Dear readers –

First of all apologies! This is what really happened yesterday afternoon at Conference:

Since everbody and his aunt knew there was going to be an announcement yesterday afternoon, more and more ‘proper’ MSM teams arrived, cameras, smartphones, the lot. So just as in Bournemouth last year at Nigel’s good-bye speech, the bandwidth collapsed. Far worse – the UKIP Daily site also crashed! So there I was, sat like a lemon not being able to do what I wanted! Still, I have a good memory, so here are my recollections:

During lunch break, sitting over coffee, one NEC member had texted the returning officer Piers Wauchope as to when the result would be in. Answer came back: they were only just starting the count …. That was at 1.15 pm. So we all relaxed.

Then, during the afternoon session – that is, during Bickley’s speech – I was in need of tea, so I went to the big lounge, keeping my eye on the big screen there. Suddenly, during Mike Hookem’s speech, there where whispers going round that all candidates had been herded onto the balcony, doors locked, no press access.

It didn’t take much brains to surmise that the announcement was imminent. Everybody started streaming back into the auditorium. Standing room only – my attempts at getting online and publishing the result were severely thwarted, for the reasons reported above. And just as I thought while the whispers grew louder, while the tension was palpable, Mike Hookem was finishing his speech first.

Only then did the Party Chairman go onto the stage, telling us he had an announcement to make … the audience went quiet, only the camera shutters clicked, on and on.

Paul Oakden started with the candidates in reverse order – here are the nubmers:

Aidan Powlesland, 85 votes, 0.65%

Jane Collins, 566 votes, 4.4%

Peter Whittle, 1,413 votes, (10.9%)

John Rees-Evans, 2,021 votes (15.6%)

David Kurten, 2,201 votes (17%)

Anne Marie Waters, 2,755 votes (21.3%)

Winner: Henry Bolton, 3,874 votes (29.9%)

You had to have been there – while the supporters of the four losers were very quiet (I leave it to you to talk about those numbers, at this stage I couldn’t possibly comment!), the tension grew and grew. When David Kurten was declared as third runner up, you could’ve heard a pin drop. Then: AMW in second place – and the cheers started to build. As Oakden annoucend that HB was the winner, the place erupted with joyful shouts and jubilation. It was deafening, and the quality was much different from what we were used to hear for Nigel: it was not so much adulation but joy: joy that we now have a way ahead as Party.

As you recall: after the brief acceptance speech by HB there was going to be a press conference with the new leader. Yours truly did have the coveted red wristband showing that UKIPD was ‘press’. So off I trotted, into the den of the ‘professionals’.

I’ve never been to such thing before in mylife! It was heaving with cameras, and ‘the gaggle’ (that’s the collective noun for the press corps) sat in the first rows. You’ll probably have already seen the much edited (unfavourably, I’d guess) versions of our dear TV gaggle. The very first question – I knew who this was without even looking! – came from Michael Crick: “You worked for the EU, you were a LibDem, you look like a Tory – are you not an establishemnt mole?” “No”, was the answer, but HB did give a few points as to why he was not.

As for the rest of the questions: dear readers, us members gave HB a much better and fiercer grilling at the various hustings he attended than this gaggle did! If that’s the ‘best’ the press can do … Crick always excluded, naturally …

And finally – there was the gala dinner. I saw Aidan Powlesland standing around so went up and had a ncie long caht with him. He’s as tall, gentle and soft-spoken as he was at the hustings, and as fearsomely intelligent. I do hope he can play some role (and write for UKIPD!) in the future.

By chance I got to sit at the same (round) table as HB and his team manager, Patrick Lowe. I’ve seen some accusations flying around already that Patrick O’FLynn was HB’s team manager: not so! That’s a handy little smear – Patrick Lowe can’t help that he shares the first name with O’Flynn. Btw – neither O’Flynn  nor Ms S. Evans were present at Conference.

I cannot comment if any of the losing candidates were at dinner – I only got to speak to Aidan (hard to overlook, he is!) and David Kurten, who also sat at my table. He was beaming and as lovely as he’s been throughout the contest.

On first impressions – yes, I know, it was at dinner, informal, everybody happy – I believe that we actually do have a proper winner because HB was accessible to all members big and small, prominent or not, who wanted a word  – don’t ask me when or if he actually did eat! He also went round the tables, chatting with all who wanted, genial and relaxed.

This is what we wanted and needed: someone who is capable of and not afraid to do the hard slog of tidying up our Party while valuing all members and being accessible to them. Someone who actually means what he says. Oh yes – that audit of everything? Readers – that will go ahead!

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