We’re just 10 days away from the European elections, and many people will have already voted by post. UKIP is at the top of the polls, but at the bottom of the ballot paper here in the North East. Today, we filmed in Gateshead for Look North. There was nearly two hours of filming, for a piece which will be edited down to 6 minutes. I was surprised that the other candidates all gave long-winded answers to every question: we’ll each get about a minute in total in the final version, so there really wasn’t time to develop a long narrative. There’s no guessing what will and won’t end up on the chopping-room floor, but hopefully I’ve got some good crisp answers in there!
If what we’re seeing on the streets is anything to go by, this election really is looking massive for us. A few recent experiences on the campaign trail bear out what we’re seeing in the opinion polls. I was surprised that two members of the public actually recognised me from the Sunday Politics last week. One lady had attended Sage Gateshead and heard Nigel Farage and I speak already; she tells me that she’s planning to join the Party. Another was enthusiastically pro-UKIP (if wanting an even tougher line than we would take). Still another, local to Gateshead, will (after speaking to John Tennant) even be going out leafleting for UKIP at the weekend!
Members of the public sitting in the ‘hot seat’ were a good spread. There were two pro-EU questioners, four anti-, one concerned about unemployment, and one non-EU national currently fighting deportation from the UK. One of the two who was pro-EU came with a file of paperwork, having clearly decided he wanted to grill anyone who disagreed with him. More there to make a political point, than being a member of the public passing through, I think. The other pro-EU member of the public was more interesting: he believed the scare stories about Nissan – but then, he had worked for an energy company. He didn’t seem to spot the connection between the decline in manufacturing and artificially high energy prices thanks to the EU. I could have pointed this out, but not in a ‘soundbite’ that would work well on television.
I believe the programme will be shown on Wednesday evening. In the meantime, I have BBC Radio Newcastle for half an hour tomorrow morning and then it’s a public meeting at the Cleveland Bay in Redcar in the evening. Wednesday I’ll be teaching (for the last time?) and then a public meeting in Darlington in the evening. Everything’s busy, and all the candidates are clearly quite tired from the campaign.
On Saturday, we saw yet another positive reaction to UKIP in Darlington. With a team of 3 candidates covering the area from Darlington to Berwick-upon-Tweed, we have to split up. Neil Hamilton supported the campaign in South Shields, whilst I was in Darlington with the local branch. I know that North Tyneside also had members out on the ground, and no doubt other branches were out campaigning too. We didn’t just see new UKIP voters where I was, but potential new members. Even the pouring rain at some points didn’t deter people coming up to the stall. My personal favourite was a couple who had never in 40 years voted the same way. She’d voted Labour all her life; he had voted for almost everyone but Labour and in recent years he hadn’t voted at all. Now both enthusiastic UKIP voters; for the first time, they’ll both be voting for the same party.
This year, I think turnout will be higher than in 2009. That year, people were staying at home in protest over the expenses scandal. This time, I think those who intend to vote UKIP are fairly motivated. The fact that UKIP is topping the opinion polls has galvanised our opponents too, to try to stop us. Last time the turnout in the North East was just 30.4%. I expect it to be substantially higher this time, and if I had to guess I’d say somewhere around 35-37%.
People care about immigration, and jobs. These issues are hit time and time again on the doorstep. Ultimately, only UKIP offers answers: the other parties won’t control immigration. And if you want to create jobs, the answer is to make British businesses competitive.
Finally, Guido Fawkes posted a picture of the UKIP North East minibus parked in a disabled bay. Our opponents were quick to judge, forgetting to check the rather obvious point. The bus was displaying a badge because the driver is, in fact, disabled. Yet another failed attempt to smear UKIP.
Our opponents are terrified of us, and with good reason. Bring on the election!