Today is the last day before we go to the polls. Local councillors will be elected, and more importantly, the new Assemblies in Scotland, N.I., London (where BoJo will be replaced) and Wales. Last evening there was the final meeting with Nigel Farage in Newport, Wales, which yours truly attended.
The first astounding difference was that there was no lefty ‘opposition’ to harass all who attended, not even a small troop of the usual suspects. Not one! Given that they were previously capable of getting out into the sticks to harass people at a Welsh conference which Nigel Farage attended, given that last night’s venue was in the middle of town with good local transport and only a shortish walk from the train station, one wonders what kept them away! Perhaps it was the report in the Daily Mail that ex-military were protecting Nigel ….
The place slowly filled up. In the end, people had to stand at the back. There were UKIP signs, rosettes, buttons, placards everywhere and many were stocking up on literature to do with the coming referendum. It was a gentle atmosphere, with many people delightedly rushing about, greeting acquaintances from all over Wales.
Nathan Gill, the leader of UKIP Wales, gave the introductory speech. With soft but firm voice he laid out again why voting for UKIP for the Assembly was so vital. After all – 17 years of Labour without proper opposition is not what a democracy is like. 17 years of lies and plain ineptitude by Labour in Wales have not served the people well at all. 17 years of obfuscation and grand-standing by Labour in Wales has well-nigh ruined the Principality, from destroying the education system (Wales now ranks below Estonia in the league table!), the Welsh NHS (for example a waiting time of 26 weeks as a matter of course between a GP visit and the referral to a consultant, as opposed to18 in England) to pernicious plans to centralise local councils by cutting them to 8 while installing more assembly members which would cost only £9 Million more (that money of course coming from the English taxpayer), and the destruction of Welsh industry, not just steel, by trying to out-green the Greens by raising energy costs higher than anywhere else. Industry has to pay 50% more for electricity here in Wales than in France.
On to the main event – Nigel Farage talking to us foot soldiers on this penultimate evening before we go to the polls. He gave us hard-hitting arguments interspersed with laughter. It was extremely interesting how Nigel connected the points between politics being seen as local here in Wales with the big issue of EU membership. The most important one is that having UKIP members in the assembly means a more public voice for the BREXIT campaign. But there are other issues which elected assembly members can counter head-on. One for example is the lie promoted by Carwyn Jones that leaving the EU means that all agriculture in Wales would cease … oh sure, because there was no agriculture in Wales before we joined the EU, was there! Another was aimed at health tourism, for which at last year’s GE leader debate the leader of Plaid Cymru, a certain Leanne Woods, accused him of racism. Well – we do have health tourism in Wales, only it’s the Welsh travelling to English hospitals … The biggest laughter came when Nigel reminded us of that former Labour leader so well known in Wales, a certain Neil Kinnock, who was against EU membership until he and his family were given access to the Brussels troughs.
Finally, in parallel to what happened a year ago at the GE, he told how Labour and Plaid Cymru are ganging up on local and assembly UKIP candidates by trying to exhort their voters to support each other so as to keep UKIP out. The establishment, be it in the UK or be it in Wales, fear us and will do anything and everything to stop us.
A brief but very interesting questions-and-answers session followed, the answers coming from Nigel, Mark Reckless and Nathan Gill. Two points made are of interest to all, not just the Welsh. One was about what ‘independence’ means after Brexit, to which Nathan Gill answered that the ‘I’ in UKIP doesn’t just stand for independence from Brussels, but independence here in our country from encroaching centralisation coming from Whitehall, independence for local people through their local councils. The other was in answer to EU plans for allowing unrestricted entry to Turks, and to TTIP. Nigel was adamant and forthright: he’s against both and will vote against both.
The most remarkable impression for me was that this last meeting before polling was in no way a triumphalist, rah-rah-rah meeting. It was warm and intimate, and at certain points during the question-and-answer session it felt as if we were at a family reunion where jokes were told which had everybody in stitches. That, in all humility, is what UKIP is like.
Afterwards, I did have the opportunity to speak briefly with candidates I know, and with both Nathan Gill and Mark Reckless, asking how they estimate our chances. No triumphalism but cool analysis informed the replies I got from all: cautiously optimistic. We will gain seats, but we don’t know how many. The one fact we should remember, regardless of how many seats we’ll have in the end: UKIP will be the first new party to win such seats from zero here in Wales.
Now that’s a good thought to take into the polling stations tomorrow!