Helen and I have just returned from a week in Great Britain which took in the UKIP Conference in Doncaster on 25, 26 and 27 September. I’ve been to several party conferences, both in my earlier incarnation as a Conservative and latterly as a UKIP member. But I can safely say that Doncaster 2014 stands out as the conference with the most substance, enthusiasm and atmosphere.
Friday was the first day of the Conference proper and was devoted to presenting the outlines of UKIP’s policies for next May’s General Election. In all more than 20 speakers addressed the conference that day.
Highlights for me were Jane Collins MEP (Employment) and Amjad Bashir MEP (Communities) both of whom eloquently expressed the huge anger felt about the appalling misuse of children in Rotherham and elsewhere. As Amjad said, “Societies can be diverse but must be lucid.”
Other points which caught my interest on Friday were commitments to adopt the Australian Points System for Immigration (Steven Woolfe MEP), an armed forces Veterans’ Service Card which would fast track veterans to mental care at any stage of their lives (Mike Hookem MEP) and Louise Bours MEP making a commitment to reinstate the rôle of State Enrolled Nurse to the NHS (Something our devolved Northern Ireland NHS badly needs).
Paul Nuttall MEP (Deputy Leader) gave an excellent presentation on UKIP’s education policy on Friday afternoon and Douglas Carswell PPC Clacton (recently a Conservative MP) and John Bickley PPC Heywood and Middleton both updated us on the progress of their by-election campaigns. Both Conservatives and Labour are under severe threat from UKIP at these by-elections.
The highlight of the day was a roof raising speech by Party Leader Nigel Farage who emphasised Patrick O’Flynn’s earlier commitment to raise tax thresholds above the minimum wage helping to make working a better prospect than being on benefits.
Saturday’s proceedings started with speeches by David Coburn MEP (Scotland), Nathan Gill MEP (Wales) and David McNarry MEP (Northern Ireland). David gave a rousing speech in which he put UKIP in Northern Ireland firmly at the heart of United Kingdom politics. Emphasising that UKIP was the only party to have elected representatives in all four nations of the United Kingdom he pointed out that, in the recent election, there was no sign of Cameron, Miliband or Clegg in Northern Ireland but Nigel Farage made sure he included it in his itinerary. His speech was enthusiastically received by conference delegates.
Also on Saturday, I was pleased to hear Roger Helmer MEP (Energy) committing UKIP to fighting to repeal the 2008 Climate Change Act and the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive. I was equally pleased by how popular these commitments were with the delegates.
Few of us realised how the afternoon was going to develop. Nigel Farage was billed to speak again and ran through some polling data in various constituencies showing how UKIP had surged ahead since 2010. UKIP will be a force to be reckoned with in the next Parliament. Nigel then introduced us to a new speaker who turned out to be Mark Reckless MP (Conservative). Mark Reckless then addressed the conference and it literally took him several minutes to say, “…I’m leaving the Conservative Party and joining UKIP,” such was the volume of cheering and clapping as delighted delegates roared their approval. Mark followed with a rousing speech, interrupted frequently by standing ovations, in which he praised the values of UKIP and announced he was resigning his seat and standing for UKIP in the subsequent by-election.
All in all it was a memorable conference and Helen and I, along with other members from Northern Ireland were thoroughly enthused for the battles ahead to bring UKIP into or national and devolved governments. I thoroughly recommend attending UKIP conferences. They are exhausting but exhilarating.
Just a footnote. The much vaunted “Stop UKIP” demonstration timed, to drown out Nigel Farage’s speech on Saturday, was pathetic. I walked past them and the handful of people there couldn’t even raise a decent chant. One young chap who had just purchased a carry out from the small business up the road told us to go back to our small businesses.