Not long after stepping off the bus, Nigel met a member of the public – who said that he’d be voting UKIP after decades of being a non-voter.
Then we had the public meeting at Sage Gateshead. With just over 1,200 people present it was the biggest public meeting ever in the history of UKIP. Once again, there was plenty of media there.
Sage Gateshead is a phenomenal venue, and what a statement of intent it was from UKIP to hold a public meeting at such a venue!
The promised ‘massive protests’ were something of a damp squib, much bigger on Twitter than in reality. A few dozen far-left protesters and a smaller number of far-right protesters did turn up, but given the internet hype by those protesting on Twitter I’d expected far more protesters to turn up.
What really strikes me about far-left and far-right protesters is the hatred. I agree with many people, I disagree with many people. But there’s no reason for bitterness, hostility or the pure bile spewed out by so many of them.
Two of them were inside, and chose to chant slogans football-style at Nigel Farage at the start of his speech. Nigel, to his credit, tried to engage them in debate – but they just continued to chant until they had to be escorted from the building. Fundamentally, that’s the difference: we believe in freedom of speech and democracy for all; they believe in freedom of speech only if you happen to agree with their own world view.
My own speech went down very well. The audience reaction was warm, and it’s possibly the biggest audience I’ve ever spoken to. Speaking in front of a large (500+) audience is dramatically different from any other kind of public speaking. Content which ‘works’ in front of an audience of 1000 may not go down well with an audience of 50, and to an extent vice versa.
I focused on UKIP v Labour; there have been so many anti-UKIP attacks by Labour in the North East that it was time to set the record straight. With the media there, it was good to be asked the ‘75% of laws’ question and to be able to explain in detail why Clegg’s 6.8% and 14% are just plain wrong.
When Nigel Farage asked later, most audience members said that they weren’t (yet) UKIP members. That’s the most encouraging part of having these public meetings, like we’ve been doing up and down the region. We’re meeting real people. We’re the only party going out there and doing it.
On the campaign trail so far, I’ve met a number of card-carrying Labour members saying they intend to vote UKIP this time. One lady said she’d been so impressed that I ‘spoke better than Ed Milliband’ – I’m not entirely sure how impressive that ‘feat’ is really – and that she’d vote UKIP in the Europeans. The best one, though, was a couple who’d been Labour Party members for about 125 years (combined!). They couldn’t bring themselves to resign from a Party they once loved, but whose policies had betrayed them so much over years. They’d remain members of Labour till the day they die, but are out persuading friends and family to come across and support us. It’s the sheer enthusiasm of new ‘converts’ to the cause that never ceases to amaze me.
But back to Sage Gateshead. It was an incredible event, with so much work having gone in to organising it. I thanked Amjad Bashir on stage for funding the cost of the hall (what a gesture!) but so many people did a sterling job to make it happen. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the volunteers. We needed around 40 volunteers to make the event run smoothly, and they did their jobs very professionally.
The media coverage is positive, our campaign is off to a flying start and I’m looking forward to the campaign becoming even more intense. This morning, two more media ‘dates for the diary’ have come up. We’re less than a month from May 22nd, not long now to go – but remember, the hard work doesn’t stop on May 23rd.
After all, there’s a General Election for the Party to fight.