As Big Ben chimed out from our phones at 11pm on the 31st January, the first big rocket of our grand firework display was launched, to loud cheers from our celebratory reunion of local Conservative and UKIP members, who had fought together for that precious Leave vote in 2016.
The long-awaited end of that glorious beginning.
For some folk, older than me, who opposed our original entry to the Common Market, it has been a very long time indeed, as they saw their worst fears realised in the building of Jose Manuel Barroso’s ‘Non-Imperial Empire’. Far, far away from the January 2020 spotlight and the Boris and Nigel masks worn in Parliament Square and at the party in our local pub there are so many people to thank.
The old cliché that young people aren’t interested in politics is so true, at least in my case. I do remember the UK joining the Common Market in 1973 – merely as background noise to boyfriends, clothes and study. I was old enough to vote in the 1975 referendum on our membership. No, I didn’t read the Treaty of Rome, and yes, I voted to stay, ignoring the warnings of two prophets, crying the wilderness. Two politicians from opposite sides of the political spectrum.
Thank you, Sir Enoch Powell and Tony Benn. You tried, this foolish teenager didn’t listen.
Well, it was all quiet on the Western European front for some time, until Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech! My husband and I sat up and took notice. When she was deposed as an ‘obstruction’, he stopped voting. He had no one to vote for.
Thank you, Mrs Thatcher.
Then came the ERM debacle and what we call White Wednesday – when the first interest rate rise was announced, we feared we would lose everything. What was this about a single currency? With Maastricht, we looked at those warnings we had once dismissed and cheered the Conservative rebels.
Thank you, John Major’s ‘bastards’ – all of you.
While we worked our way out of the effects of the ERM exacerbated recession and shunned the polling booth, others were acting. Alan Sked, head of European Studies at the LSE, founded the Anti-Federalist League in November 1991 “ to mobilise public opinion in defence of British sovereignty and prevent the UK becoming a province of a united European super state”. The movement stood candidates in the 1992 General Election and in September 1993, rebranded as the UK Independence Party.
Thank you, Alan Sked and the founding members of what became UKIP.
After voting for the Monster Raving Loony in the 1994 European elections, when I got my paper and found, to my horror, there was no ‘anti-federalist’ candidate, whereas neighbouring Reigate did have one, along came Sir Jimmy Goldsmith with his Referendum Party. We wanted a referendum on Maastricht and were denied one. We definitely wanted a referendum on the very contentious issue of joining a single currency. In 1997 my husband and I went to the big rally at Alexandra Palace, squashed into a packed public meeting at a local school, and went out on the campaign trail with our local candidate. Brave Sir Jimmy was already gravely ill when he ran that election campaign. We could see he didn’t look a well man at the rally. Take note Mr Tusk – I am sure that a special place in Heaven was waiting for him.
Thank you, Sir James Goldsmith.
Tony Blair was Prime Minister and keen for Britain to adopt the euro. Gordon Brown, though no Eurosceptic, was a control freak; he was, thank goodness, much less keen. Perhaps we should thank him too. We had children approaching critical stages at school and a successful business; we resolved to emigrate as soon as possible if Blair succeeded in taking us into the single currency and fight to prevent it meanwhile. So we supported the Democracy Movement that grew out of the Referendum Party after Jimmy Goldsmith’s death.
Thank you to all those in the Democracy Movement who kept Jimmy’s flame burning.
It was Christmas 1998, and my husband gave me journalist, Hugo Young’s big fat book, ‘This Blessed Plot’ as a gift. I opened it eagerly and began reading before casting it aside in disgust. “He’s all for European integration”, I complained to my husband. 1999 was another European Parliament election year; for the first time, the MEPs were going to be elected by proportional representation. Many former Referendum Party members and supporters had switched to UKIP, they were recruiting. We were contacted and invited to a dinner organised by Woking’s Sonya Porter in West Clandon. “We have a young man who is an excellent speaker”, she said. He was, of course, none other than Nigel Farage. UKIP wanted us to leave the EU altogether; we had only thought in terms of rejecting the single currency. I went back to that Christmas book and read it properly.
Thank you, Hugo Young. It gives me great pleasure knowing that you would turn in your grave at the knowledge that your book convinced me we had to leave the EU.
We already planned to vote UKIP that May, we decided to join up. It was the start of our political journey and the start of UKIP’s progression to the point where David Cameron was pushed to give us a referendum on EU membership – that May the party sent it’s first three elected MEPs to Brussels under the new electoral system. While Nigel made his name for his highly quotable soundbites in the chambers of Brussels and Strasbourg I would like to thank Jeffrey Titford and Maastricht rebel (oh yes, we checked him out when he joined the party) Roger Knapman for their steady hands on the tiller of leadership in those early years.
[To be continued tomorrow in Part 2 – don’t miss it!]