… can things really be going this well?
I’ve been in politics now for fifteen years, including my mis-spent time in the Tory party. In those days we had good times and bad times. In the good times, people were reasonably courteous to us. In the bad times, when the Tories were deeply unpopular, we would literally have people throwing stuff at us on the doorstep, and letting the dogs loose.
But in all those years I’ve never known such a positive response from voters as we’ve seen for UKIP in this euro-campaign so far. People are not only taking leaflets, but coming up and asking for them. People saying “I won’t take a leaflet, but I’m voting for you anyway”. Or “Keep up the good work, you guys”. It’s heart-warming. We’ve struck a chord. We have the momentum. Sometimes I feel I ought to pinch myself, just to be certain this is real, and not wishful thinking.
Saturday at the Woodland Pytchley point-to-point at Dingley Dell, Northants, was a good example. We took the Battle Bus (which is proving a huge asset), and we had a site that could not have been bettered. Right by the entrance, where everyone coming in saw the back of it with Nigel’s picture, the UKIP logo and the “We’re Following Farage” slogan. We were perpendicular to the main drag, flanked by trade stands, and at the wide end, where everyone walking up and down must see us. On the other side we were hard against the horse-walk, where the horses and grooms go from the horse-box parking area to the paddock. And beyond that were the bookies, and more trade stands.
We had constant interest from the punters, and we used up all of the dedicated “Supporting the Countryside” leaflets we had brought — and for the farmers, we had Stuart Agnew’s excellent booklet on UKIP agriculture policy. Stuart is of course an MEP, our agriculture spokesman, and a farmer. He farms 350 acres in Eastern Region, and has a chicken-and-egg unit. (Ask him which came first — I’m sure I don’t know).
A number of prominent Tories showed up, including MP Brian Binley (whom I’ve know for years), and Northants County Council leader Jim Harker. They were extremely affable, but I’m told that privately local Tories were seething at the fact we were there, and at the prominence we’d achieved. But of course they have only themselves to blame. They would have been perfectly free to take a stand themselves. But the Tory Party takes the countryside vote for granted, so they didn’t see the need.
Perhaps they should. For years, Countryside Alliance members have turned out to campaign for the Tories, hoping to get the hated Hunting Act repealed (or mitigated). I know these people. I’ve campaigned alongside them, and they work harder than many Conservative activists. Yet after election time the Tories send them off with hardly a thank-you, and they have made no moves on the Hunting Act. Many local people we spoke to were thoroughly disillusioned with the Conservative Party, and only too happy to talk to us.
Things are going well, better than I’ve ever experienced before. But we mustn’t be complacent, and we still have lots of work to do in the remaining four weeks. And your East Midlands campaign team is, indeed, working its socks off (a special mention here for Nigel Wicken’s partner Susan, who has been out at just about every event, and has worked like a Trojan). We’re doing a dozen or more public meetings up and down the region, each preceded by a leafleting blitz. These meetings are well attended and successful. And of course we have Nigel Farage coming to our major public event at Pride Park Derby on May 1st (I believe it’s already a sell-out). We’re taking the Battle Bus to town after town, and getting featured in the local press. And our national poster campaign is imminent.
The old parties are in panic mode, and we must be prepared to take more flak. The Times has made itself ridiculous with its relentless attacks on Nigel’s spending. They fail to mention that every one of 750+ MEPs gets exactly the same office expenses, and it’s not an “expenses claim”, it’s a regular allowance. While UKIP looks to the future of our country, I’m told that both Labour and Conservative parties have teams dedicated to digging dirt on UKIP. The Times has been phoning up far-flung UKIP staffers and asking questions about non-incidents from years ago. I’m told that the paper has more mud ready to throw. Listen up for the sound of barrels being scraped. The Thunderer has become the Blunderer.
The public seems to have got the measure of this nonsense. It’s only been raised with me once so far by a member of the public, and his question was “What’s got into the Times? Do they take us for fools?”. Yes Sir. I’m afraid they do.