An Evening With JRE
On Tuesday the 8th of August, John Rees-Evans attended a Sheffield branch meeting to promote himself in the leadership election. There were a large number of people, as we hosted guests from other branches, some of who I’ve had the pleasure of campaigning with across South Yorkshire. I must admit that I was already leaning towards voting for him, but his exemplary performance cemented my decision.
He began with the customary pleasantries (Thank you for coming etc.) and told an analogy about wanting to be a runner. “If you want to be a runner, you have to act like you’re already a runner.” He said you have to eat like a runner and train like a runner. Eventually, you can become a runner. He compared that to politics, telling us that we must act like we’re already in government. For example, members who want to be elected as councillors must act like councillors, cleaning off graffiti, building skate parks, founding boxing gyms and so on. Once citizens see that we can be bothered, while the elites they voted for sit idle, they’ll want to vote for us. He also opined that we should be campaigning in some form all of the time.
John told us about his business background and what he perceived as the secret of success. He said he sees opportunity where others see risk, which is a phrase I’ve heard successful people say before. He also mentioned that he is a Christian, but that his religion will not intrude into politics.
He talked about Direct Democracy and its digital platforms:
UKIP Direct – A website on which UKIP members can submit, discuss and vote on their own policy proposals. This website is already up and running. I’ve submitted 2 proposals myself.
UKIP Connect – A database of members’ skills, locations and contact details. This will be specifically to facilitate UKIP members helping other members with anything from leafleting to designing local websites.
UKIP Media – Our own publicity machine. We would use all available outlets to spread our vision, but we’d be able to use the internet in particular to make sure our message is not corrupted. This would allow us to circumvent the spin of biased organisations like the BBC, who probably won’t mention us much soon anyway as we didn’t receive a large enough vote share to warrant a lot of television time. He pointed out that if what the BBC quote from us doesn’t match what we actually say, people will realise that they dishonestly discriminate against us.
Direct Democracy would determine more than the direction our party takes. It would permeate the running of parliament. Politicians would debate issues and fine tune the wording of potential legislation, but we would vote about implementation ourselves. Everyone who is eligible could cast their votes online. John has thought of the computer illiterate too. There would be a free television channel dedicated to helping the public make their decisions and those who’d find it more convenient could vote by swiping a card at their local pay point.
He explained how he would reform our NEC. Incumbents would have specific roles, so people with different areas of expertise would stand in elections for different seats. It sounded a little like voting for spokespersons.
John also talked about our constitution. He told us that DD wouldn’t result in racist policies and the like because it would be limited by the constitution. Changing our constitution is currently an expensive action, because it states within that it can only be altered by a postal ballot of our members. He suggested that we spend money on it only once, by editing it to allow further amendments through an online ballot, which is much cheaper.
He seemed very much a technophile, which is advantageous in modern Britain.
When he had finished his speech, he opened the floor to questions. He answered every single one eloquently and knowledgably. There were multiple occurrences of John thoroughly covering a subject, then informing us that he could go on with even more minute details if anyone wished.
An audience member asked John what he thought of Anne Marie Waters. Did he seize the opportunity to disparage her? He did not! He began by commending her courage for campaigning about what the mainstream media see as a controversial subject. He went on to say that he would work with her to help her present her message in a way that offends no-one. He gave an example of how to do this. He said there would be outrage if we pledged to reduce the population by a million people. But if we cut the foreign aid budget to leave a much smaller fund strictly for natural disasters and the like, we can use some of that saving to incentivise people with dual nationalities to relinquish them and move abroad. These would be skilled or educated people, who would be financially rewarded for helping to work other countries out of poverty. “Everyone’s a winner and no-one is marginalised.”
He was asked how much he would be willing to pay the EU upon departure. I can’t remember the extortionate amount, but it started with minus. Everyone laughed, including John. But he was immediately dead serious again, when he explained that our entry into the EU has always been illegal. He told us of the British constitution’s provisions that decree sovereignty and parliamentary power can never be placed in the hands of a foreign state or nation.
I was going to ask him if he would work with other candidates whether he wins or not, but it seemed a redundant question. His whole philosophy is apparently saturated with the ideal of teamwork.
John covered more subjects and went into far more detail than I can here, as I couldn’t possibly take notes fast enough to keep up with him!
I personally think that his mannerisms while speaking will be fruitful fodder for impressionists, which is a bonus for 2 reasons:
1) He will receive more publicity for free.
2) It will give people something to mock without having to twist his words.
After the meeting, I had a chat with him. I’ve been to see him once before when he was orating about DD. Although he didn’t recognise my face due to me having my hair cut in between, he remembered my name! I told him my first name and he guessed my last one. I found this impressive because I didn’t get to meet him last time, he merely heard my name mentioned. It was during the general election and he rushed off to help a local candidate make a campaign video.
I told him that my shortlist had been him and Ben Walker. Did he jump at the chance to derogate a rival candidate? Again, he did not! He called Ben “a good man.”
After expressing agreement with most of what he’d said, I told him a little about myself, which seemed to genuinely interest him. When I mentioned that I’m planning to stand in next year’s local elections, he gave me immediate encouragement. I joked that my style’s different to his because he’s a bit posh and I’m “reyt common.” After a brief laugh, his response was “Well maybe we can work together.” I tell you this, not to try and make myself sound more important, but because I think his attitude is exactly right. We’re all Kippers, aren’t we?
I concede that John has had an advantage with regards to gaining my vote, as he’s the only candidate I’ve seen in person campaigning for the role of leader, but it would take something extremely special to top that. The great Sir Nigel himself would have struggled!