Henry Bolton Visits Newport: “National party must not interfere with the needs and requirements of local branches”
Last night, Newport in South East Wales had a very special visitor – none less than the leader of UKIP, Henry Bolton himself. He brought with him – besides his dapper suit and freshly polished shoes – an atmosphere of optimism and a much-needed sense of humour which fared well with many members over the evening. While the external press were not invited to the meeting, I was able to attend on behalf of Kipper Central.
Along with the other members from my town of Weston-super-Mare, I arrived over an hour early – which meant lots of time to mingle! As members started turning up, it was clear that turnout was going to be high, with people arriving from far and wide – both from Wales and elsewhere. A few Welsh Assembly Members, the Welsh Regional Organiser and of course a crowd of UKIP members were eager to hear what their newly-elected leader had to say.
Once the guests were all seated, Henry strolled in with a gleaming smile on his face, and a certain sense of respectable humility in his stride. After a short introduction from the Newport UKIP Chairman, Henry jumped right into his first of many attacks on the European Union and its crazy new schemes. First on the list – the new EU Army (as reported by Kipper Central) which he feared the UK Government would sign us up to, despite the clear vote for leave in last year’s referendum. As one would expect in a UKIP meeting, there was unanimous support for Henry’s strong stance against this invasion of our defences. Staying on a similar topic, he then proceeded to talk about the madness of forcing police officers to go to university, which I must confess I even I was unaware is an EU law, not a British one.
Addressing what is, at least from my experience, one of the most infuriating aspects of party organisation, Mr Bolton outlined his plans for technology and communications within UKIP. While of course some of this information is sensitive and not appropriate to be posted online, I will detail what I can. Henry said that he has people working on redesigning the website, which we all agree is in urgent need of a revamp as well as the email systems which simply are not fit for purpose at present. This is all in the pipeline and I got the impression that we can expect results very soon. Interestingly, he highlighted several times the fact that branch websites would be organised so that all are the same design and structure, so this is obviously something important to him. On communications, Henry said that UKIP had previously been a “top-down” structure and that he wanted to change that. While it’s important that he is able to lead, it is just as crucial that we, the members, are able to tell him how good (or bad) he is, he said.
Moving onto the policy area which the former soldier possibly has the most experience in, Henry spoke about defence and the cuts which our armed forces have been facing of late. He said that the budget cuts are affecting our services “at home, on our borders and overseas” and hinted that we can expect big news from UKIP surrounding defence this week (keep an eye on Kipper Central for coverage of this).
He also announced that he was meeting with his new Elections Campaign Planning & Strategy Team today (14th November) to plan for the 2018 local elections, and any elections that may come after, as well as the launch of a Brexit Campaign Planning Team which would organise and kick off a big campaign from UKIP to get Brexit going again. But while he lambasted just about everything to do with the EU’s Brexit negotiation strategy, he wasn’t so kind towards the Conservative Government’s approach either; saying that they haven’t actually submitted any policies to the EU so expecting to get anywhere is madness.
In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure exactly how this came up but – Henry Bolton owns a longbow, which he “keeps ready for the French”, he joked, in reference to France’s approach to Brexit.
Finally, before closing his speech, Henry spoke about branches and how they will be treated under his leadership. He said “the national party must not interfere with the needs and requirements of local branches”, before expanding upon this to explain that he does not believe head office should prevent branches from getting on with any campaigns or activities, but rather should focus on helping those branches who are struggling to do so. We were all very relieved when he said that membership was falling significantly less than the previous few months (by a factor in double figures!), which was assisting him in improving the party’s finances.
And then… the juicy bit! Q&A! More than anything else, there was an almost cringe-worthy level of awkwardness around the volume of questions about the logo – from “It looks like it should be selling food to kids” to “My 6-year-old could draw something better with a pencil!” there was a significant amount of criticism for the Lion. Henry was very understanding of these concerns, and even seemed to agree with some of them but in response, reiterated a point which had been made by one member that changing the logo back now would make us look unprofessional and indecisive. However, he did indicate that there was an (albeit slim) chance that there would be a logo change, and that he would be looking into this possibility over the next fortnight.
When asked about party discipline and the constitution, he said that he had met somebody recently (who would be familiar to everyone present) and informed them that they will be kicked if they break the constitution, regardless of who they are.
Henry was then asked about how he will be working with sites like Kipper Central and UKIP Daily to ensure that members and supporters are hearing what Henry is saying and doing, to which he confirmed at the event (and in discussions afterwards) that Kipper Central and other UKIP media sites will hear about events and news and will be given party information to help them with their coverage.
Another point which was raised was the ongoing issues with membership cards in that they are not being sent out to new members nor to renewed members, which obviously is causing major issues as all branch AGMs are between October and December (inclusive). Henry was only made aware of this 2 days ago, and said the delay was because one individual was trying to add an online voting feature to the cards; a prospect which Henry’s tone of voice was not overly enthused over.
Speaking about how the members can best help him in his role, he said he wants the membership to be “uniting, having fun and putting pressure on me”, which both amused and satisfied his audience.
The next questioner pointed out that Paul Oakden is still the party’s interim chairman, and that Henry was yet to appoint his permanent chairman. The audience member suggested that this person should be Ben Walker (who was present), a suggestion which received a small round of applause. However, Henry didn’t comment on this particular suggestion but did say “Interim means what it says on the tin”, implying that we can expect a new chairman very shortly.
One of the final questions was on George Soros, and whether Henry & UKIP will be doing anything to address his funding of remoaner and anti-border campaigns, as well as of Momentum. Mr Bolton said that dealing with Soros is “not a priority” of his, but that dealing with the EU, immigration and borders absolutely is. Warning of migration at even bigger levels that we saw during the peak of the migrant crisis, Mr Bolton said “If we think we’ve got a problem with migration now, we’ve seen nothing”.
Overall I had a very informative and enjoyable evening, where I had the pleasure of meeting a number of excellent Welsh kippers and of course Henry Bolton himself. While I didn’t agree with everything Henry said, and while I am not confident that he is doing everything right in some areas, I was on the whole very pleased with Henry’s performance, and I am proud to serve a party led by him.