Stuart Agnew MEP: I am looking forwards now, not backwards by supporting UKIP under Henry Bolton
I started to become more interested in the Islam issue when the Party launched its Integration Policy in the Spring. Whilst many of my colleagues threw their hands up in horror, it had the opposite effect on me. Living in rural Norfolk I do not see what goes on in our cities and this document was a real eye-opener. I had originally decided not to stand in the recent General Election against an incumbent Tory whose Party was committed to Brexit.
However, I was sufficiently motivated on the theme of ‘violence against women’ as outlined in the manifesto to stand for UKIP in an area where this might be a problem. I got in touch with Freddy Vachha, the London Chairman, and he fixed me up with a Constituency where there was a vacancy and that he also felt was suitable. That was Feltham & Heston and I spent far more than I had intended on leaflets and advertisements for the three public meetings that I held to deliver a power point presentation on the subject. ( I am quite happy to deliver this to any branch). The first two meetings were poorly attended, so for the third I invited Ann-Marie Waters to share the platform with me. I had heard about her through another ‘kipper’ read some of her publications, and realised that she had a following in her own right. I was very struck by her courage to speak the truth in the full knowledge that there are some things that, in effect, none of us are supposed to say.
A couple of weeks later I was sent a book out of the blue by a very old UKIP friend, David Gifford, entitled ‘The strange death of Europe’ by Douglas Murray.
This was another eye-opener and I recommend it to all our members. It had the effect of making me seriously worried about what this country will look like in my children’s lifetime. At the same time I came to realise that AMW was not ‘flavour of the month’ with some at the top of the Party. It seemed her truth was perhaps a bit too truthful, making her ‘toxic’ and she was therefore prevented from standing for us at elections.
With the announcement of our Leadership contest, I was determined to propose Catherine Blaicklock, a real high flier with great energy, communication skills and crucially very strong on the Islam issue. She had made a good impression on our Norfolk membership whilst contesting the Gt Yarmouth seat in the General Election and as a local candidate the previous month in Mid Norfolk. This plan had to be abandoned when we discovered there had been a short lapse in her membership which disqualified her from standing for Leader.
For a few days I toyed with the idea of standing myself as a front man for Catherine who would be my high profile running mate. Somebody then let me know that AMW was actually eligible to stand for Leader and was intending to. This came as a surprise and I had no intention of splitting her vote. I gave her a call to go through the motions of asking her to stand aside for me. I realised very quickly what a driven woman she was, nothing was going to stop her standing, and in any case she might have suspected me as a plant to get her out of the way. Although technically junior to me in the Party she had a much better claim to stand on the Integration & Islam issue than I did. For a start it was her long standing passion and she had built up her own following over the years who would campaign for her. She is better academically qualified than I am and ticks all the ‘progressive’ boxes that I can’t. Namely being young, female, lesbian and working class. The metropolitan chatterers will tolerate more ‘edge’ statements from her than they ever will from me.
Some people enter politics to ‘be someone’, others to ‘change something’. AMW is strongly in the second category, and I will say it again, a driven woman.
I saw her as a modern day Joan of Arc and was happy to throw my weight behind her. I was determined to try to take ownership of the Islam issue away from ‘football hooligans’ and bring it more into mainstream politics, even if it made me highly unpopular.
I attended ten hustings where she was speaking. I heard nothing at those meetings which justified the slurs of ‘communist’, ‘extreme right wing’, ‘has nothing to say beyond Islam’ and ‘a disaster’.
After she lost the contest I really wanted her to appreciate that coming second, within eight percentage points of the winner, was actually a very good start. Particularly so, considering the threats of many MEPs to leave UKIP if she won. Over the next few years the Brexit issue would diminish as the Islam issue became more apparent. I had hoped that if I could broker a deal between her and Henry Bolton, he would allow her an appropriate role.
She was however so dismayed at the level of vitriol levelled against her that she left UKIP. I will not be leaving UKIP. Since becoming an MEP I have watched in frustration and anger as eight ‘colleagues’ have selfishly strutted out of our Brussels Group or the Party itself, purely because of self-righteous ego or an opportunity to join a bigger Party by the back door. None of these individuals would ever have got elected as independent candidates. Their departure causes us financial problems, staffing problems and media derision. I do not want to be part of that club. I will be supporting UKIP under Henry Bolton in the same way that I have supported UKIP under seven other leaders.
I have spoken to Henry since, and he has assured me that under his leadership UKIP will take the Islam issue seriously. I have assured him that I will not seek to undermine him. I am looking forwards now, not backwards.