I have given considerable thought to the UKIP Leadership election in recent weeks, and indeed I strongly considered not supporting any candidate at all.
My criteria for making my own personal decision are simple – I will choose the strongest available candidate subject to three conditions. I cannot back:
a) Any candidate who is likely to cause embarrassment to the Party in the media, however unfairly: at this critical stage with our Party’s survival at stake we simply cannot afford to have a future leader who will be overshadowed by baggage.
b) Any candidate who overly fixates on a single non-Brexit issue (depending on perspective there are between 2 and 5 different ‘single issues’) almost to the exclusion of all else.
c) Any candidate whose values and principles don’t align with the UKIP that I joined and was proud to represent. I believe fundamentally in low taxes, more democracy, less state interference, toughness on crime and a fair, robust, colour-blind immigration system designed to end the oversupply of unskilled workers but welcoming those who can genuinely help to make the UK a better place.
From the field of candidates, by process of elimination I am left therefore with two choices: Ben Walker and Marion Mason. (Arguably Henry Bolton but I know far too little about him)
By pure coincidence – and it is coincidence – they are also the only two candidates who have gone out of their way to contact me and ask for my support. Neither of them has got involved in the vicious negative campaigning which has sadly started to infest our Party in recent years.
Both of them have backgrounds in helping people, in very different ways – Ben Walker in the Royal Navy, and Marion Mason in the NHS.
Politically I am broadly aligned with both of them.
Of the two, Ben Walker is the more powerful communicator. He has engaged people with his campaign, organised events and worked hard touring the country to speak to branches and members. He has the requisite determination to believe that he can turn this Party around.
If push comes to shove, which of the two would I rather see represent the Party in a televised debate? Who would be more likely to enthuse and motivate people to join us?
On balance, I have therefore decided that I’ll be voting for Ben Walker in the UKIP leadership election. I don’t agree with him on everything, and I have made that clear to him in private (I don’t agree with banning halal meat for example).
As a candidate, I think he shares my assessment of the situation and accepts what I’ve been saying repeatedly since the election: that we are in last-chance saloon; that the Party needs to change dramatically if it is to survive in any meaningful form.
We’ve seen leadership candidates use phrases like ‘professionalising the Party’, ‘changing the Party Constitution’, ‘reforming the internal structures’ and ‘engaging with the membership’ before. All of them need to happen, and quickly.
Finally, we can’t afford to keep shooting ourselves in the foot as we have been doing for far too long. As far as I can tell, Ben Walker would be immune from attack in the media because he hasn’t said anything stupid in public (or indeed, privately, as far as I know). That is worth a lot. It means we might be able to focus on a positive message rather than firefighting.