There’s not much that beats speaking to potential new UKIP members, so I was actually quite pleased to get the call to speak at a public meeting in Stockton on Friday before the NE Conference – even though it meant I’d miss out on the Tynemouth dinner. By all accounts, the dinner was a real success – with Nigel Farage providing a video address. Paul Nuttall MEP deputised (that is, after all, his role as Deputy Leader). By all accounts there were almost 200 people there for the dinner, and although I haven’t seen a figure I’m sure it will have raised plenty of money for the Party.
So I went to the Stockton public meeting which was attended by over 60 people, mostly non-members. Particularly good to spend some time with Cllr. Mark Chatburn and branch chairman Ted Strike, both of whom really have UKIP at heart.
Stuart Agnew talked about the EU, whilst I covered UKIP’s other policies. The meeting heard from the Save Stockton South campaign, a group fighting against building on the greenbelt. I pointed out that uncontrolled mass immigration from the EU28 doesn’t help, and also that UKIP policy is to sort brownfield sites rather than build on greenbelt.
UKIP’s referendum policy would help groups like Save Stockton South by providing a mechanism by which they could force politicians to take notice of the views of the community.
I’m sure that there will be some new UKIP memberships after the meeting! Somewhat annoyingly, I won the raffle (always better for them to be won by someone from the voluntary party) – so I recycled the prize to help with the raffle for Redcar & Cleveland’s quiz night (30th November).
After that it was straight up to Tynemouth, where everyone seemed to want to talk. Mental note: I really must get to bed before 5am next time. At least I avoided drinking too much.
The Conference proper was very good indeed, despite a few last-week hurdles which the Conference team had easily managed to overcome. The absences of Nigel Farage, Jane Collins, Captain Joe Eastwood and Rob Comley – all due to illness – could easily have caused a problem. But Amjad Bashir, Patrick O’Flynn and Robin Hunter-Clarke answered the call at short notice. Captain Joe Eastwood was replaced with a Major whose name slips my mind (but surely, substituting a Captain for a Major can’t ever be a bad thing!).
I would estimate 300-350 people were in attendance, for what must be a contender for the title of ‘best-ever regional Conference in the North of England’.
My own involvement was limited to a speech as lead candidate for the NE region for 2014 – which seems to have gone down very well, and taking part in the panel Q&A session. During my speech I spoke about the coming campaign, the challenges facing us and how we’re going to put together the right campaign team. There is a plausible scenario which would lead to UKIP taking two seats, on less than 28% of the vote. For example, a result like this would achieve it (percentage changes on last time):
UKIP 27.4% (+12)
Labour 27% (+2)
Con 12.8% (-7)
Lib Dem 10.6% (-7)
In practice, I think we’d probably need a shade more than that – perhaps 30-32% would put us in with a realistic chance of taking two seats. I have a sneaky feeling that Labour will score more than 27%. In my speech I used the quote “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars” to explain what we need to do with our campaign. We can’t rest on our laurels, blindly assuming that we’ll get one MEP whatever happens. To do that, would be to tempt fate and deny us the possibility of getting two.
Our hopes, since my speech, have been buoyed by the return of Paul Sykes. He is determined to get Britain out of the EU, and the front page of today’s Telegraph will report his intention to put millions into the UKIP campaign for next year’s European elections. At those elections you have the choice to vote for more of the same failed pro-EU parties (Con/LD/Lab/Green) – or to vote for the fastest-growing political party in the UK (you know what that one is).
We have to have 121 Council candidates for the 121 Council wards up for grabs in the North East in 2014, and I’m confident that we’re on course to achieve that. Gordon Parkin as Regional Organiser will take charge of ensuring that this target is met.
Back to the Conference. The backdrop and banners gave a really professional UKIP feel to the venue. I would of course name the donor who printed everything for the Conference free of charge, but I mentioned his name in my speech and he told me very nicely afterwards that he’d prefer to remain anonymous. Oh well. A very nice guy, very much in keeping with the wonderful friendliness of people across the North East region.
As ever with a Conference, I missed far too many of the speeches – being General Secretary and the no.1 Euro elections candidate means that lots of people always want to talk. But everyone that I actually heard (Paul Nuttall, Roger Helmer, Amjad Bashir, John Tennant) was excellent.
The last section of the Conference (before Richard Elvin’s closing speech) was the Q&A session. The idea of ‘no deals’ with Conservative eurosceptics was incredibly popular. My response to the question about stepping down for Conservative eurosceptics was this:
Do they also agree with us on immigration?
Do they also agree with us on flat tax?
Do they also agree with us on grammar schools?
Do they also agree with us on the environment?
Do they also agree with us on taking tough action on crime?
Do they also agree with us about protecting our armed forces?
If the answers are No, then we can’t step down for them for the single issue of the European Union.
If the answers are Yes, then they have UKIP beliefs but stand for a Party which they disagree with. In that case, they are hypocrites and should join UKIP. We must stand against them.
A good day was had by all, and we await the final figures to find out whether the Conference has merely broken even or actually raised money for the region.
We followed the end of the Conference with a European elections candidates’ meeting, before the 20 or so who had bravely stayed around until after 8pm all went out for a curry.