I was in Brussels on Thursday morning (Feb 5th), and flew back in the afternoon. More or less immediately I was on my way to our East Midlands regional meeting, which this time was taking place at the Woodhouse Arms in Corby Glen, near Grantham. I can vouch for the fact that they do great fish & chips.
I am also reliably informed that Corby Glen is in Lincolnshire, despite an NG postcode.
When I joined UKIP in 2012 there was a great deal of enthusiasm, but perhaps not too much organisation. So it is very gratifying to see the emerging professionalism of the party and the region today, as we approach the General Election, under the able regional chairmanship of Alan Graves — though to be fair I think most regions could tell a similar story. We had reports from Regional Organisers and County Reps, together with a very promising review of the appointment of candidates. We expect a full slate in the region for the General Election, and a very satisfactory rate for local candidates.
In one sense it’s got more difficult. It used to be easy to find “paper candidates” to ensure that at least we had a presence on the ballot paper, even in wards we had no hope of winning. But the progress of the Party is such that there are few such wards remaining. So the concept of a paper candidate is rather falling by the wayside.
On Friday I met Douglas Carswell at the Leicester Station mid-afternoon, and we set off on the forty-mile drive to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, where Douglas was to open the very smart new UKIP election office, the work of our Mansfield candidate Sid Pepper. We hadn’t fully taken account of the Friday afternoon traffic, so we arrived rather late, as the media pack were starting to shuffle their feet and considering whether to pack up. But we were just in time, and the report made the regional TV that evening. The Party is lucky to have Sid Pepper as a candidate. He’s a local man and well known and liked in the town. In addition to local support for the Party, Sid will pull in a significant personal vote.
Then back in the car, and down the A38 to Lichfield, where Douglas and I were to speak in the Guildhall in support of Lichfield candidate John Rackham. This was the evening when Nigel Farage ran into some little local difficulties with protesters and hooligans in Rotherham, and we’d seen rumours on social media of something similar in Lichfield. But in the end no trouble materialised, apart from a single Green in the meeting who appeared to think that the right to free speech included the right to shout over everyone else.
Candidate John Rackham is the long-standing landlord of the King’s Head, the oldest pub in Lichfield, dating from 1408. This is the very pub where the Staffordshire Regiment was first formed in 1705. Again, we are fortunate to have a candidate who is well known and well liked in the constituency. The splendid Guildhall, with its hammer-beam roof, gothic windows and stained glass, was packed for the event, which had been well publicised ahead of time by the local branch in leaflets and press advertising. We had upwards of 150 people in the packed hall. The level of interest and enthusiasm was heart-warming. Could the old parties fill that Guildhall for a public meeting? I suspect not.
John talked about local issues, and the opportunity for real change. I spoke about my specialist subject — energy — in the context of an example of “membership of the EU making us poorer”. And Douglas delivered a rousing key-note speech about the failure of the old parties to get a grip on the issues that really concern voters on the doorstep. The meeting was well-received.
I guess this is what it’s going to be like until May 7th. And in the wee small hours of May 8th, I suspect that the political establishment is in for some big surprises.