I arrived on Friday 2nd March for the free training and policy workshop day after a long car journey from Hayes – Fellow Hillingdon branch member Ray McKennon kept me company (and awake!) on the drive up!
After checking in to our respective B&B’s we set off to the landmark Embassy Theatre on the seafront, the venue for both days of the event.
Taking the Job seriously
UKIP are making large strides forward at the moment, and the National Council are determined to make sure that activists and candidates have access to the tools to drive on to electoral success. The morning session gave a choice of media training, public speaking training, a campaign workshop on how to fight wind farms and two policy workshops – One on the integrated welfare policy whilst the other was on Paul Nuttall’s ‘A Union for the Future’ devolution proposal. I attended the Union for the Future workshop, which was chaired by our Deputy Leader and involved a healthy exchange of views and ideas (I will be penning a further blog shortly on the English Parliament discussions that took place on both days of the conference). I agree with Paul’s policy, and spoke in favour of it during the meeting which got me a pat on the back from Mr Nuttall on the way out – Difficult to believe he is a scouser as my wallet was still in my back pocket afterwards! (Only joking, boss!)
Lunch was convened at 12.30pm, and in my normal tradition I retired to the bar across the road from the event. Already seated were the familiar figures of press officer Gawain Towler and NEC member Neil Hamilton,who kindly let me join their company and discussion.
We filed back in to the main hall (right) at 2pm, where the next hour and a half saw helpful tips on winning at local level from successful UKIP councillors and party press and media officers. I commented to other Hillingdon branch members later on that this had been a particularly useful part of the day and I picked up a number of ideas that can be incorporated in to future campaigns. This was followed by further workshops before the day was wrapped up at around 5pm.
For those who had pre-booked, a gala dinner took place in the evening at the Southview Hotel. Many familiar faces were present, and an excellent dinner was followed by a raffle, auction and music.
It shows real dedication to the cause to talk your new husband in to having your honeymoon at a party conference – Welcome to the club, Steve!
The biggest laugh of the night, however, came during the auction which was hosted by Party Chairman Steve Crowther. One of the members had generously donated a 30 minute light aircraft flight around the Cornish coast – When the bidding reached £90, Party Leader Nigel Farage got up and put a bid in whilst furiously shaking his head, which by this time was in his hands! Who says politicians don’t have a sense of humour?
I retired to the bar around 11pm, where I bumped in to media figure and presenter Jon Gaunt – I have been promising to buy him a drink since we first met at the English Democrats AGM in 2010, yet still managed to fail dismally in this relatively easy task. Maybe next time, Gaunty!
Mingling with them were GLA election candidates including Steve Woolfe, David Coburn,Paul Oakley and Liz Jones.
After a number of interesting conversations, I left at around 1pm to get back to my B&B for the following days events.
Saturday – The Main event
Arriving at around 9.30am, the conference started at 10 with a rousing welcome from Mayor of Skegness, Councillor Steve Kirk who declared his pride in both his town and his country. This was followed by a speech from local party chairman Chris Pain and then Peter Reeve talking about how to win.
The first of the guest speakers followed, with ‘Gaunty’ giving a storming speech to a standing ovation
Professor Tim Congdon came on stage next with a detailed breakdown of the financial reasons of why we are better off out of the EU, which was supposed to have been followed after a coffee break by guest speaker Terry Smith, giving a view from the City of London.
Prof Congdon was full of flu, but bravely soldiered on with his presentation despite being in obvious discomfort.
When we filed back in, Steve Crowther announced that Mr Smith could not attend and had to regretfully pull out of conference bringing an early visit to the platform for party leader Nigel Farage.
Nigel gave his usual flawless performance, and pointed out the way that our rule of law and in particular Habeus Corpus has been contravened by the recent extradition of Businessman Chris Tappin to the US without evidence being put to an English court by the Americans. He then introduced to us the newest recruit to the UKIP cause, former Conservative MEP Roger Helmer who defected the previous night. (We had heard whispers at the gala dinner from Twitter, but there had been no confirmation). Mr Helmer proceeded to explain to Conference his reasons for the decision which can be viewed via the following link and should be required information for all those who still think that the Tories are dedicated on either getting us out of the EU or re-negotiating our position within it
A second new recruit was also introduced to us, Alexandra Swann, who had been Deputy Chairman of the youth wing of the Tories,Conservative Future. In many ways,this is an even more significant defection – It proves that UKIP now appeals not just to mine or Roger’s generation, but also to the youth of England whose futures are being betrayed by the old three parties.
This took us in to the lunch break, where a number of the delegates took advantage of the meal deal at the venue opposite the Embassy (Pictured right).
Having already had a hearty breakfast at the B&B, I skipped lunch to join in the second debate on Paul Nuttall’s English parliament policy in the Arts Room between 12.45pm and 1.45pm. Paul was joined by my old friend from the CEP (Campaign for an English Parliament) Eddie Bone to put the case for an English Parliament within a federal union, whilst an alternative viewpoint was put forward by John Bufton MEP and Warwick Nicholson, with Neil Hamilton chairing the debate. Similar to the day before, the discussion was spirited and different views were put forward via the floor. One of the pleasing aspects was that everyone, irrespective of which part of the UK they were from, recognised that England has been shabbily treated by devolution and this has to change.
After the debate (left), I managed to get back in to the hall for the start of the afternoon session and Paul Nuttall took the stage to explain how forward looking policies are driving UKIP to the front of the political debate.
He had to cut short his speech to make it to Lincoln for a BBC interview, and was followed by guest speaker Sir Chris Woodhead.
Sir Chris was a former education advisor to the government, and despite being the victim of a degenerative illness that leaves him confined to a wheelchair he gave a moving speech about how the current system has failed our children and how UKIP policy on Grammar schools and Vocational training is in line with his own thinking on how we can turn things around.
The next speaker was, for me, the pick of the day – Godfrey Bloom MEP discussing the way forward for defence. In turn hilarious and enlightening, ‘Godders’ has an irreverent sense of humour behind which lurks a formidable mind. Judge for yourself via the following link
Out of camera shot, Steve Crowther had his head in his hands when Godders’ made his remarks regarding Nick Clegg!
Gerard Batten MEP was next up discussing justice, and in particular the way that our traditional rights and laws are being eroded by the EU. He discussed how a new European Police Force, ‘Europol’, is being granted powers and how the European Arrest Warrant is being used to deport British Citizens to countries that have a significantly lower level of justice and higher instances of abuse. His new book on the subject, Freedom,Security & Justice? or The creation of a European Union Police State was on sale in the foyer and is a compelling read.
You can order your copy from the UKIP website or via Gerard’s website www.gerardbattenmep.co.uk
Peter Adams from UKIP Scotland then came on to discuss the Scottish Independence question and implored the assembled members to assist him and his members in thwarting the plans of Alex Salmond to break the Union. We then broke for tea, and the Hillingdon Branch members in attendence in the main hall (right) popped down to the expo to have a chat with Helen and Steve who had been manning a stall raising funds for the GLA campaign.
It was good to see some of my old colleagues who have realised, as I have, that UKIP is now the only realistic political choice for our country at the conference. I also met former NC member Carole Terzza and Notts activist Giles Farrand during the two days in Skegness and they were similarly enthused about the direction that UKIP is heading in. Over 500 attended on the two days and there were converts in evidence from not just the ED and Conservatives, but also from the Lib-Dem’s, Labour, the Greens and some who have never been involved in politics before but have taken up the UKIP banner to make a difference for their areas and their families.
The Final session
We filed back in at 3.30 pm to see the final speeches. Lisa Duffy gave a presentation on the upcoming GLA elections in London, and the candidates who attended conference were introduced on stage.
This was followed by Lucy Bostick and Harry Aldridge giving the updates from Young Independence, whose numbers have now soared to over 500 and are growing at a rapid rate.
Party Treasurer Stuart Wheeler was the final speaker to come on and explain a new fundraising idea that is getting underway to the members.
A Q&A with the leadership panel was the final spot of the day, with the curtains coming down at around 4.30pm.
The Way Forward
This was my first UKIP Conference, and I must say was a quantum leap forward from what I had been used to previously. First rate guest speakers, great organisation and most impressive of all – A large number of members who were prepared to travel to a venue that is not the easiest to get to and who are all pulling in the same direction despite their vastly differing backgrounds.
I had been told before I joined that UKIP is the ’embittered right wing of the Conservative party’ and ‘ Like a retirement home for the elderly who can’t accept change’ – Having now seen members from all over the UK at the conference, nothing could be further from the truth. What I saw was a gathering of likeminded individuals who represent the possibility of a sea change in British politics driven by sheer common sense and love of country and community.
It is time for major change in England, where career politicians are replaced by those who have lived in the real world and can understand the true issues that face our country. I now firmly believe that we are in the first stages of seeing that change, and it will be UKIP that provide it.