The UKIP North East Conference in Hartlepool over the weekend was a huge success. With hundreds of delegates in attendance, you couldn’t help but notice an atmosphere.
The event began with a packed-out Gala Dinner on the Friday evening, with UKIP leader Nigel Farage MEP in fine form. Several members turned up rather late on the Saturday morning, and for the record we would like to confirm that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the consumption of alcohol.
The Saturday morning session saw Phillip Broughton do his usual motivational speech, and as the local PPC for Hartlepool he was able to get members in the mood for more! With one minor hiccup over the sound system apart (though some might say that Suzanne Evans’ speech was so good it deserved to be heard twice), the speeches were of the highest quality.
Our local MEP Jonathan Arnott spoke of the ‘beating heart of UKIP’, of taking the fight to Labour in the North East of England and his personal determination to show what the Party truly stands for – rather than some of the smears in the media. Jonathan had lost his voice due to illness, and joked that ‘Tristram Hunt probably wished that he had lost his voice on Question time on Thursday night’ – referring to the latest in a string of occasions on which the shadow Education Secretary had made a faux pas.
Next up, of course, was UKIP Leader Nigel Farage MEP – and what can be said of him other than it’s never a good idea to miss his speeches, delivered in tubthumping style? It was quickly becoming clear that the aim to take on Labour in its heartlands would be a theme of this Conference. Nigel gave the ambitious suggestion that UKIP could come second in every seat, hinted that we might win in Hartlepool – and possibly pull off surprises elsewhere.
The theme of ‘UKIP v Labour in the North’ is perhaps illustrated best by UKIP’s Deputy leader Paul Nuttall MEP, who is standing in Bootle – Labour’s second-safest seat in England. By contrast, our MEP Jonathan Arnott in Easington is standing in the third-safest. Paul’s speech was one of the most passionate of the day and certainly served to wake the Conference up after lunch. Also from the North West, Louise Bours MEP exploded a few Labour myths about UKIP NHS policy. After all, it was Labour’s PFI scheme which brought the majority of current private finance into the NHS. And it’s UKIP who are campaigning against it.
Nathan Gill MEP (Wales), David Coburn MEP (Scotland) and Bill Etheridge MEP (West Midlands) gave impassioned speeches on a diverse range of issues. Each has their own style – from Nathan’s quiet confidence to David’s rabble-rousing via Bill’s anti-political correctness common sense. John Bickley, who as our candidate for the Heywood & Middleton by-election came staggeringly close to joining Douglas Carswell in Parliament, spoke about his campaign experience.
On a more local note, throughout the day local candidates gave their thoughts to the Conference and were well received. Cllr. Norman Dennis gave a superb speech on winning a Council seat in South Shields in the morning. Melanie Hurst explained how the Party should pitch for the female vote, and Johnny Leathley gave a rundown on the growth of Young Independence. The Conference did retain a ‘local’ theme throughout, with John Tennant, Chris Gallacher, Mandy Boylett and Nigel Coghill-Marshall all chairing sessions.