Bob Gage, UKIP member and delegate from Southend, sent us this report of the Spring Conference, Llandudno, Wales
On Feb 26th, Dave McGlone (UKIP Councillor for St Lawrence) and I let the train take the strain up to the Spring Conference in Llandudno. Sadly, we missed the Gala Dinner that Friday evening as it had already sold out. No matter – there was a good curry house nearby.
On the Saturday morning we arrived at the Conference venue, Venue Cymru, a sprawling, modern complex. We were door-stepped on the way in by representatives of the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign, thrusting into our hands a leaflet inviting us to attend their fringe event at a hotel down the road at 11am. More on that later.
After a quick look around, we were seated in the sizeable arena ready for the 10am start. There was a moment of amusement when the opening speaker, Llyr Powell, had to abruptly halt his oratory as his iPad, containing his speech, ran out of batteries! Not undaunted, he reverted to free-flow and to be honest this was better than his script. The lesson here: beware modern technology, it might just let you down!
Next the Mayoral candidate Peter Whittle was throwing around some quite astonishing stats; the way uncontrolled immigration is going, London will have 1 million more residents in just 10 years, and, by 2050 have 13.5m residents in a sprawling metropolis. Clearly unsustainable, he noted, and the huge strains on infrastructure, housing, schools etc. were plain to see even now. David Kurten, London Assembly candidate, gave a barnstorming speech highlighting the sheer waste of most of the Overseas Development budget; whilst £4bn per year really helps the world’s poorest the rest simply flows into the pockets of despots and rich bankers.
David Coburn MEP who, as the Conference Chair noted, “really puts the Whillies up the SNP politicians”, was next. Another bravura performance noting the paucity of fishing grounds North of the Border thanks to the man who gave them away in 1973 – Ted Heath. Cue suitably robust response from the delegates. David stated that 60% of Scots are Eurosceptic, but thanks to SNP intimidation many residents were not keen to publicly express their views. This, he concluded, meant we could see a real surprise from Scottish voters at the Referendum.
It was approaching 11am at Conference and the start time of the ‘Vote Leave’ fringe event was looming; most people in the hall were well aware that UKIP had backed the Grassroots Out (GO) campaign. The Conference Chairman then announced that a new fringe event was about to start at 11am, hosted by none other than Nigel Farage, and that delegates were invited to attend. A clever tactical move to spike the ‘Vote Leave’ event by Nigel, I thought! In point of fact, as Dave and I cricked our necks in the packed room, Nigel opened the event with a booming: “Now this is what I call a fringe event!” From what I hear, the ‘Vote Leave’ event, hosted by Douglas Carswell, Suzanne Evans and others, was a rather sparsely attended affair.
Back to Conference and an impassioned speech by David McNarry from the Northern Ireland Assembly. My goodness, this was straight from the heart and a whirlwind history of recent troubles and a sensible way forward. Especially uplifting was the UKIP position that transcends the religious differences that have so tragically blighted this part of the world for so long. And onto the highlight of the day: Nigel Farage addressing the troops. He asked us to give a huge cheer to Boris, who had announced only the previous day that “Out means Out” and not referendum after referendum. Conference duly obliged. It was amusing to hear the “In” side referred to as the “Remainians” and “Staymongers”! Nigel paid tribute to the cross-party politicians in helping to set up ‘Grassroots Out’, including Peter Bone, Kate Hoey and others.
As Nigel said, this referendum isn’t about Left or Right, it’s about Right and Wrong.
David Cameron’s recent attempt at EU renegotiations were referred to by Nigel, soliciting an instinct laugh of derision in the room. Someone referred to Cameron using a word I couldn’t possibly report here, prompting Nigel to comment: “I might lead the People’s Army, but I can’t control it!” to more laughs. And then the killer follow up: “But goodness knows I try!” which brought the house down. Nigel looked at how Britain would grow outside of the EU. To start with, he said, we would negotiate deals with the Commonwealth, some 54 countries and 2.2 billion people that we shamefully turned our backs on in the 1970s. As for Europe, he said, they need us far more than we need them, so they would remain an important trading bloc. The point is, said Nigel, when it comes to Europe the Customer is King and the UK is the Customer! He finished with throwing down the gauntlet to Theresa May challenging her to a debate between now and the referendum. Let’s see if that happens or whether hell freezes over first!
The afternoon’s schedule concentrated on seven key risks if we stayed in the EU, affecting the NHS, Turkey joining, our National Security, heavy industry, equalities, impending VAT on food & children’s clothing and the impact on our Armed Forces. Louise Bours highlighted the shocking TTIP agreement that hands our precious NHS to profit-making US corporations. She had the most wonderful turn of phrase to help drive the message home. Here are a few, and potential candidates might find these useful devices for their upcoming leaflets: “TLC not PLC!”, “Public Need, not Private Greed!”, “Bedsheets not Spreadsheets!” and “Public Health, not Private Wealth!”.
After another short break, we returned to the main arena to hear all about the Grassroots Out campaign and, my word, both Dave and I were most impressed with the professionalism and set-up of this fledgling organisation, just 5 weeks in, hosted by two Tories, included campaign director Richard Murphy. They quite rightly received a most generous welcome and the strategy, thinking and quality of GO was clear to see.
Paul Nuttall rounded a great day with a superb rallying cry and Kippers left the Arena reinvigorated and ready for the key battles ahead.
Final thoughts? Well, that UKIP will most certainly live on whatever way the referendum goes in June, not understating the monumental importance of the referendum. I would say UKIP is reaching full maturity, and at just the right time.