Brexit is seen by some Remainers as the outcry of the male, pale and stale. And a quick glance at crowds surrounding Nigel Farage at this week’s Brexit Party candidate unveiling would certainly back that up.
But appearances can be deceptive, and in Ed Hall, who is fighting to win in Dover, Farage has an election candidate who has already broken the mould.
The yacht-racing media businessman was once sacked from the Navy for being gay, having refused to quit.
A “political animal” since debates in school, rather than take it lying down, Hall campaigned to change the law to allow gay and lesbian people to serve in the forces, eventually succeeding after defeating the government in court around the turn of the century.
“It rankled, so my political age, my political campaigning came out as a consequence of that,” he tells HuffPost UK.
Back then, Hall was a Tory and found himself on the opposite side of the argument to many of the traditionalist Eurosceptic “bastards” he has fought largely alongside since 2016.
“There was a very old fashioned family values party whose views I didn’t agree with.
“Getting the government out of the bedroom was a key thing that I felt was important.
“That was true for the armed forces and also true for the Conservative party and we changed that.
“I’m hugely proud of that group of people that managed to turn the Conservative party from a party that did not sit on the side of lesbians and gay men to one that was driving the introduction of gay marriage.”
We meet in a cafe in Dover, the deprived port town on the frontline of Brexit which has been held by Charlie Elphicke since 2010 - a Conservative until his recent suspension over sexual assault charges. He followed 13 years of Labour.
After tea and out on the stump, one Labour voter who calls himself a “Jeremy Corbyn man” sums up the three-way battle here that will be replicated in seats across the country come December 12.
“Take every vote off the Tories, leave Labour alone,” the man tells Hall.
Later, a Leave-backing woman shows the Tories’ early woes are cutting through.
“Rees Mogg is endangering the election,” he says. “They shouldn’t let him out without his nanny.”
Hall deals with all-comers like he’s been doing it for a while, looking like a classic Farage-ist in his tweed jacket.
But he was once a David Cameron supporter, names Remainer Ruth Davidson as the best politician of the last decade (“very, very impressive”) and wants to see Rory Stewart (“a conviction politician”) return to parliament.
But having voted Leave in 2016, it was Hall’s “anger and disappointment” at Cameron’s decision to quit as prime minister after the referendum that proved a “key moment” in his shift to the Brexit Party.
“That was a man who has been to every government capital, been to every one of the 27 twice, in fact, you know, in an unprecedented attempt to negotiate a new deal with Europe,” he says
“I suspect because of his relationship, and because of his ability to say ‘I told you so’ that he would have been by far the strongest person at that point in time to negotiate a new relationship with Europe, but he threw in the towel.
“All the people who told me he was a petulant schoolboy who I’d argued with for years, I’m afraid, were proved right on that morning.”
He insists he switched allegiance because he was “so angry” that the Brexit vote was being frustrated.
“You can’t ask the nation to make a decision about something and then ignore the result, it’s just not the way that I want this country to operate,” he says.
But Hall quit the Tories in August 2019 when Boris Johnson was in full no-deal Brexit mode, suggesting there may have been something else behind his decision.
At least twice during our meeting, Hall rails against career politicians, and especially “special advisors, consultants and lobbyists” who have become MPs.
Indeed it seems strange that he never made it into parliament as a trailblazing, modernising Tory member in the Nineties.
And wasn’t someone on the liberal wing of the Tory party concerned about Farage’s longstanding ability to attract racists, sexists and homophobes?
“That’s an opportunity, no doubt for Farage to address some of the things that people had concerns about in the past”
Hall insists he thought “long and hard” before joining, and made sure he “kicked the tyres” beforehand.
Despite the Islamophobic views of some Brexit Party candidates, Hall insists “it is a very different party”.
“This is not Ukip,” he adds.
But intriguingly, he suggests Farage does need to address the old associations, and he is not afraid to challenge the party top brass.
“Now I know Nigel is not a new leader, but he is the leader of a new party,” Hall says.
“And that’s an opportunity, no doubt for him to address some of the things that people had concerns about in the past.”
And Hall seems slightly uncertain of his leader’s decision not to stand himself in the general election, revealing that it has caused a split in the party.
“I see people with both views inside and outside the party,” he says.
“I completely understand why he’s done it. You know, when you’re the outsider and not an incumbent, the amount of time it will take into investing one constituency would be to the detriment of the rest of the national campaign. So I get the argument.
“And I hope that we will see him here and the other constituencies will see a lot more of him during the campaign.
“There’s a little bit of me that kind of wishes there was a constituency where he would be directly facing the electorate as well.”
Hall also reveals he is going to challenge the Brexit Party’s new media chief, Jack Irvine, over his campaigning against gay rights and reference to “slobbering old queers”, as revealed by HuffPost UK this week.
“It isn’t very pleasant reading, but it is 20 years ago, and I would like to know what his views are today.
“I don’t think there is any lesbian or gay man in this country that doesn’t have family members or friends whose opinions 20 years ago were dramatically different to where they are today.”
It is worth pointing out that Irvine’s response to HuffPost UK was “is that the best you can do?”
If he is elected an MP, Hall will push for parents to be banned from taking their children out of LGBT education in school, seeing it as the natural next step for gay rights.
“I think it’s very sad when we see people campaigning, having political rallies outside primary schools, that I don’t feel comfortable with.
“And I don’t think that, broadly as a country, we feel happy with our education system to be politicised like that.
“We should have a very straightforward, balanced approach to the way in which we introduce the rights of our citizens, and we don’t have different categories of citizen.”
Locally, Hall’s big pledge is to give people more of a say in politics, perhaps unsurprisingly for a Brexiteer.
He wants referendums to be held on planning and transport decisions, to ensure Dover resembles more of a town “looking back” at the rest of the country, rather than the vision of a Londoner gazing outwards from the capital.
But beyond these issues and backing his party’s call for House of Lords reform, Hall is not exactly fizzing with policy ideas.
So why should voters in Dover back him?
“Whether you are Labour supporter or Conservative supporter, there are very few people who will look at the way parliament has behaved in the last three years, who will look on their parties with pride.
“And I think there is a sense that people want to see something different. And actually, you know, every now and again, that you do need to throw the pieces up in the air and see what they look like when they come back down again. And maybe this is that moment.”
Hall also has a message for those who see his yacht racing as posh.
“I did the Fastnet race this summer and I can assure you after, you know, four or five days, 10 of us living in a yacht the size of a living room, there’s nothing upmarket about that at all.”
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