Those who pay attention to the machinations of UKIP will have picked up that Bill Etheridge MEP had arranged for a press conference on 22nd August. UKIP Daily readers need to be kept abreast of matters, so it would have been remiss of me not to go along and see what Bill Etheridge had to say.

So off I trundled down to Molineux, home of the Wolves, Wolverhampton Wanderers. The last time I had been to Wolverhampton was to watch a football match of which my only lasting memory was Don Goodman, the local hero, fracturing his skull compliments of the head of Steve Jenkins who played fullback for my team, Huddersfield Town. Fast forward half a lifetime and my return is to witness not football or skull breaking, but important UKIP business.

I have listened to Bill speak on a number of occasions and exchanged the odd word with him, but after the press conference I had my first opportunity to speak to Bill face to face. My first experience of hearing Bill speak was at the 2015 Conference in Doncaster. Bill and a colleague were hosting a fringe event with Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and a most stimulating series of talks of an economic nature were delivered.

I could be lazy and describe Bill as a ‘free market libertarian’, but to apply a two- or three-word label to anyone would be an unkind simplification. It would also be hypocritical of me considering my recent criticism of Bill on UKIP Daily of his articles in the Telegraph and the Mirror, where he uncharacteristically applied unkind, hyperbolic and incorrect labels to Anne Marie Waters. Bill is for small government. If you read the UKIP Constitution, Bill stands for that. He is UKIP through and through. He self identifies as ‘socially liberal’ and is an advocate of our traditional British rights and liberties and, it should go without saying, a staunch foot soldier in our ongoing campaign to Leave the EU.

Prior to the event starting I spoke with local members, including a local Branch Chairman, naturally asking for hints as to what Bill would be announcing.  As it turned out, Bill had not signaled his intent to the local members, as the predictions (guesses) received from them when asked “who do you think Bill will be backing for the leadership” proved to be incorrect.

Bill Etheridge came out in support of John Rees Evans.

There have been too many unkind and destructive words littering the UKIP landscape of late. It appears to have become endemic. Robust disagreement, strong promotion of principles and ideas and honest, blunt criticism of them is, and should be, what UKIP is all about. Playing the ball, not the man, but being hard in the tackle.

Three candidates in this election have found themselves being played in lieu of said metaphorical ball: David Kurten, for saying what he thinks about sex education and family values; John Rees Evans, for not thinking what someone else says he thought about ‘Indian Repatriation’, and a continual barrage of lies, insults and smears against the brave Anne Marie Waters – our Party’s leading expert on Sharia Law, Sharia Courts and Islam.

In stark contrast to the unkind words that have punctuated the current leadership ‘race’, during his announcement Bill used very strong language in his support of John Rees Evans. According to Bill, of all the candidates standing “one has stood out” … he is “a sincere, decent human being” … he has “character”… “courage” … “conviction” … “honesty” … and is “a team player”. Bill is “100%” behind John Rees Evans and encouraged Midlands UKIP members to vote for him in the forthcoming leadership election.

Bill introduced John, who gave a speech highlighting his vision for the future of the Party and confirmed that his envisioned position for Bill Etheridge under his leadership would be “Deputy with Special Responsibility for Policy”. Both Bill and John spoke about empowering the UKIP membership and the ‘people’s will’ through ‘Direct Democracy’ and increasing UKIP membership activity, visibility, membership numbers and funding streams through ‘UKIP Direct, UKIP Connect, UKIP Media, UKIP Local and UKIP Affiliate.

The whole of the press conference including Bill’s speech, John Rees Evans’ speech and the subsequent Q&A, can be viewed here. I am not responsible for the lighting at the venue, but I am guilty of noise pollution by phone at about 20 seconds in …

It is worthy of note that the event was ‘livestreamed’ by video on Facebook. At the time of writing, the event has been viewed 9300 times, which was similar to the average crowd Huddersfield Town were attracting at the time when Steve Jenkins played fullback for Huddersfield and when Wolves’ Don Goodman fractured his skull!

In post-referendum, post-Trump Britain, there is an open goal in UK politics. There is visible contempt for politicians within the voters who are begging for a positive recipient for their vote. My preference would be for all candidates and members to take as an example the respectful  behaviour of John Rees Evans and Bill Etheridge at Molineux on the 22nd August 2017, by avoiding ‘playing the man’, by focusing on the ball and so projecting an image of a Party that voters may think could stick that ball in the back of the net.

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