rules and was deteriorating into a public proxy fight. The chairman asked YI to appoint a caretaker - they decided to appoint Olly, one of the two candidates. He then purported to announce the result of the election, even though it had not been concluded or formally counted. He was not elected.
All youth have to learn the rules, it's all about growing up.
It has always fascinated me how politics attracts and engages with youth. The left are good at political activism but are not criticised in the same way as those from the centre right of politics. A group called Demand the Impossible ran a number of radical left workshops over the summer to encourage political activism. They targeted young Muslim women to engage with them about the evils of capitalism and the joys of feminism, mutualism and anarchism. The result of this was that they were motivated to 'storm' Sainsbury's in New Cross, SE London demanding a living wage for the poor workers. The 'poor' workers were bemused and the group were ejected. It didn't reach the BBC or the Daily Mail but it got a few lines in the Guardian a few months later by a blogger. Had it been Ukip students it would have been headline news across the media. I find anarchism offensive, feminism outdated and sexist and so do others but we allow them to air their views.
Political parties need activists and their votes. Freshers' weeks are populated by political parties trying to recruit students. Ukip is increasing its age spread and reach by recruiting young people. Our message resonates as it did to my generation when Margaret Thatcher was elected and subsequently by Tony Blair and New Labour's message. It's the same now for Ukip. An established party with policies that reflect what the British people want.
Yes, we've got some oddities. Yes, we're a pretty broad church. But please do not demonise the kids as the exhuberence of youth should never be crushed.