Anyone who still imagines that a UKIP Spring Conference might be a meeting of a couple of dozen mavericks and gadflies in the back room of a country pub had better think again. I’ve done a dozen Tory Conferences in my time, and the first thing that struck me about UKIP’s event in Skegness was that it looked — and was — the real McCoy. Five hundred or so delegates packed the Empire Theatre on the sea-front, and unlike a Tory Conference, they were all members and activists — they weren’t 50% lobbyists. And we had some pretty serious people as well. MEPs, Councillors, a former policeman who will be standing as an elected Police Commissioner.
I received a hugely warm welcome — I could hardly walk down a corridor without every second person keen to shake hands.
It’s worth mentioning that the Conservative Party’s Spring Conference was cancelled owing to lack of interest. They seem to have had a “Spring Forum” in London, but by all accounts it was a half-hearted affair for a small invited audience.
Tim Congdon: The star speaker in Skegness was the distinguished economist Tim Congdon (who took over from me as Chairman of the Freedom Association). He had come along despite a severe dose of flu, and after a quiet start he warmed to his theme. He took us on a quick tour of OECD projections for EU and world economic performance, stressing the key aperçu that EU economic output is on a downward trajectory, with the Rest of the World enjoying all the growth. The EU is also smaller than the Anglosphere, and shrinking in relative terms. It may be that 40% of Britain’s overseas trade is with the EU — but that’s just a measure of the way that our European obsession has distorted our trade patterns, and left us under-performing in the rest of the World, where the growth is. His message to the voters: We joined the “Common Market” in 1973 because we thought it would be good for trade and jobs. We were wrong. It’s clear in 2012 that the EU is holding us back, and that we should be Better Off Out.
Alexandra Swann: Alexandra is an incredibly bright (and engaging) young lady of 23, who until last week was National Vice-Chairman of Conservative Future. Over dinner the previous evening she had been telling us how bad she was at public speaking, and how she dreaded large audiences. Yet she gave a cracking conference speech and had the audience eating out of her hand. Her message was the many young Conservatives are increasingly unhappy with the EU, and the Party’s stance on Europe. Nigel Farage introduced her with the words: “The Swann has migrated to UKIP”. As I pointed out later, it was good to have her there to demonstrate that it wasn’t only Grumpy Old Men (like me) who leave the Tory Party to join UKIP.
And of course I too gave a speech. I won’t tell you it was a good speech — but you can judge for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YN-TB7yS9_U
The picture above shows me with Alexandra, and Nigel Farage, and Stuart Wheeler, former Tory Party donor, now Treasurer of UKIP. All four of us, former members of the Conservative Party. As Peter Oborne rightly says, UKIP is “The Conservative Party in exile”.