I Met David Kurten (and Arron Banks) – Here’s What I Thought
I arrived at the Bristol Bowls club last night with my UKIP pin proudly showing, all dressed up and excited to meet David Kurten, the UKIP leadership candidate, and immediately got lost. The only way in I could see was a gate, which some woman had just shut after looking with a sour face upon my purple and yellow pin. Luckily, there was a front door which, come to think of it, should probably have been our first port of call to enter the little hut.
“UKIP?” asked the barman. “That way” he said, pointing to a little side room.
I walked through to see Daniel, the ever-friendly chairman of UKIP Bristol setting up the seating. “Ah! You must be Reece!” He exclaimed and gradually more people turned up until there were 7 of us and the chairman whispered “We have a surprise visitor – Arron Banks is outside at the bar!”. Well, that really got everyone excited!
As the pair walked in, they shook everyone’s hand and were both very friendly, engaging in various conversations with us all. These, of course, included the topic of a certain Nigel Farage as well as the Tories, Labour and the various routes of getting into Bristol.
Once 2 more people had arrived (leaving a surprisingly low total of 9) and it had reached 7:30, David began the event with a short talk on his plans for the party, the country and how we was going to achieve these. He spoke of reforming the party to professionalise it, and potentially looking at changing or removing the NEC if it became necessary. Interestingly, he seemed to mention phrases like “free trade” and “open market” almost unnaturally frequently, as though he’d made the mistake of not being clear of his views here previously and was making a conscious effort to talk as much as possible about them here. I’m not disagreeing with him – the freer the market, the freer the people, of course but he did seem a little over-keen to bring it up. He also spoke of revamping our education system, returning to traditional family models and becoming self-sufficient in jobs and labour – policies I’m sure all in UKIP will struggle to find fault with!
After finishing his speech, he took questions from the audience which varied a great deal from education, to cooperation with other parties, to drug legalisation and even to scout parades! As so few people attended, everyone in the audience was able to ask lots of questions and everyone left the event having learnt a lot about David and his plans for the party. For his first question, I asked David how he’d deal with the structural problems within the party and how he’d sort out the party finances (I joked that one part of the financial solution was sat in the room, to which David didn’t respond). On structure, he alluded to scrapping the NEC although appeared to see this as a last resort rather than a plan, albeit a likely outcome. Passionately, he described his plans to get far more information and support to the branches, who he clearly feels sorry for at present and his plan to give all regional chairs seats on the NEC in order to make the executive body far more accountable to branches and members. However excellent his ideas were and however passionate and enthusiastic he was about them, there was a distinct lack of detail that had become apparent at this point. He seemed to have lots of wonderful plans but didn’t really know the details of these. Now that could be because he didn’t want to spend too much time detailing his ideas, which is perfectly reasonable. That said, one shouldn’t exclude the possibility that it is due to a lack of planning which is a concern that must be explored by those considering a vote for David (myself potentially included). On finance, he proposed appointing a full-time fundraiser whose job is to raise funds for the party. He pledged to get 20,000 new members (including the estimated 10,000 that have left since our peak) and 100 new patrons. Acquiring these patrons would be the job of the fundraiser which is interesting because this has always been the role of the leader and was a function at which Farage was particularly skilled. He also proposed that 20% of all membership fees go to the branch and 5% go to the region – which seems like a wonderful idea but I may have spotted a flaw (which I sadly didn’t get the chance to bring up). The branch, at present, gets 100% of the membership fee when a new member signs up through the branch for the first year. Would this money now be reduced to 20% or would this stay and then all other membership fees be divided up in the proposed way? This is something which I would have liked David to detail further on and something that I feel demonstrates a slight lack of planning.
When the issue of drug legalisation was raised, David was very much against the idea and felt that a harsher stance had to be taken by the government – which Arron Banks and I disagreed with and discussed afterwards. I think the fact that Arron and David disagreed here shows in many ways that David is not a puppet for Arron, as some have suggested.
Upon being asked who he would back for the leadership if he weren’t in the race himself, he gave an excellent politician’s response and did a sterling job of dodging the question, as I suspected he would. I suppose it would be very unusual for him to declare support for any other candidate but it was worth asking.
Unsurprisingly, David was extremely knowledgeable on education & science – these were the two areas where I really did sense depth of understanding and detail. For instance, when the subject of energy came up, he gave a thorough and excellent answer which only a scientist could truly debate with due to the complexity of his argument. This would be a great strength when debating leftists on issues like climate change, taxation and energy where scientific knowledge is key.
Overall, I was very impressed with David’s performance and I felt that he came across brilliantly so would be perfectly qualified to put forward the party’s message to voters. That said, I did doubt his in-depth understanding of some issues and of his plans to reform the party and this was something which I concerned me. I think a role like deputy leader or a key spokesman role would be better suited to him, at least for the time being. While I am still backing John Rees-Evans, David is one of my favourite candidates and I’d be perfectly happy in a party under his leadership.