When two students met… the Hamiltons

Source: Newstatesman

I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting when the front door opened. I’d spent so much time researching the details of the Hamilton’s most controversial and scandalous events, it almost took me by surprise when Christine gave me a warm hug and two kisses on the cheek before I’d even stepped into the house. Then straight after, Neil hopped into view and I found myself being escorted into the living room in a whirlwind of ‘Jolly goods’, ‘How do you do’s’ and ‘Righty ho’s’. 

After welcoming us into their home and placing us on their sofa they asked us how our trip had been and whether the room temperature was okay for us, ‘Yes its perfect, thanks.’ ‘Jolly good,’ Christine said, ‘Ill make you boys some tea’ and off she went into the kitchen. Neil, who had spotted the camera slung over my shoulder had been fixing his hair in a small mirror in the hallway, ‘Just going to freshen up’ and he hurried up the stairs.

Of all the things I’d prepared for, for some reason I hadn’t anticipated how welcoming, friendly and normal the couple would be. Giving a quick scan of the room I noticed the various portraits of the royal family, Britannia flag and photographs of the couple sided with Margaret Thatcher. Other than that the Hamilton living room didn’t really suggest anything about the couples dubious past.

I looked down at my notes for the Interview and wondered how I was going to weave the false rape allegations into the conversation. I had a whole page of questions about the time he smoked a joint with Ali G. The cash for questions scandal which saw him get kicked out of the Tory party was also sure to be mentioned. I flicked through the pages…opposition to LGBT relationships, a staunch support of Brexit, privatising schools and hospitals, turning Wales into a tax haven, climate change denier. The list went on.

Go to 8:00 to watch Neil Hamilton smoke a joint with Ali G

Coming up from our studio apartment in north London Dan and I had been studying alongside minimum wage jobs trying to pursue careers as writers/journalists. Dan had secured the interview and in a way we both saw it as an opportunity to finally do some worthy journalism.

As you’d expect from a second-year university student in London, I’d inhabited what I thought of as a trendy inner-city journalist identity. In the weeks leading up to the interview I had built up a kind of liberal fantasy which saw me entering that Hamilton household and sticking it to the big man. A small part of me was really eager to show him up as a closet racist corrupt politician that hid behind a façade of out-dated philosophies and political mumbo-jumbo. I’d envisioned myself using my superior wit and intellect in the interview to psychologically headlock Neil until finally he fell into a state of remorse and existential guilt in the comforts of his very own home.

Louis Theroux with the Hamiltons, source: BBC

As it turned out it was me who was sat in a state of existential guilt in the Hamilton home. I’d spent less than two minutes in their presence and there I was questioning why the hell my ego had had me visualising WWE moves on an elderly UKIP MP.

Christine re-entered the living room just before Neil and placed a tray of tea and biscuits on the coffee table. As Neil adjusted himself on his chair Christine gave me a warm smile, a wink and pinched one of my cheeks before going back to the kitchen. Christine’s courteous exit had dealt the final blow to my badass journalist/wrestler ego just seconds before the interview had begun.

We started off by reading out a list of points outlined in the UKIP manifesto, offering Neil a chance to give his thoughts on each one, ‘Oh sure go for it, I’ve not actually read it yet,’ said the now acting leader of UKIP, ‘It’ll be interesting to hear some of them.’ Dan went through the list; Decriminalise hate crime while deeming Islamophobia a made-up word, Scrapping the environmental deal with the EU, immigrants should be made to speak and write fluent English, anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage.

Neil explained his thoughts on the laws with acute precision. He quoted the German philosopher Nietzsche, spoke about 19th century foreign policies between Spain and Latin America and referenced scientific studies debunking the human contribution to climate change. It was a hard pill to swallow but I couldn’t help but think that his intellect was starting to outshine his disagreeableness. On the environment I couldn’t reply with, ‘Yeah mate, but have you seen that video of the walruses falling off the cliff in Blue Planet’ after he had just explained to me the inevitable process of the cosmos.

We found some common ground in our dislike for the face of Brexit, Nigel Farage. He also provided Dan with a great quote, “Nigel’s got to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse of every funeral.” It wasn’t the first time he’d provided a killer quote. Earlier in the conversation we asked him where he sat on the political spectrum and he replied, ‘I’m sat far above it looking down.” 

The conversation was wrapped up by Neil explaining the economy of Monaco and Luxembourg and why he wanted to implement the same infrastructure in Wales. As the interview wound to a close Christine appeared from the kitchen (at this point I should probably mention that I’m pretty sure she had been listening in the entire time). She whisked us over to a small desk in the corner of the living room where she pulled out two copies of her autobiography, ‘For better for worse’ and gave us both a signed copy.

After some more small talk we shared our goodbyes and the Hamilton’s showed us out the house. It had been quite a surreal experience and I couldn’t help but feel like Neil had effortlessly orchestrated the interview. Dan had received enough great quotes and material to write a phenomenal article while Neil had been able to put some of his best qualities on display.

As I walked up to the car I caught my reflection in the passenger window. My baggy t shirt and jeans replaced with an ironed shirt and my best trousers, hair neatly parted to the side and a trimmed beard carrying a signed copy of Christine Hamilton’s autobiography under my arm. It was a far stretch from the self-proclaimed Gonzo Journalist that left London.

It seemed like a wake-up call to understanding the traditional political right as well as some of the flaws with modern liberalists. From our side it was clear that we lacked some of the academic finesse and that maybe if we had a deeper understanding of history and philosophy we would have been able to exchange a deeper level of conversation.

I think the main takeaway from the interview was that it’s never a good look to assume that your political stance and view of the world is necessarily the right one. Doing so will either reveal your lack of understanding or limit your ability to empathise with those who have a different opinion. In this case it took a disgraced UKIP politician to accept opening a dialogue with two eagerly delusional student journalists to learn the lesson.

The finished article by Daniel Branston

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