Report: UKIP United Launch With A Smile
This morning saw the launch of the revitalised UKIP leadership campaign as three candidates, having stood down, joined with Jane Collins to form a formidable team.
I arrived early to find a cheery David Coburn making all comers welcome. This was not the man I had seen at the UNOFFICIAL London Hustings a while ago. His friendly welcome made everyone feel comfortable and at ease.
A certain amount of news was being passed around. In particular there was talk of a Tory MEP who had obtained an Irish Passport. No doubt you will all have read the details in the press.
Marion Mason arrived and I had the chance to find out a little about her. Marion is a nurse and she has produced a very readable proposal for dealing with some of the most pressing problems faced by the NHS which you can read online [click her to see it]
A lot of familiar UKIP faces began to appear including Freddy Vachha who kindly reached over my shoulder and took hold of my pen and corrected my spelling of his name! Representatives of several National Daily newspapers arrived and possibly the BBC. By this time, though, the room was pretty busy.
Right on time Jane Collins began her presentation.
Jane focussed mostly on the need for teamwork and stressed the different experience of each of the candidates who had stood down as candidates to join the team. She made it very plain that it is a team we will be voting for. Ben Walker would be Party Chairman, David Coburn would be Deputy Leader. No-one needed to mention that this team is split fifty-fifty between male and female. Once again UKIP leads on gender equality without even having to try!
The term “UKIP United” seemed to have stuck so the team would run with it. Jane expressed her gratitude for the contribution the other former candidates had made and continued to say how this team was one based on mutual respect. All the members of the team had similar fundamental attitudes to policy and the party organisation and each was known for straight talking. The team was about UKIP surviving and from a strengthened base to thrive.
Ben talked about the problems the present leadership election had created for UKIP He suggested the party seemed split between two factions:
This team belonged to the latter.
He continued to discuss the manner in which UKIP had been stigmatised by the press and media. He declared that the majority of UKIP members are good people. However there were still too many people who seemed to be working against the party’s interests.
The party machine was structurally broken and that had to be changed. As party chairman he would make it his task to empower members and provide robust support to the branches.
This would not be achieved by the proposals presently being introduced by the current leadership. The structures of the party would not be torn down and replaced. Instead there would be a programme to stabilise the present structures, to analyse the party’s needs and then to introduce reforms to improve the party’s effectiveness both in serving members’ needs and campaigning as a political force to be reckoned with.
Particular attention will be paid to introducing mechanisms that ensure members receive communications they should and removing features that enable misuse of these mechanisms.
At the end UKIP will be an effective political organisation offering a real alternative to the old order.
Marion stressed the similarity of the views of the four members of the team.
Her priorities were unity in and reform of the party. She wanted to see UKIP become a strong force in British politics.
BREXIT, she said, is just the beginning and UKIP needs to make sure it draws attention to any backsliding by the present Government.
This was David Coburn as I have never seen him. He seems strengthened by the prospect of being just one member of a team. He made a passionate speech touching on most of the key elements of UKIP policy and underlying philosophy.
He mentioned that he would have preferred this leadership election to have been conducted under a form of PR. The Party had toyed with the idea but he had suggested to them that changing the rules midstream could have ended up with costly legal challenges.
Nevertheless he would have preferred a PR process to have taken place. He insisted UKIP’s place was to be a libertarian party. First, though, UKIP needed to be able to get leaflets on to people’s door mats and at present it could not.
He stressed that UKIP must be a British party and cautioned against moving towards becoming only an English party. In setting this out he corrected the unfortunate impression his opening comments, at the Unofficial London Hustings, had made.
David continued to outline how UKIP should be the party of small business and working people rather than favouring big and multi-national concerns, like the Tories. UKIP would better represent working people than Labour since it (Labour) has been overwhelmed by political correctness and various interest groups that had infiltrated and taken it over.
Like the others he stressed the need to sort UKIP out first.
He apologised that he would have to dash away straight after the meeting. He had to go to Europe to vote on an issue of considerable importance. The Tories were prepared to surrender supervision of the banking and financial structures to mainland Europe. Presently these function from London. He was going to vote to try to prevent the Government handing these over. He continued at length to detail other areas the Tory Government was preparing to give away and how the Banking issue was the thin end of a very large wedge. UKIP needed to show the Tories they had been rumbled.
Jane returned to the podium and mentioned a phone call she had received from someone who was not proposing to vote for her but who had suggested she need to put up a better stage performance.
“Well” said Jane. “I cannot pretend to be someone else. I can only be myself. What you see is what you get!”
Rather than taking questions from the floor the team agreed to circulate in the room and answer any questions the audience had directly.
I asked Jane to clarify what she means by “libertarian”. I pointed out that a lot of people claim to be libertarian who are anything but. She agreed and said that “libertarian” means the maximum possible freedom limited by the need not to impinge on the liberties of others. She agreed with me that we have a duty to each other in society.
I asked about recent malicious rumours in two national newspapers concerning a libel case she had lost recently. Her answer was so comprehensive and complex I could not summarise it adequately in the space available here. However she made it absolutely plain there is no risk of her becoming insolvent as a consequence of settling the matter.
Her original speech, to conference, had been made after taking legal advice. Since the judgement one of those who felt aggrieved has expressed very similar sentiments to Jane’s original ones. However a judgement was made and Jane is complying with it.
Most of us have felt demoralised by recent events and the parlous state of the party. Here I sensed a glimmer of hope for the future. This team is a cohesive and viable one which offers a consistent and very well thought out programme to deal with the very real issues the party faces and to develop it as a formidable political force.
I found Ben Walker had a real grasp of the organisational issues and a willingness and capability to resolve the structural and administrative problems that have dogged us for a while. I found Jane had a warm and engaging personality and all the team had the knack of engaging with the people in the audience individually or as a group.
If Jane were not to win this contest then the winner would need to turn to this team for help. It is the only team that has put up details of how it will tackle the programme for change. Others may have dreams. This team provides ways and means.