This was my first time to see the candidates in the flesh. I had been looking forward to this as at one point, all eleven candidates had agreed to come to this event.
Sadly, John Rees-Evans’ father passed away last week, so he quite understandably had more important matters to attend to. Peter Whittle sent his apologies; we were told that apparently he had now arranged a husting of his own in London! David Coburn did not turn up and no apology was received, so perhaps a mix up?
Anyway, the evening began with eight candidates and, breaking news, we were soon reduced to seven as David Allen’s opening address became an announcement that instead of pressing his own claim, he would instead be supporting Henry Bolton for leader. Not an official withdrawal yet, but I applaud David for recognising there was a better option for UKIP and for helping to shrink the over-bloated list.
With seven to report on, I do not intend to go into the detail of what each candidate covered as much can be read on their various publications, but what I will give is a critical review of each performance. Of course I recognise that there is a high degree of subjectivity, but I did try to go in initially with an open mind and view each candidate as they might be seen through a neutral’s eyes.
There are two who would really do the leadership process no end of good by following David Allen’s route and make way for more able candidates. Aidan Powlesland is a nice enough chap, but more of a branch chairman sort rather than a national leader and he clearly lagged behind some of the more nifty performers. Marion Mason may be a very committed UKIP stalwart, but her presentation style regrettably was very poor. Please guys, think about making the honourable gesture so we have more time to see the other candidates and also help focus the votes.
The remaining five would each be able to at least command a reasonable following. What did strike me in general though is that they all had some weaknesses. There was no clear slam-dunk winner that everyone went away happily nodding agreement that we’d found THE leader.
Henry Bolton was quite impressive and a clear thinker. Even if you were not aware, you would guess from his delivery style that he had to be an ex-military man. He comes over as a bit stiff and could do with adding a little lightness and better audience interaction.
Jane Collins struggled to make her presence count at times, but she admitted she had some trouble after a dentist visit that morning. She had her moments but at other times came across a bit weak. The jury’s out, but I didn’t see real leadership.
David Kurten had a very relaxed style with humour and warmed the audience. You would be happy to put him up front. However, I caught up with him afterwards and his off-stage presence I found wanting. He didn’t seem to be too interested in properly listening or engaging in debate with the people I saw talking to him. Is he capable of cut and thrust argument? I have serious doubts.
Ben Walker is another forces man, he was fully comfortable in front of people but with the opposite style to Henry. His dealing with questions was not as accurately thought out as perhaps it should have been. His opening gambit of saying he’d sack the UKIP chairman as his first act made me wonder if he’d make too many enemies, too quickly. Political leaders always find that knives in the back inevitably accumulate over time, but to go asking for it right at the start made me think ‘Trump diplomacy’ perhaps? Of course, some may think that a positive.
Anne Marie Waters clearly has the experience of presenting in the past so was capable of giving a good account of herself. She had a predetermined strategy as the words ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim’ failed to appear to the point of being conspicuous by its absence. Personally, I’d have been happy if she’d attempted to blunderbuss the elephant in the room and state that although her past was focussed on Islamic matters that she would not let that one issue dominate UKIP’s future. The nearest she got was at one point to argue that in politics ‘nobody’s interested in what’s on your C.V.’ I found that worrying as it is absolutely not true – the MSM very much take an interest and will make sure everyone else cares as well. My main concern was that so much of what she said was delivered with an impassioned eagerness that sounded right but was very vague on detail.
I got to meet with AMW afterwards and decided to press on some issues. She had been pushing on the importance of telling ‘truths’ so I asked an old question, ‘But whose truth?’, I just wanted to see how she would deal with a bit of depth and was surprised that she visibly became quite irritated when challenged.
Surprisingly, she used an aggressive approach to try to win the discussion rather than using her experience to calmly rationalise. Dragon fire in her belly this one, and while some might think that’s just what the party needs, she would take severe damage in political debate as her attitude would not stand up to intelligent dissection. I was soon receiving a stern lecture on Islamic script. The mask had slipped and it was clear that tackling Islam is still very much at the forefront of her mind.
Overall, and with three candidates missing, I found myself going with Henry Bolton. He would not blaze any trails, but right now that may be a good thing. UKIP’s internal structure has been called ‘amateur’ and is intrinsically divisive between branch and executive levels. The finances are dire. Henry seems like the man to sort it and we need a sound ship before we can re-enter the battle.