[Ed: This synopsis is based on excerpts from a comprehensive report by Helena Windsor, Surrey County Chairman, with additional information by Freddy Vachha, London Regional Chairman]
Freddy Vachha, organiser and Chairman, stated it was a ‘make or break’ election and vital to get right. He chose the format without pre-informing candidates, so they had to think on their feet. After their (up to 3 minute) speeches, 8 panelists were each awarded 15 (=6+9) tokens to ‘spend’ @ one per answer they wanted to offer. This speeded things up, allowed more questions and discouraged “Me too” or waffling replies. The first 15 questions allowed 1 minute maximum per answer, the next 25 a 30 second maximum, rigorously enforced even vs. the Scottish MEP. The Chairman had a wildcard option – used only once – to request a candidate to answer a question they didn’t want to.
Attendees: 150 – Answers: 110
8 potential candidates attended. Peter Whittle was unable to be in London. It is also understood that Jane Collins MEP and Mike Hookem MEP have indicated that they have joined the race and were invited. Mike sent apologies and it seemed they were expecting Jane.
David Coburn (DC): We need a leader to speak for all our values
Aidan Powlesland (AP): Concentrate on making the country rich while Labour & Conservatives divide the tax pie
Ben Walker (BW): The first issue is that our party is broken; its structure does not function. He said he is a classic libertarian but we must put our own house in order first.
David Allen (DA): ‘What is the point of UKIP?’ – This has not been answered to the satisfaction of members or voters. Vision and policy are paramount – we need to rebrand and a leader needs to put mechanisms in place to get to where we want to be. He is also passionate about voting reform, having devised his own system.
David Kurten (DK): We have a chance to rise up and come back strongly, to create a post Brexit country where our young people can thrive and be self sufficient in skills. As the Conservatives are now following a progressive left path we have an open goal. We must reform the party from the inside, put a new structure in place and move on.
Bill Etheridge (BE): Bill began by stating that we were the most successful political movement in British history. He said he joined UKIP as he can’t stand the status quo establishment telling us what to do and he wants to stop pick-pocket taxes for pet projects. Freedom is at the core of the party, liberty of the individual versus the state. We must believe in our hearts in freedom, liberty and patriotism.
Anne-Marie Waters (AMW): Brexit led to a drift to the Tories as people thought they were a safe pair of hands for Brexit. We need to introduce real change, not just debate it, get back to basics and clear the fog, speaking in plain English to people who haven’t been listened to for years, bringing it down to the things people care about like jobs, houses, safe streets, NHS. We have got to speak to people, not the media or politicians.
John Rees Evans (JRE): 12 months ago UKIP was at 13% in the polls, after GE17 we were 1.8% so something is wrong with the party. One definition of insanity is to carry on doing the same thing but expect a different outcome. We elected a safe pair of hands in Paul Nuttall, do you want to elect another safe pair of hands or someone who can transform us from polling 1.8% to a party fit for government?
State of play at end of Round 1: neither of the MEP’s present mentioned the dire state of the party post Brexit. Candidates who came from grassroots backgrounds were the strongest on the need for Party reform.
Questions came from across the country by email, by text from the floor and directly from the floor. Some questions had only one person answering, because no other panellist really disagreed. Several had no takers. The total number of questions available to be put to the candidates was almost 60.
Because of the length of the hustings and the subsequent report, three Q & A only are reported here:
Q2 Direct democracy(DD) –the NEC tried an open forum which was closed due to libellous and slanderous postings. If a member’s forum can’t be run how could DD possibly work?
JRE: Would utilise talent in party to direct policy making – the leadership should feed in ideas and use DD to advance policies to national level. Forums need to be moderated and the constitution should be modified to make it impossible to advance a policy which is against UKIP core values – prevent infiltrators.
DA: The devil of DD is in the detail but a form of DD works in Switzerland. (DA then turned the topic to voting reform as politics is currently polarised.)
AMW: Sounds good in theory but how would we sell it to the electorate; it would lead to endless bureaucracy. People want to elect a government they can trust.
BW: A huge fan of DD, only within the party. We must change our structure to make it work. County chairs should have a seat on the NEC and we need a professional policy unit.
DK: We need to harness the talent within the party – systems currently in place do not work so the party does not get enough of our ideas. Will set up a policy team that works all year, not just at election time. A policy forum is good for ideas but proposals must be checked by an experienced policy team.
DC: The internet gets out of control, won’t be doing with that madhouse. Put DD in practice by putting together the 2017 Manifesto for Scotland with local area representatives over around 5 hours due to dissatisfaction with national manifesto.
Q9 From the YI chairman – How will you attract young voters?
JRE: Social media and internet can impact many at the touch of a button;
AP: We should not be sectarian but focus on what we can do for the country with good general policies;
DC: There are more young Kippers in Scotland as they are attracted to the unabashed libertarian agenda of UKIP Scotland– plus jobs & teach the right things in school;
BW: Can’t engage young people in meetings only or by suppressing their talent. Embrace technology young people use and engage with them – also work with groups like ‘Make Votes Matter’;
Q19 Do you support or oppose the integration agenda?
BE: Oppose – the timing was bad, it was a disgrace;
JRE: Oppose – should be fed through DD so it is not offensive and stigmatising;
DC: Horrified – protested and was laughed at by the policy’s creator;
DK: stated, with some discomfort, that he participated in the launch: some radical ideas were left out, there was insufficient time and consultation given to the policy – it shows the need for rolling policy;
DA: Supports the concept but how it was approached was a disaster.
Based on the SW – strength (S) and weakness (W) – of a SWAT analysis, this is my personal assessment of the candidates on the night:
DC: S – Bombastic, hard work for party in Scotland. W – aggressive criticism of other candidates and MEPs;
AP: S – understanding that UKIP sends wrong messages, need for smaller state. W – no confidence that he would be able to enthuse younger people;
BW: S – best on broken state of party, gets the need to embrace technology used by younger voters, campaign for voting reform. W – Must do better on policies;
DA: S – understanding why the party is in its current state. W – does not look or sound like a leader, either obsessed with his own system of voting reform or uses it to cover up lack of policies;
DK: S – Education reform, attacking PC culture, only serving politician to promote need for policy unit and internal reform. W – Possible association with failed 2017 integration policy;
BE: S – Positive on economic reform, our stand for liberty and patriotism. W – has criticised a candidate in the public domain; no proposals to tackle internal problems;
AMW: S – Most compassionate performer; understands national frustration with politicians. Not a one trick pony despite what critics say. W – Public perception thanks to hostile MSM & unwise behaviour by people within party would make it difficult for UKIP to recover image if she were leader;
JRE: S – Understands the need to harness internet & social media to reach out. W – lack of policies because of emphasis on DD – possibly JRE is a one trick pony.
ATTENTION: The proceedings were videoed, access to the video was restricted, but since the link has been leaked, here it is (first half):