RACHEL JOHNSON: My answer to all those Change UK jibes

PUBLISHED: 21:00 22 June 2019

Chuka Umunna speaks back when he was a Change UK MP. Photograph: Kirsty O'Connor/PA.

Chuka Umunna speaks back when he was a Change UK MP. Photograph: Kirsty O'Connor/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

In this week's Rachel Johnson's Diary she talks about the Tory leadership contest and escaping to Jamaica.

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Brexit Party candidate Anne Widdecombe (left) and  Rachel Johnson during the European Parliamentary elections count. (Ben Birchall/PA Wire)Brexit Party candidate Anne Widdecombe (left) and Rachel Johnson during the European Parliamentary elections count. (Ben Birchall/PA Wire)

This is how every conversation goes these days after the person I am talking to says something about the Tory leadership contest anyway (sorry, not going there).

"So are you going to stay with..." snigger, snigger... "Change UK or whatever it's called now, the Tiggers, or are you going to rejoin the Lib Dems...." heh heh heh heh... (dies laughing).

If I had a euro for every person who has said that to me since the party split and Chuka Umunna left for the Lib Dems (the party I had left to join the one he had started) I would be, if not a rich woman, a lot better off than I am now, after I gave up a month of my life to criss-cross the south west on GWR trains and talk up Change UK (RIP) at hustings from Cornwall to Wiltshire.

The Daily Telegraph got it wrong. If you're a prospective, rather than elected, politician, it should be called the Lack of Expenses Scandal, as you pay your own way. Hey ho!!!

- Look, I can see why it's funny. It's like watching someone in black tie trip up while carrying a tray. You can't help laughing. Someone tweeted after the Change UK split: "What I want to know is who is getting custody of Gavin Esler and Rachel Johnson." Who indeed? As things stand I am a formerly prospective candidate for a party called The Independent Group for Change, formerly The Independent Group and formerly Change UK. I hope that's clear… for now. Dunno about Gavin!

- In other news… I escaped for a few days to Jamaica, to escape. My host was Butch Stewart, the chairman of Sandals, who put us up in his frankly fantastic all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay, the one where his spreading Caribbean empire started.

Now, you may choke a bit over some of the branding of the offering - "Luxury Included" holidays "for two people in love" (Sandals is a couples resort) and "all you need is love" - but we went in a group of five that included a single man and had an absolute ball.

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I learnt how to scuba dive. The men played golf. There were breezy, over-the-water bars where the barmen learnt fast if you wanted your cocktail 'leaded' (ie heavy on the dark cane rum) or 'unleaded'.

We were put up in suites bigger than Canada with flat screen televisions tuned to Fox News at all times (Butch is a big Trump fan). The only decisions we had to take in what Ian Fleming called "the gorgeous vacuum of a Jamaican holiday" were when to drop into Goldeneye (Fleming's Jamaican estate) or swim at the nearby James Bond beach and what watersports would occupy the afternoon, snorkelling, paddle-boarding, etc.

We had a bottomless brunch with Butch which started at 10am one day and continued into the afternoon, during which he told us that sometimes he allowed old widowed singletons who used to come with their other halves to continue to patronise the resort for "humanitarian reasons".

- Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, supplied a very liquid lunch at his property, Goldeneye - which he now owns and operates as a resort - and we did the traditional tour to inspect the triangular desk (jammed into a corner) where Fleming wrote the Bond novels; read his framed piece called How to Write a Bestseller - luckily I had an island hideaway; saw the tree planted by Sir Anthony Eden "& wife" during the Suez crisis... The Goldeneye compound sleeps around ten and can be rented for around $10,000 a night, but much as we loved it, we couldn't possibly afford to stay there and anyway, we had become fully institutionalised at Sandals.

I have a theory that holidays are more exhausting than work (the travel there and back, how to fill the time, the anxiety about transport and tipping) but in an all-inclusive resort all those cares are whisked away like a wet towel left on the bathroom floor.

- Chris Blackwell and Butch Stewart are childhood friends - they used to race stock cars against each other - and only have good things to say about each other without being backslapping.

When asked the secrets to his success Butch summarised it in two pithy phrases (remember his empire began in the very Sandals we were staying in, Mo Bay, an hour's drive from Goldeneye and Firefly).

"Mass follows class," said Butch, a spear-tip to the fact that where princes and prime ministers, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Liz Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, the Duchess of Devonshire, etc etc, lead - the rest of us shall follow. If you too want to start off selling air conditioners door-to-door and end up the largest employer in the Caribbean, his second commandment is this: "Get up in the morning and work." This former prospective candidate will do just that, Butch.

Wise words from a great and generous man.

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