Below is the live blog of the UKIP 2015 conference in Doncaster, Day 1
That’s a wrap for Day One
It has been an interesting day at UKIP’s party conference here in Doncaster.
Much lower-key than 2014, and a strong sense that the party (or at least Nigel Farage) is conserving all of its strength to fight the upcoming Brexit referendum. Others have picked up on the fact that Farage admitted during his speech that his first priority is winning the referendum, not securing the long-term health and viability of UKIP – though why this should be so surprising coming from a party dedicated to the independence of the UK is less certain.
But the fact remains that the two burning questions facing UKIP going into this conference remain pointedly unresolved at the end of the main day of action. We are still no closer to knowing for sure how UKIP will fit into the broader “Out”campaign, though we certainly know Nigel Farage’s preference. And we are light years away from understanding what the party will stand for in a post-referendum landscape, or what will keep UKIP’s disparate group of supporters together once the unifying goal of an EU referendum has been and gone.
Back to the hotel now, and a full write up on the day’s events will follow later this evening.
Thanks for reading this live blog from #UKIP15! And if you have not already done so, please follow Semi-Partisan Politics on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.
The Arron Banks Saga
It seems obligatory to make mention of the row between Douglas Carswell MP and UKIP donor Arron Banks, which has greatly excited the media room this afternoon.
The Telegraph’s Kate McCann provides an overview:
A bitter row has broken out at the top of Ukip after one of the party’s biggest donors threatened it’s only MP with deselection unless he backs a new EU out campaign.
Aaron Banks, the man behind the Leave.EU group that Ukip leader Nigel Farage backed today, warned Douglas Carswell he must also get on board or risk being thrown out of the eurosceptic party.
Mr Carswell, the party’s only member of parliament, hit back as the row became public when the two men exchanged cross words in full view of the media at Ukip conference in Doncaster.
There, I mentioned it. Personally, I don’t find it that fascinating. Arron Banks has little more power to order the deselection of Douglas Carswell than I do, and if a rich donor wants to blow off steam and overshadow the media coverage of their own party’s annual conference then they are entitled to do so – though it’s hard to see whose cause this unseemly spat has advanced.
Far better to stick to stories about policy and long-term strategy rather than process and tactics.
The Great Escape
Lots of people in the media room are making noises about heading for the station. Looks like tomorrow will be a much quieter day here in Doncaster…
The Paul Nuttall Rebuttal, continued
UKIP’s deputy leader is looking more and more impressive as a potential future leader of the party by the day. Paul Nuttall is probably UKIP’s next best public speaker, after Nigel Farage. He is not going into any great detail on policy in this speech – talking up UKIP as the Party of Common Sense above all else – but one can imagine Nuttall forging a coherent political platform for UKIP in the future.
He concludes his speech: “In two years time I believe I will be on this platform and Britain will be stronger, better, richer outside the European Union”.
A well deserved standing ovation for that effort.
The Paul Nuttall Rebuttal
“Is this the end of the road? No!” roars UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall. It’s almost as though he had read Dan Hodge’s dismissal of Nigel Farage’s speech.
UKIP’s deputy leader is keen to point out that there would not be an EU referendum at all were it not for UKIP, and that any predictions of UKIP’s demise are premature. It’s hard to disagree with that. This blog has its reservations about UKIP’s apparent unwillingness to focus on anything other than the coming Brexit referendum, leaving questions around what type of party UKIP wants to be and what kind of supporters they want to attract left unanswered. But the party has overcome setbacks before, and it would be a foolhardy person who writes them off so early in this new parliament.
Nuttall is scathing of the first-past-the-post electoral system: “I think we can all agree that four million votes and one seat is nothing more than an unprecedented electoral disgrace .. We need electoral reform ladies and gentleman .. we need proportional representation”.
Nigel Farage Speech Reaction
Dan Hodges thinks that Nigel Farage has outstayed his welcome, and that deep down, the UKIP conference delegates who clapped and cheered his keynote speech know it, too:
Nigel Farage has hung on too long. Ukip’s annual conference, which has just opened in Doncaster, is a conference too far. His colleagues know it. The delegates know it (though they won’t necessarily admit it). And deep down, he knows it.
Think back 12 months. Think about why Nigel Farage and Ukip were relevant to British politics.
Firstly, they represented an existential threat to the political status quo. The era of two party politics was over. People had had their fill of the two lumbering political tribes. They wanted to smash the cozy Westmister consensus. Ukip would be the hammer they would use to do it. This time the mold of British politics really would be shattered.
It didn’t happen. The combined share of the vote for the two main parties increased. The traditional party of government found itself back in government, with an overall majority. Ukip failed to win a single new seat. The general of the people’s army couldn’t even win his own seat.
This would be a powerful critique if its political memory extended back any further than one year. But it doesn’t. There is no recognition of the huge strides that UKIP has made since 2010, and the records the party has broken since then – UKIP’s first and second MPs. UKIP’s first MP elected in a general election (as opposed to a by-election). UKIP’s victory in the European elections last year.
To write UKIP off based on the mixed general election result this year – and in spite of the overall trend of the past five years – is like panic-selling shares in Microsoft in the 1990s based on one solitary bad day’s trading.
However, this blog shares Dan Hodge’s concern that the party are too focused on the present and the Brexit referendum, with insufficient regard for the future:
This conference could have been a moment of renewal for Ukip. A fresh, more moderate leader. A genuine commitment to work constructively with the “Out” campaign, and use the forthcoming referendum as a platform to relaunch the party. An opportunity to reach out to working-class Labour supporters disillusioned by Jeremy Corbyn’s own toxic brand of middle-class Trotskyism.
I’m not sure that Nigel Farage has done anything to explicitly discourage these disaffected Labour voters – in fact, Mark Reckless’ speech praising public sector workers suggests the opposite – but the question of what kind of party UKIP intend to be after the Brexit referendum remains pointedly unanswered today.
“We will win because we have got Nigel Farage on our side”, says Rupert Matthews of campaign group Better Off Out. No running away from UKIP’s supposedly “toxic” or “divisive” leader here..
How are the Left reacting to this year’s UKIP conference? It’s rather hard to tell. There has of course been the usual trolling and mockery of kippers on social media, but Nigel Farage’s speech – and the conference as a whole – seems to be causing barely a ripple on the left wing media and blogosphere.
It is understandable that Labour are preoccupied with the drama around their own party as they prepare for their first party conference of the Jeremy Corbyn era – but with UKIP now the main opposition in over a hundred mostly Northern constituencies, can left-wing activists and commentators really afford to take their eye off the ball?
I’m sure I spotted the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush walking around downstairs earlier – will The Staggers have anything to say about today’s events, and the threat posed to Labour by UKIP?
“We must be ready [for the referendum], because this is our best chance” says Richard Tice of TheKnow.eu.
The new campaign group has been asking visitors to choose which reason excites them most about the prospect of independence from the EU, and here are the results of this unscientific poll:
Perhaps unsurprising that “control our borders” tops the list, but it does rather contradict the “Out of the EU, into the world” message of this conference.
The last session of the day is going to be “a monster session”, we have just been told by party chairman Steve Crowther. Buckling up now for Richard Tice (The Know.eu), Rupert Matthews (Better Off Out) and Paul Nuttall MEP (Deputy Leader).
Nice to see Semi-Partisan Politics get a shout-out from the Guardian’s politics live editor, Andrew Sparrow, who is also covering the UKIP 2015 conference. Sparrow’s excellent take on Nigel Farage’s keynote speech is essential reading.
The main stage here in Doncaster, between sessions:
It’s tea time here in Doncaster, as delegates take a break, Or should that be Beer o’clock?
Nigel Farage Speech Reaction
I may have beaten the Spectator’s Sebastian Payne to an interview with Nigel Farage (forgive the bragging), but Payne’s take on the UKIP leader’s speech is well worth reading:
Nigel Farage’s keynote speech to the Ukip conference was duly lapped up the 1,500 attendees in Doncaster. The Ukip leader was keen to give himself a new job: the de facto leader of the Leave campaign. In the absence of someone heading up the Leave campaign, the Ukip leader said it’s time for the party to prioritise the referendum over its own future.
Again, the self-sacrificial tone of the UKIP conference comes through most strongly, as Sebastian Payne notices too. I’ll write more about the potential consequences of this “Brexit above all else” approach later this evening.
Payne also draws our attention to Nigel Farage’s pick for which eurosceptic grouping he wants to be given “lead campaigner” designation by the Electoral Commission in the coming referendum:
Farage stated the Eurosceptic movement has ‘very often been fractured, it has very often been divided’ and ‘run by egomaniacs’. But Leave.EU, one of the campaigns vying for the official Electoral Commission designation for the Leave campaign, and its leader Arron Banks have ‘massively impressed’ him and said they have managed to bring ‘every single of of those groups together’. Coffee House understands that those who have come under the Banks umbrella include The Bruges Group, Global Britain, the Democracy Movement and the Campaign for an Independent Britain.
At this point, we should be grateful for any group which is willing to start campaigning immediately, rather than dithering and waiting for the outcome of a fruitless renegotiation attempt by a half-hearted David Cameron.
Nigel Farage Speech Reaction
Sky News also pick up on the self-sacrificial undertones of Nigel Farage’s keynote speech to the 2015 UKIP conference:
The UKIP leader told activists they had a once in a lifetime opportunity to get the country back.
Mr Farage said an exit from the EU was “dearer to my heart” than UKIP, and urged party members to put all of their energy into fighting the “no” campaign ahead of the vote, which is due to be held before the end of 2017.
He told the party’s annual conference in Doncaster: “I have to say to you, as the leader of this party, as somebody who has given over 20 years of his life to helping build this party, while of course I want us to do well as a party and succeed in those elections there is something that is actually dearer to my heart than party politics, even if it’s UKIP.
There is definitely a degree of Matthew 6:34 to this particular conference (“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”). And one can understand the strong desire to strive onward to the long-cherished goal of gaining independence from the EU. But I can’t help wondering if UKIP might not pay a price in 2017 or beyond for failing to pay enough heed to the type of party they want to be – and the type of supporters they want – by the time of the next general election.
Mark Reckless: “Why do the Conservatives so dislike those who work in the public sector? And who will stand up for them if not Labour?”
This is interesting. The UKIP of old (libertarian, focusing on Brexit above all) would never have waded in to the “austerity” debate in support of higher pay for public sector workers. And yet here is Mark Reckless, UKIP’s economic spokesman, complaining that the public sector need a “long deserved pay rise”. Looks like UKIP are trying to triangulate – reap the benefits of their reputation as a fiscally conservative party while reaching out to disaffected Labour voters with full throated support for the public sector.
Whether this strategy is right or wrong, the UKIP of today is certainly not the UKIP of several years ago, at least in terms of economic policy.
Over half way through the first day of UKIP’s 2015 conference and this speech by Mark Reckless is probably the first “traditional” conference speech we’ve heard. Mark Reckless is speaking well, but when his brief consists of talking about “overseas remittances” and other dry economic topics, he has little opportunity to delight the conference delegates with YouTube-friendly zingers and slogans.
Here comes Mark Reckless, whose political courage in defecting from the Tories to UKIP and forcing (and winning) a by-election in Rochester was punished at the general election. Now he speaks in his new guise as Economic Spokesman.
Interestingly, he seems much more relaxed in this speech than he did twelve months ago in his “I can’t do that with the Conservatives, I can as UKIP” defection speech.
Nigel Farage Speech Reaction
The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow was underwhelmed:
Farage can rabble-rouse as well as anyone but this speech was uncharacteristically underpowered. The peroration was non-existent, the argument was often cursory and a key argument was pivoted around a dodgy joke. It wasn’t a speech to alarm the pro-Europeans.
The delegates I spoke with lapped up the speech happily enough, but Sparrow’s points are well made – there is no doubt that this was a more muted speech. Perhaps Nigel Farage is conserving all of his energy for the coming Brexit referendum battle, and the “Say No To The EU” roadshow tour that UKIP is organising.
And we’re back from lunch, with guest speaker Andrew Allison of The Freedom Association.
Rather awkward here in the press room, as Allison rails against the BBC – both the license fee and the perceived bias of their news operation.
“You could be forgiven for thinking the creative industries of Britain would burn in the fires of hell if the BBC was not allowed to extract direct debits from our bank accounts for the license fee .. They [the BBC] have nothing to fear about leaving the license fee and moving to a subscription system”.
INTERVIEW WITH NIGEL FARAGE
Nigel Farage is unsurprisingly bullish about UKIP’s prospects in the wake of 2015’s good-yet-disappointing general election result and looking ahead to the coming EU referendum.
I asked Farage whether he is happy with the 2015 conference so far, and how he thinks UKIP’s diverse coalition of different voters can be kept together once the EU referendum has been and gone. His answers are well worth watching:
INTERVIEW WITH NIGEL FARAGE
What have I been doing for the past hour, you ask? Just interviewing Nigel Farage for Semi-Partisan Politics. Stay tuned for the video and transcript…
And here’s the man himself – Nigel Farage preparing to give live TV interviews overlooking Doncaster Racecourse, following his conference speech:
And that’s it. Quite short, very light on policy and the future direction of UKIP beyond the immediate priority of winning the coming EU referendum. Delegates seem fairly happy, but this was far from the explosively enthusiastic reception that Farage received last year, or that which greeted the defection of Mark Reckless MP.
It really feels like all other issues – economic policy, healthcare (to a lesser extent), defence (where UKIP were starting to gain some real credibility) are being put on the backburner now, as the party focuses with laser precision on fighting and winning the coming EU referendum. This may well make good tactical sense, but by failing to align UKIP for a future beyond the referendum, is Nigel Farage missing a trick?
Farage is now talking about which group will get “lead group” designation from the Electoral Commission. Pledges that UKIP supports Leave.EU, and will work with any and all eurosceptic groups.
“I believe the tide is changing. I believe we are on course to win the most historic political outcome in any of our lifetimes”.
Nigel Farage: “Let’s make the positive argument for trade with Europe, for positive engagement with Europe, for being good neighbours with Europe .. but surely we should be able and capable of negotiating our own trade deals on the world stage.
“If Iceland are strong enough to make their own trade deals, I’m pretty damn sure that we are big enough and strong enough to make our own trade deals.”
“What [europhiles] are saying is not that we are not big enough to make our own trade deals. What they’re saying is that we are not good enough” – this is good stuff. Taking the fight to the europhiles, and pinning them down on exactly why they think one of the greatest countries in the world would founder and implode if we stopped pooling sovereignty with the antidemocratic EU.
We need lots more of this from the Brexit campaign – positive, optimistic and continually asking the europhiles precisely why they think that Britain is not a good enough country to do what every nation outside Europe does – namely, face the world as a sovereign and independent nation, open to trade with all.
Nigel Farage: “If you vote to stay in the European Union, you’re not voting to stay in the same union we have now” – Nigel Farage making the point that the EU is moving toward fiscal and political union, and that a vote to stay is essentially a vote to get swept along with the integrationist current.
“We are voting to remain part of an integrationist project” warns Nigel Farage, saying Cameron “isn’t asking for anything substantial at all” from the renegotiation. “Nothing at all”.
Nigel Farage’s message to soft eurosceptics waiting on the outcome of David Cameron’s renegotiation before committing themselves to campaigning for Brexit: “you are fundamentally wrong”.
“To wait would be a terrible, terrible mistake. It would be to play into the hands of the PM, who would set the terms for the renegotiation .. and by the time the Leave side had mobilised, the referendum would be over.”
Nigel Farage: “There is something even dearer to my heart than party politics, even if it is UKIP. I want us to summon every resource and energy .. I want us to devote ourselves solely to the referendum, and breaking the link with Europe.”
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to put party before country”
As expected, UKIP are throwing all of their mental and physical energies toward the EU referendum, possibly at the expense of other pressing issues that the party may need to work on. Entirely understandable, but UKIP must ensure that they continue to offer a coherent political message on issues not related to Europe if they are to survive and prosper beyond the EU referendum.
Nigel Farage: “Within a week of being in charge of a Labour Party that is becoming obsessively europhile in every way and under pressure from his backbenchers, [Corbyn] had capitulated”.
“I now believe that a whole new flank of the Labour vote is there for UKIP. I think that Corbyn is a gift for UKIP”.
Time to address the Labour Party’s implosion, and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. “What we saw was UKIP tearing chunks out of the Labour vote. We hurt the Labour Party far more than we hurt the Conservative Party”.
“It was put about the day he was elected, by Diane Abbott I think, that Jeremy being in charge of the Labour Party would mean all those voters who deserted Labour and went to UKIP would come back. Do you honestly think that Labour voters in Doncaster who came to UKIP want to get rid of the Queen?”, or “hand the Falklands over to Argentina?”.
“On all those issues, Corbyn is 1000 miles away from Labour voters who came to UKIP”.
“If you had said that UKIP would get 4 million votes in the general election, I would have bitten your arm off – and I think we can be very proud”, says Farage, insisting “we need electoral reform in Britain, though I suspect we should not hold our breath”.
Nigel Farage: “There are times in elections, there are times in life, when you cannot change the cards you are dealt. And there was a swing to the conservatives because of a fear of that woman north of the border and the belief that Ed Miliband would not make a good prime minister”
Farage makes reference to his un-resignation, saying that after the general election he did not think he would be addressing this UKIP conference as leader.
References UKIP’s “amazing run” of last year, with the defections of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless from the Conservative Party.
“It’s the final countdown” plays as Nigel Farage prepares to take the stage.
Very apt – the one thing that Ukippers have been working toward for so many years is nearly within reach – an EU referendum and the prospect of an “Out” vote
UKIP conference delegates are being warmed up for Nigel Farage with old clips of David Cameron saying there was no need for an EU referendum, as well as Farage’s greatest hits from the European Parliament.
The hall is much fuller now:
Almost time for Nigel Farage…
Given that this year’s conference was always going to be a more low-key affair than the euphoric 2014 meeting, it’s strange that Nigel Farage would choose to give his speech on Day 1. It’s likely to mean that a lot of the energy – and possibly the delegates – start to ebb away by Friday afternoon, with a day and a half of the conference left to go. It may make sense from a TV audience perspective, but less so from a conference management standpoint.
Time to bash the BBC – this always goes down well with the crowd.
“The BBC was biased then [when Britain was considering joining the euro] and the BBC is biased now” says William Dartmouth MEP, International Trade Spokesman.
“A country does not have to be a member of the EU for its businesses to trade successfully and to have full access to EU markets. And that’s another fact you won’t hear from the BBC”.
“We in the UK are the European Union’s biggest market .. we pay them much more than they pay us. The EU has trade agreements with Mexico, Madagascar… it follows that a trade agreement with the UK is absolutely inevitable” – a fair point dispelling the myth that the UK would somehow be frozen out of global trade if we left the EU.
“We should not be giving other countries the power to influence our health service” says Louise Bours, railing against the potential impact of TTIP on the NHS. Shame to see this reflexive NHS-worship from UKIP, who once were open to more fundamental market-based reform of the health service.
Legislation to protect the NHS from TTIP “is needed, Mr. Cameron, because we don’t trust you.”
Louise Bours MEP on stage now, talking about various sinister threats to “Our NHS” from Europe.
“We are not training enough” nurses because “we refuse to accept that not all those entering the nursing profession need a university degree”.
“Let us also encourage and enthuse those who see nursing as a vocation. Let us see the return of the state enrolled nurse.”
“I will do everything to ensure the public know we have to leave the EU to protect the EU”
At least Bours acknowledged that she “can be shouty” – lots of us in the press room getting a bit of a headache…
Here’s my interview with Douglas Carswell MP, who was in very good spirits as he roamed the area outside the main conference hall here at Doncaster Racecourse, speaking to fans and party activists.
I asked Carswell what would constitute a success for this year’s party conference, given the extraordinarily successful 2014 gathering (when UKIP had just won the European elections and were about to gain their second MP), and also asked how UKIP can keep its broad coalition of young libertarians, older social conservatives, disaffected Tories and patriotic Old Labour types together once the unifying goal of a Brexit referendum has been achieved.
Here’s the Telegraph’s Asa Bennett, outlining the challenge facing Nigel Farage as he prepares to deliver his keynote speech to the UKIP 2015 conference in Doncaster today. From the Telegraph’s Morning Briefing email:
As Ukip prepares for the EU referendum, it faces the challenge of maintaining credibility and party unity. The Times reports thatExpress owner Richard Desmond was “furious” to discover part of his £1m donation to the party was used to pay back a six-figure loan, while the BBC reports that the Tories’ election guru Lynton Crosby turned down a £2m offer to work with a Ukip-linked pro-Brexit campaign.
Nearly four million voters backed Ukip and its flamboyant leader, often seen chuckling over a pint, in May. Farage initially was Ukip’s Heineken man, reaching parts of the electorate other parties couldn’t. But now Labour has its “craft ale” leader in place, Ukip has to remind voters why they liked their brew in the first place.
In the meantime, here is the Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow’s live blog of the UKIP 2015 conference here in Doncaster.
Ukip’s annual conference gets underway properly in Doncaster today (after a training day yesterday) and Nigel Farage, the party leader, has been giving interviews this morning. Thanks to first-past-the-post, his party had a relatively disappointing general election, but now Farage is thoroughly focused on the opportunities offered by the referendum on EU membership, which many expect to be taking place at about this time next year.
Protesters seem to have dispersed – nothing on the scale of last year’s anti-UKIP hysteria.
However, I’ve gone one better – just been speaking with Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s sole MP. I asked him about what will constitute a successful conference this year, and how UKIP’s coalition of different supporters (libertarians, social conservatives, Old Labour types, “left behind” coastal town residents and more) can be persuaded to stick together once the unifying goal of an EU referendum is no longer on the horizon.
Video to follow shortly.
Apparently there are some anti-UKIP protesters outside the venue. Going to talk to some of them now, while the conference takes a coffee break. Stay tuned…
“In Sweden I would say Nigel Farage is like a God, more or less .. we are a big fan of UKIP, and not least Nigel Farage” says Peter Lundgren MEP, guest speaker from the Sweden Democrats. That went down well in the hall.
He’s boasting about having Farage’s private mobile phone number too… Looks like the cult of Nigel extends well beyond Britain.
Unlimited immigration from the EU is limiting Britain’s ability to help those in true need, says Mike Hookem MEP
“Let’s get our country back – vote for exit”
Lots of merchandise for sale..
It’s still early in the first session, but there are a number of empty seats on both sides of the conference hall here in Doncaster, though a number of people are milling around outside rather than watching the opening videos.
This conference is headlined “Out of the EU, Into the world”. But the first part at least seems more devoted to keeping the world out.
Delegates are now watching a video entitled “The migrant crisis in Calais and beyond”, which will be followed by Mike Hookem MEP talking about securing our borders. Important topics certainly, and a worthy subject to kick off the conference – but it doesn’t exactly send the “open to the world” message that the Brexit campaign will need to adopt if it is to have any chance of victory.
“We need to get out into the streets and say that getting out of the EU is nothing to be scared of” says Louise Holliday of UKIP South Yorkshire, in between awkward references to Donny Osmond.
Early indications suggest that the focus of this conference will be on Brexit over and above all else, with other questions as to the party’s future direction pushed to the side for now.
Rather tone-deaf version of the National Anthem…
“That’s how you do it, Jezza” says Judith Morris, opening the conference
Sebastian Payne from the Spectator is rather disdainful about UKIP’s standing in the post-Corbyn political landscape, asking whether UKIP or the Lib Dems are less relevant:
Now that an In-Out referendum is on the horizon and the main parties are leading the way, Ukip faces a simple question: why should anyone listen to it? It’s hard not to see them as a throw back to the pre-general election days, when Jeremy Corbyn was still an obscure backbencher. Despite the lack of media attention, Ukip is steady in the polls — on 16 per cent of the vote share according to the latest YouGov tracker. The Lib Dems meanwhile are languishing on just six per cent.
[..] Ukip has yet to define where it fits in the New Politics and it looks unlikely this conference will answer that question.
This part is very apt:
Once the vote is over, Ukip will have to transform into something new, or fade away. If Britain votes to remain in the EU, Ukip can continue to campaign for a Brexit and another referendum. But if the public votes to leave, there will no longer be a purpose to the party. Some in Ukip hope it can be remodelled as a small-state, anti-globalisation movement that can appeal to disaffected blue collar workers. But judging by the agenda for the Doncaster conference, the party is only thinking about the near future.
My own take is here.
Agenda for Day 1 of the conference:
Nice vantage point from the media room:
Can’t say that traffic was gridlocked with people arriving for Day 1 of the UKIP conference, but it seems reasonably busy.
It’s fair to say that this year’s UKIP party conference has not been hyped to anywhere near the extent of last year’s gathering in Doncaster, when UKIP had just won the 2014 European elections and were about to welcome their second MP to defect from the Tories.
The Daily Mail is making much of the fact that tickets to this year’s conference were not selling well, prompting steep discounts:
A party spokesman admitted that there had been ‘some concern’ over the low numbers and confirmed prices had been reduced in recent weeks.
Without a pickup in numbers, there is a risk Mr Farage’s could be forced to address an audience at Doncaster racecourse with rows of empty seats visible on camera.
Happily, I submitted my request for press accreditation prior to 14 September, and so avoided having to pay the £500 fee.
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Hello and welcome to this semi-partisan live blog of UKIP’s 2015 national conference.
UKIP are going into this conference with their ultimate goal – the possibility of an “Out” vote in a referendum on Britain’s EU membership – closer than it has been for forty years. This simply would not be the case were it not for the party now gathering together in Doncaster for their national conference, and especially their polarising leader, Nigel Farage. That’s just a fact. There are many principled eurosceptic Tories and others who may go on to play a crucial role campaigning for Britain’s secession from the EU, but their role in bringing about the referendum in the first place, against the political establishment’s every wish, has been marginal at best. This is a UKIP achievement, plain and simple.
And yet what should in many ways be a valedictory party conference is instead very mixed in terms of tone and expectation. UKIP were punished incredibly harshly by the electoral system – if anyone deserves 56 MPs in Westminster it is UKIP, not the SNP – and between the march of the Tartan Tea Party and Labour’s spectacular implosion, it feels like UKIP have lost some of their earlier momentum. But these things can change all the time, and there is no reason to doubt that UKIP can seize back the initiative – and the attention – when they need to.
So forget all of the usual party conference intrigue about who’s up and who’s down. There are really only two strategic questions of medium and long-term consequence to UKIP, and to which we should pay careful attention for any hints as to which way the party is leaning:
- 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?
- 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 is these core questions, far above the day-to-day tactics and often forgettable speeches, which UKIP ultimately need to answer if the party intends to survive to see the 2020 post general election party conference season, when Britain may well have a new government and be in the process of negotiating our secession from the European Union.
I will be listening to the speeches and talking to conference delegates and others with a view to understanding how UKIP currently intend to approach these two existential questions.
It may not be a party conference full of the usual political drama, but UKIP’s 2015 national conference in Doncaster is perhaps the most significant and important gathering yet.
This blog’s UKIP conference previews are here and here.
Complete coverage of UKIP here.
With thanks to Poached Creative for the provision of photographic equipment
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