The event in Westminster was well attended with every seat in the 140-capacity room filled and standing room only.
Gerard Batten MEP kicked off the event with a summary of how UKIP got to the point of the referendum with emphasis on how in order to achieve Brexit. Given how David Cameron only promised a referendum as he perceived UKIP to be a strong electoral force, the necessity is now to ensure UKIP becomes a strong electoral force again. PM Maybe has no big plans or big strategy to repeal legislation, regain our fishing waters or leave the CAP and right now it looks like even if we do leave in name, we will not leave in reality. Issues like Ireland need not be complicated. Leave the open North/South border as is and simply check the passports / visas of every person arriving at GB’s airports and seaports. Grant fishing licenses to EU countries to get the investment we need to build up our fishing industry until such a time as we decide otherwise.
Cllr Lawrence Webb had sage words for the May 2018 council elections. In London there are 629 council wards and in 2014 we stood 463 candidates. We want to run candidates in all wards to give the good people of London full electoral choice. Also, because people get used to voting one way, if UKIP regularly fails to appear on the ballot paper, we could lose potential voters when we do eventually stand. The advice was to get as many candidates in as many wards as possible and then double up with any surplus. However, resources should be concentrated in wards with a real chance of winning.
Tim Aker then took the floor with a pithy observation that what with current confusion in the ‘main’ parties as to where they stand on Brexit, Theresa May is now the best tribute act to Jeremy Corbyn. What with the Hartlepool UKIP by-election vote increase of 13% we must remember that although there is apathy in the party about Brexit and where we are going, things can change very quickly and it is up to us to make that change. Rather than relying on traditional media routes, social media has an immediate and far reach which should be harnessed.
Peter Whittle went straight for the numbers. The budget may well have focussed on housing, housing, housing, but with 250,000 immigrants nett coming in annually we will never be able to build enough housing. The issue boils down to that which the other parties won’t discuss – immigration. Peter also raised the issue that despite massive cuts in police, 900 Met police officers have now been allocated to ‘hate crime’. Hate crime is of course, without clear definition. No evidence is required.
Henry Bolton finally took to the stage with the observation that his experience of dealing with the Albanian mafia, Serbian paramilitaries and the like had well prepared him for the role of UKIP Leader … almost … He got straight down to the business of explaining what he has been doing since his election. There have been a lot of internal issues to deal with and strategy and objectives need to be in place before the party can start to operate effectively.
First of all the finances. UKIP cannot operate without funding. Day to day running costs will be funded by membership subscriptions. Branches must ensure members pay the full £30 or our main party funds will deplete. Campaigns will be fully costed prior to launch and will be presented to donors for sponsorship. Donors so far have been pleased with that approach as they know where their money is going.
The Save our Services campaign was launched a week ago in London. Given the Tories appear to be prepared to bolt our armed services to the EU permanently, any requirement the UK had to build new tanks or contribute to the European Defence Fund must be addressed before it is too late. Support is found in Veterans for Britain. That in 2016-2017 the government gave 6500 homes to ‘asylum seekers’ and we have 7000 homeless veterans on the street, is indefensible. Moreover, the Home Office has just suggested giving 7000 homes to returning Jihadis. No further comment is needed.
A couple of thorny questions were asked. What will happen to the current structure of the NEC? Henry said there was a potential conflict with the constitution. There is some support within the NEC for regionally elected representatives although the main line of thought is to convert the NEC to a board of Trustees. This board would review the accounts and instigate audits but would not have any responsibility for hiring and firing or telling branches what to do, nor have any involvement in policy issues. If this approach does not work, Henry is quite prepared to take the matter to the party.
The logo was the other question. In a vote put to the room, 10% like the lion, 80% preferred the pound. The same 80% preferred a simple refresh of the pound. The problem is the way in which the new logo was voted in. The NEC approved the process of selecting the logos and presided over which should be presented to conference. There is no time to get out new campaign material with the lion logo in time for the local elections and we can’t campaign with two different logos, we need brand continuity. Of course branches equally don’t have the funds to invest in a complete new branding and merchandise. The option of giving the membership a referendum on some new logo designs was quickly discounted – the media interest in a second referendum would be more painful that the lion logo launch….
Henry ended on a high note. Yes, the party should have regrouped 17 months ago and ridden high on the success of the referendum. But we didn’t. Now is the time to take control of our own destiny and work to support a confident, optimistic and secure nation. UKIP is not divided. We are the only party that is unequivocally pro-Brexit, the only party that is committed to preserving British identity and of course, the only party with a former service police officer at the helm.
As Henry decisively concluded ‘we will never re-join the EU’, the audience rose as one, clapping their approval in a resounding standing ovation.