Over recent weeks, I have been amazed by the amount of support that I’ve received from ordinary hard-working UKIP members for my leadership campaign. It’s not a headline-grabbing campaign because it’s a campaign of unity, a campaign to bring this Party back together after all of the turmoil that we have seen since the referendum. My view is that there actually isn’t that much wrong with UKIP’s actual policies; rather, I want us to develop our messaging to appeal to a broader spectrum of the public than we’ve previously reached. I believe firmly that the Party requires internal reform, and that I have the necessary skills to deliver on that.
In an increasingly media-driven campaign, these messages are not ones which are likely to make the front pages. Nor am I prepared, as some have urged me to do, to abandon my principles and adopt a strategy of courting controversy in order to gain column inches. Indeed, my belief is that UKIP must become a grown-up political party which is capable of taking on the political establishment on their own grounds. I want to see a UKIP which isn’t frightened to talk about the economy, a UKIP which will discuss the future of our NHS, a UKIP which champions excellence in education which goes far beyond Grammar Schools, a UKIP which has at its core a belief in people power and Direct Democracy, and a UKIP which will declare war on the crime which blights so many working-class communities. I want to see a UKIP which is more professional in taking the fight to our opposition in the target seats.
Oddly I have been criticised by some for stating that we need tougher policies on animal welfare in this country. I’m told, as we all already know, that courts already have the power to jail those who video themselves torturing defenceless animals to death. That is so, but the maximum sentences are absolutely derisory and courts on a regular basis are not jailing those who do it at all. I’ve used this in speeches as just one symptom of the malaise that has overtaken our criminal justice system.
I’ve attended all of the Party’s internal leadership hustings so far. The format has allowed me to develop a platform, though actual debate between candidates has been limited. I have learned that I have significant support in the North of England, and indeed I am convinced that I am leading the race across the North. Yet it is a fundamental of the UKIP membership that the majority of members do not hail from the North of England; I would need not merely to be leading in the North of England but to have an absolutely overwhelming level of support in the North to have any realistic chance of winning the leadership election.
I’ve built a level of support for my campaign which would no doubt be sufficient for a second-place finish nationally, but no more than that – and there is no prize for a silver medal in a leadership contest. We are in the process of electing a new leader of the UK’s third political party. This should not be taken lightly, and the only reason for standing is for a candidate to believe that they can meaningfully aim to win the ballot. I do not subscribe to the view that anyone should stand to raise their own profile; we are in the middle of a very serious endeavour.
I have also been let down badly by those who have said one thing in private and done another in public. That’s politics, but UKIP should be better than that.
In a smaller field of candidates, there would be a massive chance for a uniting, positive, compromise candidate to win. That is not the race that we are in. Having spoken at length to colleagues, friends and family over recent days, I have come to the conclusion that it is appropriate at this time for me to step down from the leadership race. This will provide sufficient time for my supporters to endorse another candidate, whoever she may be. I wish them all the best. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all of those who have worked on my behalf and supported my campaign, and to thank the MEPs, AMs, councillors, branch and regional chairmen and others who signed my nomination papers and endorsed my campaign. Your support, encouragement and help will not be forgotten.
Having gone from election campaign to referendum to leadership election campaign in the last six months, everything has been an emotional rollercoaster. I now intend to take a few weeks out, to take a holiday and to reconnect with personal friends I haven’t had chance to spend time with lately.
I shall continue to monitor future developments in the leadership election with interest. I have not yet fully made up my own mind which other candidate to support, and until I am fully convinced in my own mind I am not prepared to endorse any other candidate.
I wish the future leader of UKIP all the best.