Live Blog: UKIP Conference 2015, Day 2 – Saturday 26 September

UKIP Supporters - Douglas Carswell

Below is the live blog of the UKIP 2015 conference in Doncaster, Day 2

19:00

End of watch

And that’s a wrap from this live blog of the UKIP 2015 conference.  Full comment on the events of the past two days will follow tomorrow.

Thanks for reading this live blog from #UKIP15! And if you have not already done so, please follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

17:30

Nigel Farage’s closing address

Here is the closing address by Nigel Farage, bringing the UKIP 2015 conference here in Doncaster to an end:

15:52

London mayoral candidate selection – reaction

Here’s the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman on the choice of Peter Whittle over Suzanne Evans to be UKIP’s candidate for London mayor:

This isn’t as much of a surprise to Coffee House readers as it might be to others. In August we reported rumblings that Nigel Farage might be trying to stitch up the race to exclude Evans, who he regards as a threat (she was Ukip leader for a few days in between him resigning and un-resigning). The party’s London MEP Gerard Batten also told Coffee House that the process was ‘undemocratic’ and that he wasn’t getting involved in it.

If Nigel Farage intends to focus on the EU referendum to the exclusion of everything else (as his keynote conference speech suggests), he really can’t afford to marginalise other high profile senior Ukippers because they represent a potential “threat”. Rather, he should choose someone to take the lead on all other matters than the Brexit referendum, including developing a manifesto for 2020 and determining the future strategic direction of the party.

15:45

The end is in sight

Final tea (or real ale) break before the closing of UKIP’s 2015 conference here in Doncaster, and Nigel Farage takes the opportunity for a beer and a smoke before giving the closing address:

Nigel Farage - UKIP 2015 Conference - Closing Address

14:48

“Who do you think got us this referendum?”, asks Ray Finch MEP. “Simple answer, it was this party and Nigel Farage”.

Finch is eager to hit back at claims that UKIP should take a back seat in the “Out”campaign: “UKIP have got the foot soldiers to win this war”.

14:44

Hope this isn’t a bad omen: Roger Helmer MEP has just exhorted UKIP conference delegates to “go back to their constituencies and prepare for independence”.

14:26

What about Defence?

Curious that there has been no specific speech or section of this conference dedicated to the topics of Defence and national security. UKIP have been slowly and effectively building up a positive reputation in this area, with a strong offering in their 2015 general election manifesto which rightly took the Tories to task for their lack of commitment to a strong national defence and expeditionary capabilities.

And only today, we see another sadly typical story where uniformed members of our Armed Forces are persecuted and discriminated against by virtue-signalling, self-censoring PC types:

A hospital that made an RAF sergeant move out of sight of other patients in case his uniform caused offence has been forced to apologise.

Aircraft engineer Mark Prendeville was relocated twice by hospital staff who allegedly told his family “they didn’t want to upset people” and “have lots of different cultures coming in”.

Sgt Prendeville was taken to the Accident and Emergency unit of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, Kent after chemicals from a fire extinguisher got in to his eyes during a training exercise.

This is a clear area where UKIP can rightfully boast not only to be on the right side of an issue, but also to be steps ahead of the other main political parties. The Tories equivocate on Defence and only meet Britain’s 2% of GDP target by classifying all sorts of miscellaneous spending as “military spending”. And now Labour are toying with the idea of joining forces with the SNP to oppose the renewal of Trident, Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent and one of the cornerstones of our status as a major power.

But despite the opportunity to win positive headlines and consolidate an already strong reputation, Defence does not even merit a dedicated speech of its own at UKIP’s 2015 party conference.

This is what I mean when I say that UKIP are in danger of succumbing to EU referendum “tunnel vision”. Yes, the Brexit referendum is vitally important. But if UKIP is to be taken seriously as a going concern rather than a single issue party, they can not afford to stop speaking out – and developing policy – in other important areas.

14:15

Here comes the formidable Diane James MEP, talking about the importance of reclaiming sovereignty from the UK.

14:02

And we’re back from lunch. This should be an interesting session – entitled “The Brexit Bonus: Britain After The EU”

It’s important that this is discussed. Being pro-UK and against the EU is not enough – it’s important that UKIP also stands for a clear vision of a post-EU Britain. More importantly, an “Out” vote in the coming EU referendum cannot be secured unless the electorate is shown that a vote to leave the EU is not a leap in the dark, that it actually represents the safer option as opposed to the “undiscovered country” of deeper EU integration and absorption into a federal United States of Europe.

First up is Jonathon Arnott MEP, UKIP’s EU budget spokesman.

13:15

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12:56

BREAKING: Nigel Farage to address Conference again

Groans in the media room, as it is announced that Nigel Farage will address the UKIP 2015 conference again, delivering the closing remarks. Not because they don’t want another speech, but because it makes it harder to leave early! Lots of early train tickets back to London are no doubt being hastily rescheduled.

Good – it’s important that Nigel speaks again at the end of a conference which as raised more question than it has answered. It will be interesting to see what Farage chooses to focus on – drawing a line under yesterday’s late spat of infighting, or issuing the troops with some inspiring new marching orders.

12:52

Blast from the past

Jeffrey Titford, UKIP leader from 2000-2002, is addressing the conference.

Funny: back when I was a starry-eyed, hardcore europhile student at Cambridge, Titford represented everything I loathed about politics. It’s been quite a journey since then – for everyone involved.

Seems like a good time to plug my recent piece for Conservatives for Liberty, entitled “Why I’m A [small-C] Conservative“.

12:41

UKIP’s culture spokesman and newly selected London mayoral candidate, Peter Whittle, is delivering an eloquent tribute to HM the Queen. Whatever other aspects of UKIP may be in flux – libertarian or authoritarian, capitalist or statist, single issue party or going concern – UKIP’s traditionalist image is secure at least.

12:01

Nigel Farage is currently roaming the foyer of the conference venue, speaking with supporters and kiosk exhibitors. Lots of people requesting selfies, but no word on whether UKIP’s leader will address Conference again.

11:58

“Scotland should play fair with our biggest trading partner and our oldest friend”, says David Coburn MEP of Scotland, advocating English Votes for English Laws (EVEL).

Corburn gave a good, crowd-pleasing speech on the need to take the fight to the SNP.

11:35

Nigel must address Conference again

More and more I feel that Nigel Farage needs to address this Conference again before everyone goes home this afternoon. Yesterday was overshadowed by the Douglas Carswell / Arron Banks argument, and now Suzanne Evans has effectively been snubbed by only being selected as third candidate for the London GLA elections next year. This is not the confident, unified mood which the leadership would surely want.

The worst possible thing would be for delegates (and the media!) leaving Doncaster having witnessed party infighting, and with the prospect of more hanging over them. When Godfrey Bloom’s behaviour cast a shadow over UKIP’s conference in 2013, Nigel Farage rightly took the stage in an unscheduled speech to “steady the ship” and reset the tone of the gathering – and the mood of the crucially important party activists. He needs to do so again.

11:31

London Assembly and Mayoral election candidates announced!

Suzanne Evans is only number 3 on UKIP’s slate of candidates for the London GLA elections. The number 1 candidate, and London mayoral candidate, is Peter Whittle. Quite a snub for Suzanne Evans.

11:25

Paul Oakden, UKIP Party Director, is acknowledging all those delegates who stood as candidates at the 2015 general election.

And now he’s about to announce the candidates who will represent UKIP in the local elections in London next year. UKIP chose its candidates via an “assessment panel”, of course, rather than an open primary. Less democratic, but perhaps understandable from a smaller, still fledgling political party.

11:20

Does UKIP effectively need two leaders for the duration of the “Out” campaign?

Just a thought. UKIP need to identify someone in a senior and prominent role to represent the party on all matters beside the coming EU referendum. Nigel Farage clearly sees the Brexit referendum as the number one priority, as it should be. But UKIP now claim to be a “going concern”, not a single issue party, and this conference has given too little indication as to what type of party UKIP will be by the time of the next general election – whether the referendum is won or lost.

You can only get so far being the self-anointed Party of Common Sense. Clearly you can win 4 million votes and upward, but real power requires a real, in-depth platform. UKIP’s 2015 manifesto, written by the very able Suzanne Evans, made a good stab at this. It was the only party manifesto to be independently assessed and costed, which added real legitimacy. But this work does not seem to be carried forward, at least if the 2015 conference is a guide.

Nigel Farage wants to play a prominent role in the “Out” campaign, and who can argue that he should not? We would not even be having a referendum on Brexit were it not for him. But Farage’s laser focus on the EU referendum should not be at the expense of the future strategy and direction of the party. The UKIP leadership has a duty to its supporters to make clear the type of party it wants to be in 2020 and beyond – so that the current kaleidoscopic support base of social conservatives, libertarians, disaffected Labour types, “left behind” coastal town voters and others know whether they will still have common cause once the EU referendum is in the past.

10:58

Three cheers for Douglas Carswell

Ten minutes on stage, and already Carswell has given us more serious, measured and optimistic policy to cheer about than we heard the whole of Day 1. Electoral reform, the right of recall, free trade, reforming capitalism and more – this is the keynote speech which Nigel Farage should have given yesterday.

And this is good too, on the fact that we should be angry about career politicians in Westminster, not immigrants or other outsiders: “Let’s never blame outsiders for problems caused by political insiders in Westminster”.

But Carswell, like Farage, is focused on Brexit and the coming EU referendum above all. “Let everything we do be about winning it. Let’s do it” he closes, to a standing ovation.

10:54

“It’s groupthink that says we should stay tied to the world’s only declining trade block .. we need to leave the EU” says Carswell, before going on to reiterate his support for Real Recall and the right for constituents to recall MPs who let them down.

10:50

“Far from rejecting modernity, modernity has made the emergence of UKIP as the third force in British politics possible”, says Carswell, before going to win applause for railing against “career politicians” and “cartel politics”. “Too many have trodden the path from Special Advisor to safe seat.”

“Westminster encourages groupthink. And groupthink has run this country for too many years, and has run this country into the ground. It was group thinking about banking before 2007 that helped cause the financial crisis. The single biggest driver of income inequality .. is a monetary system which has artificially driven up the price of assets. It is now the central bankers who fix the price of capital. That’s not capitalism – it’s crony corporatism”.

10:48

“What’s it like being UKIP’s only Member of Parliament, I’m often asked? Well, being an MP for UKIP is so much more fun than being a Conservative”, says Carswell. “For one thing, our meetings of the parliamentary party are fairly short”.

Cue much laughter.

But then a serious point: “how can it possibly be fair” that 56 MPs from the SNP sprawl on the Commons benches while Carswell is the only representative for four million voters?

10:42

Time for Douglas Carswell MP to shine on “the case for political reform”.

Introducing him, Mark Reckless says that their political journey “has taken [them] both to two political parties” and that they “found [their] way sooner or later to the UK Independence Party, which is going to get our independence back”.

Mark Reckless praises Douglas Carswell’s great achievement in being the first UKIP MP to win his seat at a general election – and Carswell rightly gets a standing ovation from delegates.

10:36

What was Nigel up to yesterday?

White Wednesday speculates:

Farage’s dissing of the idea of a further referendum post-2020 suggests he is betting everything, including UKIP’s very existence, on the 2017 vote.

And yet UKIP won’t dissolve —or to put it more accurately, many key members within it don’t want it to dissolve. Paul Nuttall separately argued, when pushed on this point by the BBC’s Justin Webb, that UKIP will still be fighting elections over the coming years on a full policy platform.

Which then begs the question of what Farage was doing yesterday.

My suspicion is that he probably thinks this really *is* it, along with him realising the end of his colourful UKIP career is approaching. I suspect he’s read the runes and realised that UKIP has served its purpose for him personally, never mind for getting a referendum. The two just happen to coincide. He’s making (or has made) the mental commitment to junk UKIP as part of this referendum campaign or its outcome.

10:31

Mark Reckless clarifying that UKIP favour a more proportional voting system which maintains a constituency link, such as STV, though there are other potential systems which would also meet their goals.

But given the difficulty that UKIP are having coalescing around their single preferred “Out” campaign group to support, perhaps the party ought to hold off choosing a new electoral system for the time being.

“My grandfather was elected as an Irish member of parliament under STV”, says Mark Reckless.

10:29

“I know you often feel the system is rigged against you .. together we can fix our establishment and build a better democracy”, says Katie Ghose from the Electoral Reform Society, building common cause with Ukippers.

10:22

A Nigel Farage encore?

Speculation over whether UKIP leader Nigel Farage might make a surprise second appearance and speech in the main hall of Conference today. UKIP’s press team are denying any knowledge, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Farage’s keynote speech yesterday, while well-received, was not one of his finer efforts. And the UKIP conference was nearly bumped off the television news agenda altogether by scandals at FIFA and Volkswagen.

A second Farage speech would be a great opportunity for the party to go out from Doncaster with a bang rather than a whimper, to put the petty squabbling of yesterday afternoon behind them and move forward with more confidence.

Watch this space.

10:20

Good point from Katie Ghose about how the political landscape has changed since Britain voted against changing the electoral system in the AV referendum. Ghose points out that back then, smaller parties like UKIP, the Greens and the SNP, while vibrant, were nowhere near as big as they are now.

10:17

Up next, Katie Ghose from the Electoral Reform Society, who is being very complimentary about UKIP and party members’ support for changing the voting system. Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell are “champions of political reform”.

“Even Douglas would say he could do with a few more colleagues to help him represent fourteen per cent of the voting public”, says Ghose to applause from the hall.

“UKIP and other small parties were effectively cheated by first-past-the-post”.

10:13

Fighting words about Jeremy Corbyn: “He has rejected an English Labour Party, he has rejected an English parliament”, says Eddie Bone. Labour’s votes are “up for grabs if UKIP speak the same concerns as the English people”.

10:11

A parliament for England and a PR voting system go hand in hand as far as Eddie Bone from the Campaign for an English Parliament is concerned. And it’s hard to disagree, if the goal is parity and symmetry between the home nations of the UK.

But what of fears that an English parliament would unbalance the United Kingdom?”All a federal system would do is protect the other countries of the UK as well. We need clear constitutional boundaries. We need only look at the United States as an example. The US has some states of 38 million, and some much smaller”

10:07

“I want to see Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland work in harmony with England” says Eddie Bone. “Who doesn’t want to see England regionalised, balkanised, into nine EU regions?”

“The English question needs to be answered before the SNP calls for another referendum”, he continues. “Just think what could be accomplished if England is given its own voice on domestic matters, just like Scotland and Wales”.

10:05

Mark Reckless is kicking off the first morning session on electoral reform, and introducing Eddie Bone from the Campaign for an English Parliament.

09:55

UKIP are currently announcing the winner of their Sovereign Draw fundraising lottery, in a rather long-winded way. The hall feels very empty compared to yesterday as the main agenda for the day is about to get underway – delegates are gathered at the front and centre of the seating area.

UKIP 2015 Conference - Sovereign Draw

09:30

ConservativeHome say that Nigel Farage’s “iron grip” on UKIP is strangling the party. Finding unusual common cause with the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges, Henry Hill of ConHome writes:

In the past year, two of the UK’s biggest political insurgencies suffered major setbacks: the SNP went down to a ten-point defeat in last autumn’s independence referendum, whilst UKIP were smashed on the rocks of Thanet South in May.

Each party had been built up and led into their respective Waterloos by a similar sort of politician: charismatic, larger-than-life, driven, divisive, and male.

Yet where the SNP have since rebounded to deliver the largest delegation of separatist MPs the Commons has seen since Ireland seceded, UKIP is in the doldrums. And I suggest that a significant factor in this is how their leaders handled defeat.

I don’t buy it. Yes, there is the obvious symmetry of both populist parties surging in the polls followed by painful electoral defeat / setback, but these setbacks were of a very different nature. UKIP’s sole seat in the Commons belies the fact that the party massively increased their vote to nearly 4 million, while the impact of the SNP’s swivel-eyed supporters was magnified due to being geographically concentrated.

More to the point, there is nothing to suggest that Nigel Farage’s leadership is the cause of any real dissatisfaction among the party faithful. You could argue that Farage’s continuing “iron grip” is bad for the long-term strategy and direction of the party looking beyond the Brexit referendum – something which I have been exploring in these live blogs – and have a plausible case, but to suggest that Farage is currently driving any fall-off in support for UKIP seems to be quite groundless.

09:25

Seems to be an air of shoulder-shrugging acceptance about the row between Douglas Carswell and donor Arron Banks which partially overshadowed the end of Day 1 of conference. A reminder of that story:

Ukip’s autumn conference has turned into yet another war between Douglas Carswell and other parts of the party. Speaking to a huddle of journalists this afternoon, the Ukip donor and founder of Leave.EU campaign described Carswell as ‘borderline autistic with mental illness wrapped in’. Banks appears to be disgruntled at Carswell’s comments to Coffee House that he is more likely to back the Matthew Elliott-Dominic Cummings Leave campaign.

 There’s a sense of resignation that it probably cost the party a few good headlines yesterday evening, but I think this is tempered now by the realisation that UKIP’s fortunes are not inexorably tied to the ups and downs of the 24 hour news cycle, and that tales of political intrigue tend not to faze their supporters. If anything, the more the media focus on the personalities and the political aspect, the more committed many of the supporters become.

08:45

Some impromptu karaoke underway in the empty main hall this morning, before the majority of delegates and media show up. Certainly looks like less of a media presence at Conference today, judging by the quieter media room overlooking the racecourse.

08:40

Here we go with live coverage from Day 2 of the UKIP conference here in Doncaster.

Yesterday was a decidedly mixed day. The party faithful who showed up seemed happy enough, but conference was decidedly less busy and without the pre-election buzz of 2014’s gathering – though perhaps that was only to be expected.

You may recall that I went into Day 1 of the conference looking for any hint of an answer to the following two questions, which I think are key for UKIP in the medium and long term:

  1. UKIP’s role in the coming Brexit referendum campaign. At present, UKIP are leading the charge with their Say No To The EU tour, large American-style rallies featuring Nigel Farage as keynote speaker but with UKIP branding otherwise minimised. This tour is partly borne out of frustration that no one else on the eurosceptic side seems to be doing anything, with the Tories dutifully awaiting the outcome of David Cameron’s pointless renegotiation effort. Unwilling to grant the hardline europhiles carte blanche to campaign unopposed, UKIP have stepped into the void. But what role will they – and Nigel Farage – seek to take in the broader “Out” campaign once it finally gets underway?
  2. How to keep the UKIP coalition together. For a party that some opponents accuse of being divisive and polarising, UKIP is actually a remarkably broad church at present, comprising young libertarians, ex-Tory social conservatives, “left behind” swing voters and ex-Labour northern voters. And this just about works, so long as everyone has a big target to focus on – namely the coming EU referendum. But once the referendum has taken place in 2017, UKIP will have to adjust either to having won the battle and being close to achieving their primary political aim, or else having lost the election and seeing their primary political goal rejected by the electorate. In either case, the many faces of UKIP will have quite different – and possibly irreconcilable – ideas about how to move forward.

It’s fair to say that neither of these questions were comprehensively answered yesterday. And in some questions they were downright avoided. Nigel Farage’s speech in particular made clear that the emphasis from party leadership is on winning the coming Brexit referendum above all else, quite understandable from a party founded for the purpose of engineering Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, but potentially risky from a political party with more permanent aspirations.

I was able to speak with both Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell – before the latter became embroiled in an unfortunate spat with major donor Arron Banks. Since there were no dramatically positive developments to report, and since the end of the day was very much overshadowed by this quite unnecessary row, UKIP will probably not be too disappointed that they were bumped down to third in the running order in most of the TV news.

Today should see a greater focus on policy, and long sessions focusing on electoral reform and life after the EU. The latter will be particularly interesting, as voters will never vote for the unknown, the undiscovered country, if they perceive the status quo as less of a risk. There are plenty of post-Brexit ideas floating around, but hopefully these are not promoted or discarded with the same partisan clique-ish attitude that we are seeing with the contest to be named official lead group of the “Out” campaign.

Yesterday’s live blog of Day 1 here.

This blog’s UKIP conference previews are here and here.

Complete coverage of UKIP here.

Main Stage - UKIP Conference 2015

#UKIPConf15

#UKIP15

With thanks to Poached Creative for the provision of photographic equipment

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