(24/8/17) By our Branch blogger, Cliff Edge.
On Monday 21st August, I travelled down from Cambridgeshire with a branch colleague to attend a UKIP Leadership hustings in London Colney, it being the only event for UKIP’s Eastern Region members. There are officially 11 candidates for the UKIP leadership position and 8 turned up on the night. These were David Allen, Henry Bolton OBE, Jane Collins MEP, David Kurten AM, Marion Mason, Aidan Powlesland, Ben Walker, and Anne Marie Waters.
The three who did not attend were David Coburn, John Rees-Evans and Peter Whittle AM (it transpired that Peter was attending his own event in London). The room in the Golden Lion pub was full with perhaps a 100 people attending.
The 8 candidates were initially asked to speak for three minutes each. None used notes or a prepared speech and my feeling was that none ‘nailed’ what was essentially an elevator pitch to the audience. In his address, David Allen announced that he was going to support Henry Bolton for his leadership bid and he was therefore asked to excuse himself from the panel, leaving seven candidates. There then followed an hour’s worth of questioning from the audience whereby questioners could decide which of the panel they wanted to reply. Question topics included: what the new leader would do in his or her first 100 days of office; what UKIP should do to attract the young to join our party; the state of education and skills in the UK; the legal situation of cannabis in the UK; MEPs’ performance and funding; what the panellists’ vision for the party is; and what each panellist would do in terms of offering support to the new leader if they didn’t win the leadership.
The panellists were then each asked to sum up and make their final pitch to the audience before we all broke for some refreshments and face time with candidates if desired. Below is a personal view of the candidates based on their performance last night and from what I know of them. I emphasise that this is NOT a Branch view and is my perspective and mine alone. Others who attended will no doubt differ in their opinion. It is not possible to repeat every word by each candidates and if I have misrepresented any candidate it is purely through error. A video of the event will no doubt become available shortly. It should be pointed out that as a candidate it is very hard to get one’s message platform across to an audience in such a deliberately disruptive meeting format. It should also be added that the audience was very well-behaved and attentive and this contributed to a very successful evening.Anne Marie Waters
was perhaps the most eagerly-anticipated candidate perhaps because of her well-known anti-sharia position and high profile on social media. She is the candidate the main-stream media (MSM) would love to win as it would support their narrative on UKIP i.e. that we’re a racist, anti-muslim, intolerant party. Anne Marie spoke well overall and didn’t concentrate on Islam or Sharia law. In her first 100 days, she would involve the grassroots in policy making and also call a conference of members at which a representative from each branch would be asked to vote on policy issues presented to them. This theme of party accountability was actually echoed by most if not all the candidates during the evening. Anne Marie also highlighted immigration as a key issue for the first 100 days plus solving the ‘problem’ of the NEC, of which more later. In a brief face-to-face encounter afterwards in the bar, I asked Anne Marie about islamification and isn’t she worried that the media will portray her as a ‘one issue’ anti-muslim leader? She batted this away but it must be a concern for the party. If elected, one surmises that her biggest challenge will be to establish a credible team around her and be able to expound on policy in all areas, not just Islam. I saw nothing to suggest she hasn’t the skill to do this but rumours abound as to the fallout within UKIP if the grassroots support she clearly has delivers her victory. To my knowledge, so far the only high-profile person to come out for her is Stuart Agnew MEP.Aidan Powlesland
, an online games author, came across as a bit of an eccentric both in manner and policy. Indeed, in one handout given to the audience before the event, he included a piece about how the UK could lead the world in harvesting minerals from asteroids one day. Back on Earth though, it’s harder to impress and whilst he was forthcoming during the evening I couldn’t see him as someone with the necessary leadership skills nor personality to be UKIP leader. But he is definitely a thinker, and from his website it’s clear he’s a prolific writer and policy creator. Strangely he seemed less willing to promise to give the new leader 100% backing if he isn’t selected.Marion Mason
is a member of UKIP’s NEC and has been a member for 10 years, and a nurse for 40 years. So far so good. However, as a speaker she was probably the least impressive and was not that expansive on policy, difficult as the task was in such a forum. One does wonder if she is representative of the type of people on the NEC because if so, therein lies one of our problems. Passion, devotion to the cause, and length of service are important but being able to think on your feet quickly and elucidate policy as a leader is key and this was, in my opinion, lacking. But she was clear on the EU, repeating Paul Nuttall’s phrase that we must be the guard dogs of Brexit.Henry Bolton OBE
has an impressive figure and speaker, with a CV to match. Former soldier, policeman, Army Officer (Territorial Army?) and operative in the Organisation for Security & Cooperation in Europe which has resulted in him being deployed to the former Yugoslavia and Middle East as a civilian governor/advisor/strategist in conflict zones. This has given him much exposure to the EU and Whitehall apparently. I have to confess, I had never heard of him, but then I hadn’t heard of all but four of the eleven leadership candidates. Henry came across as authoritative, knowledgeable, a natural leader, and crucially, very good at answering questions. In stature, mannerism and accent, he is almost a doppelganger for Daniel Hannan MEP. One question that nagged me was, why has he chosen to join UKIP and not the Tories? He could safely reside on the Right wing of the Tory party, would be much more likely to win a Parliamentary seat, and the Tories love ex-Army Officers and ‘war heroes’, don’t they? He must know as we all do that UKIP cannot be a party of government with the current electoral system that we have and that we’re destined to be a pressure group for years to come. He came across as the natural successor to Nigel Farage, and indeed Nigel has previously endorsed him as a Police & Crime Commissioner candidate in Kent so they know each other well.
On running UKIP, Henry was pretty solid saying that he would delegate authority and involve members in policy decisions and advocated the setting up of SAGE – Spokespersons Advisory Group of Experts – that would enable UKIP to offer more credible comment and responses to national and international issues. He was very clear that UKIP needed to be ‘professionalised’. In a face-to-face encounter afterwards, I asked him if won the election, would he include Anne Marie in his team given the deep and wide concern expressed by the party membership on the issue of islamification of the UK. He said he would definitely ‘have conversations’ with her and other candidates. A couple of criticisms that I have are his low profile in UKIP – he’s got about 1,000 followers on Twitter compared with Anne Marie Waters’ 58,000 – and his self-belief which is impressive could be interpreted by some as vanity. But Nigel did alright, didn’t he?Jane Collins MEP
is fairly well-known in the party, being one of the 20 or so MEPs. Taking into account that she had a slight lisp after a dental visit earlier in the day, she came across as a rather average speaker and a lieutenant rather than a leader. Her solution for attracting youth into the party would be to put young people on the NEC and involve them in policy groups, which got approval from the audience. She was forthcoming on Diane James when the latter’s name featured in a question saying that Diane is a good person and capable politician who reluctantly signed her nomination papers for the leadership contest last year but ‘wasn’t strong enough’ to be leader. Worryingly, it is reported in the media that Jane could face bankruptcy after failing to pay more than £350,000 damages to three Labour MPs over remarks she made about the Rotherham child abuse scandal at a UKIP conference.Ben Walker
is someone you can’t ignore when being addressed from the podium. Highly-animated and loud with a Bristolian accent, he is ex-Royal Navy and runs a construction business. He’s been a member of UKIP since 2011 and has been active as a councillor and branch chairman. Clearly he’s highly driven and ambitious and is not short of words, being highly fluent when answering questions. He’s also got a clear policy platform which includes restructuring the party by re-defining the NEC’s role and sees himself, a young candidate, as a magnet for attracting the young to the party. He was impressive on the platform but I wonder if he could frighten as many people away as he could attract. If his manner on the platform is representative, he would need to dial down his fervour a bit. This may be unfair but he didn’t come across as someone who listens though, despite his insistence that he is the ‘grassroots’ candidate.David Kurten AM
is well-known in the party, being a London Assembly member. A larger-than-life figure with a cuddly-bear personality, David spoke well and emphasised his 20-year career in education made him an expert in this field and on skills, on which he was very passionate and clear. In his first 100 days, he said he would organise parliamentary candidate selection so that UKIP would not be caught on the hop as it was earlier this year. He would also ensure we always have an up-to-date manifesto and have a policy team producing new ideas continually. He sees social media as the tool to attract the young to the party and its policies and was adamant that we must tackle political correctness and would make it a major policy. If not chosen, he was clear he would support the new leader in his or her endeavours. Summary
There was much consensus from the panel, with virtually all members saying that was that this leadership election was the ‘last chance’ for UKIP (I don’t agree and anyway that’s what people said before Diane James and Paul Nuttall were elected). The new leader must re-organise the party and that they didn’t care for Steve Crowther’s chairmanship style. The panellists were also clear that the NEC must be reorganised.
There was criticism of MEPs from both the floor and much of the panel on the issue of contributions to the party’s coffers. There is a convention that 10% of an MEP’s income should be given to the party but it was revealed that most UKIP MEPs have not done this, although they weren’t named and shamed. There was much more to ask the panel but time ran out. One question I would have liked to have asked relates to the forthcoming party conference from 29th-30th September, at which the new UKIP leader will be announced. However, the new UKIP brand (and name?) and policies will also be announced. What if the new leader does not like the new branding or some of the policies presented? This would be problematic. And a personal take-out for me from the hustings is that UKIP is quite a divided party with various factions. Any new leader will have to be strong and be able to ensure these factions reconcile. This must be a major consideration for the UKIP membership when it votes.
It was disappointing that Peter Whittle was not at the hustings as he is clearly a front runner – he's popular and a scan of Twitter reveals that both Tim Aker MEP and Paul Nuttal MEP are backing him for leadership of UKIP. More than one panellist viewed Peter as offering ‘more of the same’ leadership which would not resolve the issues facing the party. But whoever is elected, it is clear to me that the new leader must offer a new agenda and style. As Nigel Farage said in Bolton in February at the Spring conference, “UKIP is nothing if it is not radical”. I am clearer now as to which candidates I will not vote for, but I will have to take time to examine the policy platforms and backgrounds of at least three candidates before I can arrive at a final choice. It is reported that ballot papers will be issued to party members from 1st September.We would like to thank the UKIP St Albans branch and its chairman, Alan Malin, who held the event.