Nigel Farage and the empty chairs

 Many Conservatives went along to the Bruges Group fringe meeting in Birmingham on Sept 29th expecting to hear from a panel including three MEPs — Nigel Farage of UKIP, Dan Hannan and myself.  They were taken aback to see two empty chairs, because Dan and I weren’t there.
They may have had the impression that we had simply failed to turn up, or had cancelled at the last moment, but this was by no means the case.  I had written to Robert Oulds of The Bruges Group on September 9th, nearly three weeks before the event, to tell him that Dan and I would not be able to attend, and I was rather sorry that no attempt seems to have been made to reflect that in pre-publicity for the meeting.
Not surprisingly, Farage’s proposition was “Conservatives running scared of a UKIP debate”, and “Tory high command gags MEPs”.  Neither of these points is true, so let’s look at what actually happened.
I am prepared to debate against UKIP any place, any time.  However, a number of colleagues (in Brussels, not in CCHQ or Westminster) felt that by sharing a platform with the leader of a fringe party at our own Party Conference, we gave UKIP unnecessary airtime and credibility.  I think they were wrong.  It was the Bruges Group that gave Farage a platform at the Conference, and our choice was either to give him a free run to make his pitch (“Just lend us your vote in the 2009 euro-elections, to send a message to the Tory Party”) without any Conservative there to set out the Party’s position or to give him a run for his money — or to take him on head on, which is what I would have done.
However the fact is that if you are a member of a party, you have to work with colleagues, and sometimes you have to make compromises with them — even when they’re wrong.
So some apologies are in order.  To all those Conservatives who attended the meeting and felt we had let them down, and that their case, and the Party’s case, went by default, and that Farage had been offered an open goal.  To Jim McConologue and the European Journal, which carried a prominent back-page ad for the event after Dan and I had cancelled.  To Robert Oulds and the Bruges Group, for withdrawing at three weeks notice.  And indeed to the other panellists, Nigel Farage and Simon Heffer, for failing to deliver the robust debate which I am sure they had been expecting.

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7 Responses to Nigel Farage and the empty chairs

  1. Annabelle says:

    Actually Barry Legg made those comments and the reason discussions were had regarding non attendance was because of talk of e-mails which said quite a different thing to what’s written on here.

    It wasn’t just invented.

  2. Roger Helmer says:

    Which comments, Annabelle? What “wasn’t just invented”? If you don’t make it clear what you mean, I can’t respond.

  3. Annabelle says:

    “Conservatives running scared of a UKIP debate” comments.

  4. John Morton says:

    Yes, a “fringe party”. Don’t worry, the good old Tories will save us from Europe.

    That is, after they have finished crafting a way to avoid giving us the referendum they know they must promise us if they want to be elected.

    Forget Lisbon, which will get rammed through one way or another and the Tories know it – we need a MANIFESTO commitment on an in/out vote, or the Conservative party is going to get slammed next year, and we will get our first set of BNP MPs, to our eternal shame.

  5. Roger Helmer says:

    Of course your line “wasn’t just invented”, Annabelle, and if you read my piece more carefully, you’ll find I quoted it myself. So what exactly are you disagreeing with?

    John, no one has ever promised an in/out vote. You should be careful what you wish for. Depending on the wording, we might well lose an in/out vote, and the sceptic cause would be lost for a generation (or until the EU breaks up, which may be sooner).

  6. John Morton says:

    No Roger, you should be careful about what you will get if you do not tell the truth to the British people about what we are fighting.

    So far, you have refused to do so and prefer to vacillate and toe the party line.

    The stakes are too high and we are not going to allow this game to continue much longer.

    Remember: The first people in the camps will be Euroskeptic MPs/MEPs and other “undesirables”.

  7. Roger Helmer says:

    You can accuse me of many things, John, but failing to tell the British people about the EU is not one of them. I have spent the last ten years doing little else.

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