I remember the first time my mum called me a slut. Being the kind, peace-loving individual she is, I was a tad taken aback by such an accusation. After experiencing a minor existential collapse, we discussed why she had opted to use this word over more maternal ones. She was at pains to emphasise that in her diction, a "slut" was a lazy person who watched too much TV, not someone with loose morals. I was understandably reassured, and accepted that on this basis, I was indeed a slut. Following on from the discussion, I suggested that to avoid confusion in future, she might want to avoid using the word.
So when Godfrey Bloom experienced catastrophic system failure at the UKIP conference last week, I have to say I felt a bit sorry for him. Taken out of context, it did seem that he was being an obnoxious bigot. In context, however, and remembering that he (and his party) pines for 'simpler' times when women didn't leave the house, his use of the word 'slut' becomes (slightly) less horrifying. If he had said 'slags', then the opprobrium heaped upon him may well have been justified. Whatever he may have said, it still was not a pleasant sight watching journalists swoop vulture-like onto him.
That said, I couldn't help but smile inwardly. A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post that suggested Mr Bloom wasn't really that active in the European Parliament, and was undermining the UK interest rather than defending it. Because I hadn't clearly explained that I work for a Conservative MEP, one of his employees penned a rather vicious post in response, suggesting that I was, amongst other things, 'as neutral as battery acid'. I have never claimed to be neutral and have regularly stated my support for the Tories, so I was slightly surprised by his accusations.
Despite this, I felt a bit sorry for Mr Bloom after his knifing by Mr Farage. There's no doubt about it: Mr Bloom is a very entertaining speaker and regularly directs well-aimed poison darts at fluffy continental liberals and socialists during parliamentary debates. Indeed, having been called a slut several times by my own mother, I found myself sympathising with him. He is just old-fashioned and misunderstood (like much of the Tory party and all of Ukip).
What the incident illustrates about Ukip's fortunes is perhaps more interesting than my own personal opinions on his demise. Ukip is now in the rather uncomfortable position of straddling the boundary between protest movement and political party aiming for government. On the former, Ukip wins hands down. Farage and his acolytes have injected a large amount of energy into British politics in recent years. Seeing ministers and shadow ministers squirm in response to the blunt approach of the 'kippers' has been delightful. Indeed, they have excelled at doing the job the Lib Dems once (ineffectively) did before the coalition era.
On the latter, however, Ukip has a much tougher job ahead of it. People like Ukip and Farage because they are outside the establishment, free from vested interests and emanating genuinely from the grassroots. It is a populist movement, centred around Farage's (and Bloom's) personal charisma, feeding off popular disillusionment with the perceived incompetence of the British political system. They are popular in the truest sense of the word; they are the political manifestation of the Daily Mail, which in turn is the journalistic manifestation of the mythical 'Middle England'.
To transform this movement into a political party requires serious work. Mr Bloom's ousting was almost inevitable, viewed in this context. With a propensity to say things that come across a bit awkwardly, even if the Daily Mail agrees with them, Bloom was likely to attract unwelcome attention as Farage tried to modernise and gentrify the party. The irony is that the more modernised and gentrified Ukip becomes, the more it looks like the establishment parties its supporters so detest.
And with a media thirsting for fun things to bitch about, it was all but inevitable that one more ill-judged remark would trigger his downfall. Ukip has offered an almost never-ending buffet of controversial characters, closet racists and, dare I say it, 'swivel-eyed loons' to poke fun at. Small wonder then that Channel 4 took the opportunity to bring Mr Bloom crashing down last week. His interaction with their nightly news programme in recent weeks has alone probably boosted their ratings by a several million.
Perhaps the message then is a positive one for the Conservative Party. Lynton Crosby's advice appears to have been 'ignore Ukip and hope they go away'. This may actually work if this week's events are anything to go by. Farage has a tough task ahead of him, something akin to herding drunk cats. If he fails, then Ukip may just fizzle out, in much the same way Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement in Italy appears to be doing. I really hope they don't though; British politics just wouldn't be the same without them.