With the initial prospect of a football team of candidates, the Surrey Committee resolved to ask them to use their opening address to answer some of our members’ most pressing concerns about the future of our party. Below is the list we emailed out the previous Friday.
1. Briefly describe how you will establish a structure and permanent team at HQ which will use existing talent, inspire the confidence of potential donors and keep members engaged.
2. What is your vision for UKIP – what should be UKIP’s strategic target in the Kingdom’s post-EU political landscape, what should be its primary policy to replace the issue of the European Union?
3. How would you use the skills and experience of the other candidates in your new team, to benefit the party and to help defuse any resentment from their supporters?
4. The public have been told relentlessly that UKIP’s job is done and our behaviour and failure to present a clear vision for the post Brexit future has reinforced the meme. How do you propose to prove them wrong? How will you reach out to voters and counteract UKIP’s poor public image?
5. What will you do if you are elected and do not consider the ‘New Brand’ or ‘New Future’ is compatible with your vision of UKIP’s future direction?
Unsurprisingly a number of them failed to follow through. The first surprise of the evening came when Piers Wauchope, returning officer, walked in; I was laying out name cards and Jane Collins was preparing her opening speech – she did follow our script. Three candidates had dropped out earlier that day he informed us, they weren’t coming. This was news to Ben Walker’s campaign manager who assured us he was on his way. It transpired later that all three, now part of ‘UKIP United,’ planned to attend and announce the new plan but David Coburn, laid low with a migraine, sent apologies and Marion Mason got stuck in traffic. By the time she arrived Ben Walker had given a barnstorming speech, possibly his best, to audible disappointment when he announced that he was standing down – he clearly had good support among our packed audience.
John Rees Evans was also missing due to his recent bereavement. Andrew Price, one of his team, presented his statements. Sadly it can never substitute for the real thing. Perhaps after a week traversing the country our candidates were tired and tiring of each others company; certainly they were becoming tetchy. I was not the only one who initially thought Henry Bolton provoked Anne Marie, when prompted to say how he would work with other candidates, until I played the video recording. Still angry at his ungentlemanly challenge to her candidacy the previous week Anne Marie cut in, Henry offended just by being there.
The tensions bubbled to the surface again later, courtesy of John’s stand in. We initially asked Andrew to give John’s opening response and closing statement (Why you should vote for me) and note the open questions for John to post his responses on UKIP Daily later. I now regret letting Andrew respond to some questions. John, I am sure, would not have attacked fellow candidates over the Mirror’s misrepresentation of one of his earlier hustings speeches. His team member, understandably angry that UKIP members and candidates had not recognised it for the ‘fake news’ it was, reacted – badly, and since he, John and David Kurten are all committed Christians, threw an earlier attack on David into the mix.
Anyone who aspires to lead us, indeed all candidates or those who hold office, must expect to have anything they say twisted and misrepresented in the worst light by a hostile press. Think Godfrey Bloom’s slut ‘faux pas’. We all have to be on guard and, frankly, if I were Peter Whittle and not a biologist, I would be offended by the researchers observations quoted by David Kurten – little has changed since C. P. Snow’s ‘The Two Cultures’, scientists’ minds really do work differently.
It was difficult for me, as chairman to judge performance; from feedback David Kurten had a good night, I thought Jane performed well, others were less impressed. Anne Marie was in glorious, magnificent full flow, applauded for many a valid observation but, for me, compared to the July London Question Time, far less rounded. Taking post hustings soundings many there are aware that all that glisters is not gold.
Watch the video and make up your own minds.
Video appears courtesy of Gerald Gravett’s YouTube Channel