Great. The start of the summer holidays (and the sun has come out). No doubt the press will greet the change in the weather as more evidence of global warming.
I was on the road on Saturday at 6:00 a.m., heading south to the UKIP South East Conference at the Lakeside Darts Venue in Frimley, where four hundred or so party members had assembled to listen to speeches from a stellar cast. And me.
Of course the keynote speaker was Nigel Farage, who has occasionally been compared to Billy Graham and is about equally inspirational. He is, of course, also an MEP from the South East, so he was on home turf. We heard from councillors and staffers (including my own staffer Alexandra Swann). We had speeches from a couple of work-a-day MEPs — Deputy Party Leader Paul Nuttall, just returned from Washington, but in sparkling form despite terminal jet-lag. And I offered some thoughts on the outlook for energy — and the outlook for UKIP.
But two speakers deserve special mention. Patrick O’Flynn, Chief Political Commentator of the Daily Express, gave a speech which combined humour and entertainment value with sound and serious thoughts on current political developments. Then there was Mike Reid, the former Radio One DJ (who has rather unkindly been described as “looking like Nick Buckles”, the disgraced CEO of G4S). He too offered an up-beat and perceptive contribution, and introduced Nigel as key-note speaker.
Altogether, a very successful event, and very much in the pattern of the rather large party and public meetings which Nigel has been addressing.
Sadly I had to leave after lunch, to get down to Cheltenham for The Freedom Association’s annual celebration at Stanway House, a wonderful English Country House which boasts landscaped gardens and the highest gravity-fed fountain in Europe. The speaker’s list included The Reverend Peter Mullen, a churchman of extremely sound and traditional views, who is Chaplain to TFA. His views on Church matters are about as popular with the hierarchy as my views on Europe are with Baroness Warsi. Formerly Rector of St. Michael’s Cornhill, he was invited to retire by the Church on the grounds that he had reached the age of seventy — only to be replaced (on a temporary basis) by another priest several years older.
Peter made an excellent case that far from our current problems being a crisis of capitalism, they are in fact a crisis of the statism that is in the process of replacing capitalism.
I followed with the speech I had made in the morning, slightly adapted for a less partisan (but equally euro-sceptic) audience, and I was followed in turn by Tim Congdon, the formidable economist who is now Chairman of TFA — the post I previously held for several years. As always, the TFA Stanway evening was a delight.
Years ago I would have left after dinner and driven home. But having covered 250 miles already that day, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. I stayed over in Cheltenham and enjoyed a leisurely drive home on Sunday morning. Not a bad day’s work for the summer holidays.