Briefly, to those who attended: I agree with a chap in the audience called Vijay – I don’t accept the premise of the question either.
To those who missed it: surprising, yet heartening, was the sight of Owen Bennett of the Huffington Post at a fringe event entitled ‘Populism or Freedom?’ hosted by the Institute of Economic Affairs. The conversational talks and offerings from the attendees were interesting and rewarding, with much to learn from the graft, optimism and diligence of Tim Aker (know your constituents and understand and address their problems and their concerns), from the uncompromising love of liberty expressed by Steven Woolfe and from the engagement and expression of ideas and observations of Owen Bennett. It is Owen’s involvement about which I wish to comment more.
At last year’s Conservative Party Conference Owen Bennett was subjected to an assault. He witnessed an ugly side of British politics. Owen was brave that day when many people who excused their actions as ‘legitimate protest’ engaged in intimidating, and in some cases illegal, behaviour. He witnessed a concerted attempt to disturb fellow countrymen and women from exercising their right to free association and to the sharing of political views.
On the 6th October 2015, a presentation hosted by the Bruges Group took place (an open event at Manchester Town Hall). I and three fellow UKIP members from Colne Valley attended. After the rewarding presentation (very informative and engaging speeches from Dan Hannan and Jim Mellon to a standing room only crowd) we walked to the nearby conference venue to witness the ‘protests’ at first hand. Saddeningly hate filled were the students, activists, the balaclava sporting Hope Not Hate and UAF thugs, the Socialist Workers and the other assorted individuals gathered adjacent to the well policed security gauntlet that fed Conservative Party attendees and press to the conference entrance. Owen witnessed this assault on our basic freedoms – he felt it first-hand. I walked amongst these ‘protesters’ and my son, who watched on, was concerned for my safety, especially when I spoke with a young man regarding his behaviour (he was aggressively and energetically throwing coarse insults at people who he didn’t even know). Owen knows, as I know, that the ‘kinder, gentler politics’ on display in October 2015 were far from kinder and gentler. And I suspect Owen knows the motivators and agitators that funded, encouraged and facilitated the unsavoury antics outside the Conservative Party Conference 2015.
The freedom to come together, to assemble, to exchange ideas, speak freely and engage in open discourse is essential to the continuance of any civilised society. A forum of open and honest debate and discussion is where any such protestations can be most effectively and courteously rebutted – or accepted – as reason, logic and deduction dictate. Indeed, our House of Commons should be such a place where protest is legitimately, rigorously and honourably aired. Shouted insults, thrown eggs, spitting, pushing and shoving, rape threats on the streets – what next? These activities, these infantile and at times animalistic behaviours, can gather momentum. But these behaviours cannot be regarded as protests, for they attack the very foundations of what gives us the chance of a society with increasing prosperity, wellbeing and civility – free speech and the freedom to assemble peaceably to exchange ideas. Politics can be an emotional business. Those who do not have confidence in the strength of their argument may attempt to hold popular sway by other means.
We have seen crowd behaviour before. Behaviour where British men fight British men. Men with grievances, understandable grievances, affecting their life and livelihood and that which is most important to them – their families – and men who are paid to protect our property and apprehend those who act in contravention of the law. Men, divided and ruled. The events of ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ in June 1984 during the often violent miners’ strike serve as an example of such sad outcomes to the implementation of Government policies. The violent events at the Conservative Party Conference 2015 along with many violent events recently reported at Labour Party meetings display a different dynamic. I didn’t see working men – fathers, husbands and breadwinners from tight knit communities fearful for what the future will be, and nether, I suspect, did Owen Bennett. I saw pawns acting for the very establishment they think they are revolting against. They act to divide – to control and, if necessary, kill debate and divert the narrative. We must steadfastly continue to expound the virtues embodied in clause 2.5 of the UKIP Constitution. We must continue to exercise free speech and reject the obfuscation facilitated by Political Correctness.
Clause 2.5 of The Party Constitution
2.5 The Party is a democratic, libertarian Party and will espouse policies which:
• promote and encourage those who aspire to improve their personal situation and those who seek to be self-reliant, whilst providing protection for those genuinely in need;
• favour the ability of individuals to make decisions in respect of themselves;
• seek to diminish the role of the State;
• lower the burden of taxation on individuals and businesses;
• ensure proper control over the United Kingdom’s borders;
• strengthen and guarantee the essential, traditional freedoms and liberties of all people in the United Kingdom.
It is easy to follow the crowd and feel safety in numbers. It is easy to sneer and ignore. On ‘The Fringe’, Owen Bennett engaged with UKIP members in a manner too seldom seen from professional, so called, ‘journalists’. It is for UKIP members to appreciate a different bravery on display from Owen, who I can happily refer to as a journalist. A bravery to engage with UKIP members honestly and openly. It is for UKIP members to unite in their uncompromising defence of freedom and democracy, with clarity and courtesy, and demonstrate to Owen and other honest journalists that UKIP is where the gentler and kinder politics can really be found.
Image courtesy of the IEA Twitter feed