Henry Bolton And The Death Of UKIP

Henry Bolton - UKIP leadership - vote of no confidence

As party leader Henry Bolton gives a majestic display of the power of denial and refuses to resign, UKIP seems determined to go out not with a bang but a whimper

What an ignominious end for a political party which only a couple of years ago seemed to be dictating the rhythm of British politics and the headlines of our newspapers. But after a slew of leadership changes, cringeworthy scandals and bizarre disciplinary issues it seems pretty clear that there is nothing now left worth salvaging.

Several of the party’s remaining senior figures (none really warrant the title “big beast”) have resigned from the party following leader Henry Bolton’s refusal to immediately stand down after a unanimous vote of no confidence in his leadership, and everyone else may as well just follow suit and cut up their membership cards because there is no positive outcome to be had. Either Bolton tries to cling on until UKIP becomes a party of one, or he goes and makes room for another nonentity aboard the party leadership carousel.

Political parties drift when they lack any kind of unifying purpose or positive vision (though sometimes a strongly negative, reactionary position will do just as well in a pinch). We saw this with Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party when the centrist “moderates” were found to believe in nothing and stand for nothing, and we see it now in the Tory Party as Theresa May’s government fiddles while the few forward-thinking people in the party are shooting off in a million directions with their own uncoordinated plans for conservative reform.

UKIP have less of an excuse for their current predicament, though. It was always known that they would face an existential moment of reckoning in the event that an EU referendum was secured and won, and they did far too little – probably nothing – to prepare for that moment. And for a single-issue party (or at least a party viewed by many to be single-issue) this was an unforgivable strategic error.

I covered and live-blogged the UKIP annual conference in Doncaster back in September 2015, when the referendum had been secured but the official campaigns had not yet officially kicked into gear. I wrote going into the event that this was a “make or break conference”, not because of the referendum but because this was the last, best opportunity to solidify exactly what it was that the party stood for besides secession from the European Union before the referendum and its aftermath would signal the closing of that window.

As I wrote back then:

When we look back on 2015, this could be seen as the conference which makes or breaks UKIP. Not in the sense that any careers are on the line today, or that terrible consequences await any missteps made over the next few days. But decisions taken at this conference – and more importantly, the general tone and sense of direction given by the party leadership – could be vital in determining whether UKIP is strongly positioned to survive the turmoil of the next five years in British politics, or if the party is destined to go the way of New Labour.

As long as the target of the 2016/2017 Brexit referendum looms ever larger in our sights, the unlikely coalition that makes up UKIP’s support base are likely to continue cohabiting without any real problem. But what happens when the European question is settled?

UKIP is a vastly more established political party than it was this time last year, and is almost unrecognisable from the party it was at the time of the last election, back in 2010. And this has been an unquestionably good thing for our stale, consensual politics.

However, interested observers will be watching closely for any signs indicating the type of party UKIP is likely to become by 2020. And a lot could ride on the answer.

And unsurprisingly, UKIP totally ducked the challenge at their conference. Everybody who wasn’t indulging in the traditional UKIP pastime of shooting themselves in the foot with unnecessary squabbles and gaffes was drunk on referendum fever and in no mood to contemplate any event past June 2016, be that their preferred method of Brexit (a failure which has already come back to bite) or the preferred shape of their party when banging the eurosceptic drum no longer attracts votes.

Nigel Farage himself offered only a vague non-answer:

 

Over the course of the conference I spoke to a number of senior UKIP figures in addition to Nigel Farage, including Mark Reckless, Douglas Carswell and a number of lesser-known but deeply involved activists, and of those people only Douglas Carswell had a vaguely plausible vision for what UKIP could become – a vision that was so at odds with Nigel Farage’s own that Carswell jumped/was pushed out only eighteen months later.

 

Thus the tension between the various different UKIPs was never resolved. The party continued to be a fractious circus tent encompassing a dwindling cohort of libertarian types, a rump of ex-Conservative eurosceptics and an influx of new, more economically left-wing voters and activists.

Immediately after the 2015 conference, I wrote:

The United Kingdom Independence Party currently draws its support from a number of quite distinct support bases. There are the social conservatives and traditionalists, mostly ex-Tory voters. Then you have the “lost Labour” voters, those who are repelled by the modern Labour Party’s superficial virtue signalling, unquestioning embrace of uncontrolled immigration and perceived lack of patriotism.

There is also a significant body of support from the so-called economically “left behind” voters from Britain’s faded coastal resort towns, where pro-UKIP sentiment is very strong. And finally, there are the young (and old) libertarian types – for so long the backbone of the party, until relatively recently.

All of these disparate groups are currently joined under the UKIP banner in an uneasy alliance because they share the common goal of a Britain independent of the EU. But what happens when the EU referendum is won (or lost)? What, if anything, will keep these separate groups together in the post-election landscape?

That’s the conversation which should have started taking place at this conference. But it is a conversation which has been assiduously avoided by nearly everyone, including the party leader.

There was very much a self-sacrificial tone at that 2015 party conference. Nigel Farage seemed to have little concern that the party might burn up in the wake of the EU referendum, no doubt presuming that his own personal prospects would be fine in any event. But nobody else in the party had any excuse for so much complacency. And the personal squabbles and increasingly ludicrous crises to rock the party are partially a result of that failure to plan for the future.

As I write, Henry Bolton is giving a statement to the press in Folkestone affirming that he has no intention to resign, and instead proposing a new party constitution – in the hubristic manner of all banana republic dictators in history. Others know the detailed history of UKIP, with all of its personality clashes and policy squabbles, far better than I. But I can’t help feeling a little sad that the most consequential insurgent political party in decades seems so determined to end not with a bang but a whimper.

 

Nigel Farage - UKIP Conference 2015 - Doncaster

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UKIP Conference 2015 – The Dangers Of EU Referendum Tunnel Vision

Nigel Farage - UKIP Conference 2015 - Doncaster

Full speed ahead to the referendum, but on all other fronts UKIP is treading water

Given the unedifying way in which Day One of UKIP’s 2015 party conference ended, the leadership is probably relieved to have been bumped down to third place in last night’s television news running order by the assorted villains and criminals at Volkswagen and FIFA.

After a day in which the coming EU referendum was placed front and centre, UKIP somehow managed to finish the day with much of the media talking about a potential split in the party over which “Out” campaign group to support. Rather than talk about how best to fight and win the referendum, the party was seen to be bickering over which group it most wanted to fight the EU referendum with. The inter-group rivalry is not all UKIP’s fault, it must be acknowledged, but it does not bode well for the eurosceptic cause if we are already witnessing bickering and glory-seeking on this scale.

Just when UKIP’s laser focus on winning the coming EU referendum should be paying real early dividends, the party is mired in a contentious debate over which eurosceptic campaign group’s bid to be given lead campaigner designation by the Electoral Commission should be supported. That – and the almighty row which blew up between Douglas Carswell and donor Arron Banks – does leave the party vulnerable to criticism and mockery like this:

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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

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Live Blog: UKIP Conference 2015, Day 1 – Friday 25 September

Nigel Farage - UKIP Conference 2015 - Silhouette - 3

Below is the live blog of the UKIP 2015 conference in Doncaster, Day 1

17:55

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 TwitterFacebook and Medium.

UKIP 2015 Conference - End of Day One

17:15

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.

17:05

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…

Media Room - UKIP 2015 Conference

16:55

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.

16:50

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”.

16:40

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.

16:25

“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..

16:20

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?

16:15

“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:

TheKnow.eu

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.

16:10

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).

16:00

Recognition!

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.

Guardian Shout-out 2

15:55

The main stage here in Doncaster, between sessions:

Main Stage - UKIP Conference 2015

15:50

It’s tea time here in Doncaster, as delegates take a break, Or should that be Beer o’clock?

Beer Time - UKIP Conference 2015

15:15

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.

14:58

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.

14:27

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.

14:25

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.

14:19

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.

14:15

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.

14:10

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”.

14:05

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:

13:45

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…

12:40

And here’s the man himself – Nigel Farage preparing to give live TV interviews overlooking Doncaster Racecourse, following his conference speech:

Nigel Farage - UKIP Conference 2015 - Doncaster

12:34

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?

12:33

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”.

12:30

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.

12:26

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”.

12:25

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.”

12:20

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.

12:17

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”.

12:15

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”.

12:12

“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”.

12:07

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”

12:06

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.

12:04

“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

12:02

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:

UKIP Conference Doncaster - Hall 2

11:57

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.

11:50

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.

11:46

“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.”

11:41

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…

11:30

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.

11:20

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.

11:12

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.

11:00

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.

10:45

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…

10:42

“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.

10:30

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”

10:25

Lots of merchandise for sale..

UKIP 2015 Conference Merchandise

10:20

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.

UKIP Conference Doncaster - Hall 1

UKIP Conference Doncaster - Hall 2

10:02

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.

10:00

“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.

09:51

Rather tone-deaf version of the National Anthem…

“That’s how you do it, Jezza” says Judith Morris, opening the conference

09:50

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.

09:45

Agenda for Day 1 of the conference:

UKIP Conference Agenda

09.30

Nice vantage point from the media room:

UKIP Media Room

09.25

Can’t say that traffic was gridlocked with people arriving for Day 1 of the UKIP conference, but it seems reasonably busy.

UKIP Conference Arrival

07:10

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.

UKIP Conference Tickets Available - 2

07:05

Comments, criticisms, tips or suggestions?

Or are you at #UKIP15 and want to grab a coffee while sharing your thoughts?

Please use the comments section at the bottom of this article, tweet @SamHooper or email semipartisansam@gmail.com.

07:00

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:

  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 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.

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UKIP Conference 2015: Confronting Missed Expectations, Looking Ahead

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Much less hype around the start of this year’s UKIP party conference in Doncaster.

It’s only to be expected – this time last year, UKIP went into their party conference buoyed by a historic victory in the European elections, as well as the recent defection of respected MP Douglas Carswell from the Tories. In 2014, UKIP had all to play for going into next year’s general election. In 2015 – after many of those high hopes were dashed by the cruelties of the first-past-the-post electoral system – there is a danger that UKIP may one day look back on that conference as the high water mark of their achievement as a political party.

In a sign of how much the political landscape has changed since then, in 2014 Nigel Farage brought the UKIP party conference to Doncaster in order to “park their tanks on the lawn” of then Labour leader, Ed Miliband. Twelve months later and Ed Miliband represents his Doncaster constituency from the backbenches, having spectacularly lost the general election and resigned from the leadership, opening the door for the Jeremy Corbyn earthquake. But as Nigel Farage admitted on an interview with BBC Yorkshire News just now, sometimes things happen in politics that nobody can predict or control – and under the circumstances, Farage insisted that he remains proud of UKIP’s four million votes.

Nonetheless, the sense of hype and occasion around this year’s conference feels considerably less than last year. Aside from this blog’s preview of UKIP Conference 2015, there has been little advance coverage, with most media focusing on the imminent carnival that will be Labour’s first party conference under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

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