UKIP public meeting draws a huge crowd

The UKIP meeting in St. Ives, with MEPs Stuart Agnew, Nigel Farage, RFH.

Last Thursday evening, freshly decanted off the Brussels plane, I drove to Saint Ives in Huntingdonshire (not Cornwall, thankfully), to a UKIP meeting.  And I was astonished.

Through my dozen years as an Conservative MEP, I was occasionally asked whether I held public meetings, and I had to explain that if I announced a public meeting, Joe Public would rather stay home and watch Coronation Street, and I’d probably end up with an empty hall, with two punters and a dog (if I was lucky).  “You’ll have to set up the meeting”, I’d say to Rotary Clubs, or Chambers of Commerce, or Wind Farm protest groups, “and I’ll come and talk to it”.

St. Ives is not a huge town, but in the Burgess Hall there must have been at least 400 people who’d turned out for a political meeting.  Many were UKP members (we had a show of hands) but the majority were simply concerned citizens.  There were thirty round tables, each seating ten or so.  We had additional cinema-style seating on one side, and folk were still standing at the back of the cavernous hall (which is also used for election counts, so that you have a sense of the scale).  Leaving aside Party Conferences, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people at a political meeting.

It was good to be back in Saint Ives.  I used to live there in the seventies (69 Needingworth Road, as it happens) when I was working for Clive (now Sir Clive) Sinclair.  My children were born down the road in Cambridge in the Mill Road hospital.

The old parties simply can’t attract large numbers to a political meeting, yet UKIP can.  How do they do it?  Three reasons, I think.  First of all there’s UKIP Leader Nigel Farage, who has a high profile and a well-deserved reputation as a powerful speaker.  People will clearly come to hear him.

Then secondly, there’s the public concern over the EU.  Almost nightly, it seems, for a couple of years we’ve had the €uro crisis on our television screens.  Voters can’t avoid it, and they don’t like what they see.  Five years ago it was possible to say (and colleagues constantly said to me) “The public don’t really care about Europe.  It’s way down their priority list.  There are no votes in it” (though there were certainly votes in it in 2009, when UKIP beat the Labour Party into third place).

Today, that logic no longer applies.  The EU’s great slow-motion train crash has become almost soap opera.  People can see the collateral damage that the €uro disaster is doing in the UK.  They are starting to understand the harm that the EU is doing to issues that they really do care about, like prosperity and growth and immigration, and lunatic green taxes and green policies.  They care enough to come out on a Thursday evening to find out what they can do about it.

And thirdly, they’ve realised that the three old parties (OK, two-and-a-half) are all essentially the same.  Tory, Labour and Lib-Dem struggle to differentiate themselves.  All three are broadly pro-Brussels, committed to EU membership, and all three are essentially social democratic parties, in favour of big government, high taxes, and stultifying welfare.   The public recognise this, and they’re not sure they like it, and they’re prepared to miss Coronation Street for the sake of hearing a different story.

But Saint Ives is not an isolated phenomenon.  Up and down the country, UKIP is defying the conventional wisdom, and running successful public meetings for hundreds of voters looking for common-sense solutions to the problems which they can see all too clearly.  Something new and fresh and exciting is happening in British politics, and I’m delighted to be part of it.

As I left after the meeting to drive back to Leicestershire, Nigel was doing a brisk trade selling tea-towels featuring the face of European President Rumpy-Pumpy, and Nigel’s immortal line “All the charisma of a damp rag”.  Apt for a tea-towel, when you come to think about it.

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15 Responses to UKIP public meeting draws a huge crowd

  1. I live in Wisbech. I wish I had known about the meeting.
    In the Spectator there was an article lumping the UKIP, BNP (in decay), EDL and English Democrats together as almost racist fascists whose main aim was to halt immigration.
    You need to do something about this image.

    In the European Election I did vote UKIP and I am longing for it to become a viable political force.

    • Andrew Shakespeare says:

      I’ve been voting UKIP in Euro-elections for years. I voted Tory last time after a long debate with myself. I figured Cameron had asked us, “Give us the term of one parliament to repatriate these powers,” so in the end, I decided I’d give him that chance. He’s blown it, so he should know what the consequences of that will be.

    • So far as I know, UKIP is the only Party that specifically excludes racists and former members of the BNP etc from membership. As for me, I’m so racist that I’ve employed a number of ethnic minority staffers in my office at various times — including a Nigerian, who was both very effective and very popular.

  2. Tony says:

    Nice insider’s view, especially of a defector (although I understand you were just joining what you thought you were a part of anyway). If you had of provided a live feed then more would have watched, surely you can do more to embrace a technology we invented?

    I didn’t think you needed to explain the tea towel bit, it had more bite to it as it was (were they made in England?) and I thought Coronation Street was axed?

    • Joe Webster says:

      We were set up to provide a live feed but, unfortunately, the Burgess Hall’s network had just undergone some unhelpful maintenance and we were unable to get the necessary internet connection.
      Nevertheless, we were able to record the whole evening and excerpts will probably become avaiable on YouTube in due course.

  3. Axel says:

    “All the charisma of a damp rag”


  4. Andrew Shakespeare says:

    How do I get one of those tea towells? I want one!

  5. Derek says:

    Hi Roger, I have attended two UKIP meeting here in the New forest, in Lyndhurst. Both were well attended for the size of the hall, thanks to good leafletting and advertising in the local press. Of course the audience consists of those who care enought to attend a meeting. In our case around 100 to 150, and in yours 400. Yes, a good turnout, but tiny compare with the electorate. Public meetings may gee up the activists, but its leaflets in doors that get to the masses. Putting out good regular leaflets is a hard slog.

  6. Welcome aboard Roger. I really enjoyed your conference speech via the live stream. I wouldn’t worry about the racism slur. The hard left throw this about at everyone who doesn’t agree with them, and the Tories do it to keep their troops together. It is designed to stifle free debate/speech. There is nothing racist about UKIP policies or members.

    Keep up the good work.

    Neil Miney
    Chairman UKIP Liverpool branch

  7. Yve says:

    I do wish UKIP would spread their wings and come up North, every meeting I’ve read about on here is down south.
    Theres a lot of support “upppp north” Roger.

  8. St Ives featured in the BBC’s Micro Men drama documentary. Was it accurate? Have you any anecdotes from the 1970s and what was your area?

  9. Pingback: A Postcard from Broadstairs | Roger Helmer MEP

  10. John says:

    Having enjoyed your email circular for a couple of years now, Roger, I’m thrilled to sense the new spring in your step following your move to UKIP. I suspect you are now starting to feel a little bit glad that your resignation didn’t go smoothly after all—you may even come to thank the good Baroness for this one day! There’s life in the Old Campaigner yet! Keep up the fabulous work.

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