It is often said that it is unwise to discuss politics or religion in polite company. But, when two brothers – a one-time Ukip leader and a former NHS chief executive – discussed diversity at a family funeral their sibling rivalry turned into a very public spat.
Henry Bolton and his younger brother, Simon Bolton, had attended a reception following the funeral of a family member last week.
Late that evening, Henry, 65, took to Twitter to share the conversation they had.
“Today I spoke to someone who was extremely senior within the NHS, nationally,” he wrote. “They stated that diversity managers increase NHS efficiency. I asked how? Do they positively influenced [sic] patient outcomes? They then said they weren’t going to have that conversation and walked off.”
The next morning, Simon, who until January was the chief executive at NHS Digital, the data services arm of the health service, spotted the account of their encounter.
He too took to social media to reveal he was in fact the unnamed former NHS executive who had stormed off after the altercation.
Simon, 55, wrote: “Maybe Henry Bolton you should’ve shared the context of the conversation. The person you were talking with was me, your brother, and at a family funeral.
“I walked away because I didn’t want to engage with your small-minded opinions. I really can’t believe you posted this.”
Shortly afterwards, Henry deleted his tweet. By then, however, the brothers’ conversation had been shared repeatedly and seen by millions of people on social media.
Henry told The Telegraph: “I removed the tweet as an olive branch to my brother. I am livid and hurt.”
The former Army officer and policeman said he and his brother had “always got on”, in part because they had a policy of avoiding talking politics.
“We violated our rule of staying away from politics,” he added. “I had been talking to someone else at the funeral about Welsh call centres. I said it sounded rather inefficient, like many things in the NHS.
“My brother interrupted and asked, ‘What’s inefficient in the NHS?’. I said, ‘Diversity managers because I don’t see how they enhance patient outcomes.’
“He asked what I meant and then said, ‘I am not going to have that conversation’ and walked away.”
Henry said his brother “despises” his politics, particularly his pro-Brexit stance. Simon failed to respond to a request for comment or to clarify his brother’s claim that he was against Brexit.
Neither brother revealed whose funeral they were attending or where it was held.
Some of the comments posted on social media praised Simon for defending the NHS, others warned that the brothers may face an uncomfortable family gathering at Christmas.
Henry is no stranger to controversy. In 2018, he was ousted as leader of Ukip after his then-girlfriend, the model Jo Marney, tweeted racist comments about Prince Harry’s then-fiancee, Meghan Markle. She later insisted she was not racist.
He had earlier faced criticism after he left the mother of his two children for Ms Marney, 29 years his junior.