UKIP Spring 2017 Conference Report
Paul Nuttall attacked a Labour Party that had “nothing in common with working-class people” in a powerful Conference debut as Ukip leader.
Nuttall’s hard-hitting and, at times, rawly emotional oration was the highlight of a Ukip Spring Conference featuring many impassioned and entertaining speakers.
The leader’s speech came at the end of what he acknowledged had been a difficult week. When he referred to the events unfolding in Stoke during the by-election campaign, and the extraordinarily vicious campaign against him by sections of the media, he sounded emotional and bruised. But he remained defiant, promising that Labour “won’t break me and they won’t break Ukip”.
He said the media had asked him, “Does the party still stand behind you?” The question hung in the air for a brief but tantalising moment, before the whole hall rose to its feet in support of the party leader. The question posed had been given a resounding answer.
In policy terms, Nuttall promised that Ukip would now take the fight to Labour on its own ground. Labour was no longer a party of the patriotic working-class, as it had been “hijacked by North London intellectuals”.
With Brexit looming, EU regulations on VAT could be scrapped. Nuttall pledged to campaign for an end to VAT on domestic energy bills, sanitary products and hot takeaway food.
He attacked the “scandal” of the UK paying foreign aid while hospitals couldn’t release patients due to the shortage of residential care places. He promised that Ukip would keep the NHS free at the point of delivery, but pointed to the extraordinary hypocrisy of Labour, which had saddled the service with preposterous PFI debts. As a result, the health service was having to repay debts at “credit card” interest rates.
“Ukip will build council houses,” Nuttall stated forcefully, adding that, while the Right to Buy council houses was a good scheme, the money should have been ring-fenced and reinvested in council housing.
On Brexit, Ukip would act as the backbone of the fight to quit the EU. If the government back-slided on Brexit, “We will be there to hold them to account”, he declared.
The UK also needed to introduce an Aptitude and Attitude test for would-be incomers, asking them if they supported freedom of speech, gender equality and the supremacy of British law.
While Nuttall’s speech was undoubtedly the highlight of Conference at Bolton’s Macron Stadium, there were many other important contributions. Former leader Nigel Farage emphasised the need for Ukip to remain a radical party, and not move into the political centre. He also stressed the vital importance of getting Paul Nuttall elected in Stoke – and the need to get Ukip “boots on the ground” particularly on polling day.
“In Heywood and Middleton [the 2014 by-election], we thought we were going to win until 6pm…” Then Labour managed to mobilise their vote and increase turn-out. This time around, Ukip needed to do exactly that – but needed to get Ukip supporters to Stoke on Thursday to do so. (Readers, please join the campaign on Thursday if you can!)
Deputy leader Peter Whittle made a thoughtful contribution, in which he outlined the problems of a failing system of multi-culturalism. “We have to tackle radical Islam – we can’t pussyfoot around,” he warned.
But we also needed the UK to return to more patriotic values. “For years, the liberal elite has been telling incomers, ‘Don’t try to be like us – we’re pretty terrible’. Ukip has to champion British values, because nobody else will do it.”
He wanted Union flags and pictures of the Queen on display in schools. “We now have to reverse 60 years of systematic deconstruction” of British culture.
With Brexit looming, there are many opportunities for policy change. This was a recurring theme of Conference. Julia Reid (Environment) championed reversing misguided climate change regulations so that energy bills could be reduced.
Ray Finch (Housing), in a humorous but telling speech delivered in fluent Scouse, talked about the need to reduce immigration to ease the pressure on housing. He referred to the ridiculous 50-year housing list in Barking and Dagenham. Councils handing over their housing stock to housing associations had led to “another layer of cost” and fat cat salaries for the association bosses.
William Dartmouth (Trade) emphasised that, with freedom to develop its own trade policies, the UK could impose tariffs to prevent Chinese steel dumping and protect British industry.
Party veteran Gerard Batten (Brexit spokesman, still dapper after 24 years in Ukip), explained exactly how the UK should exit, by repealing the 1972 European Communities Act. “Theresa May is going into the Brexit negotiations with the EU as a supplicant,” he explained. “We should be telling them how we are going to leave, not asking them.”
The best speeches were not all the preserve of the MEP group. London Assembly member David Kurten spoke eloquently of the need to address the UK’s skills shortage, and of the “nonsense” of requiring nurses and policemen to have degrees before they could enter the profession. This was cutting out talented British people, and leaving the UK having to “trawl the world” to get doctors and nurses – a thoroughly unethical practice.
Neil Hamilton, leader of the Ukip group in the Welsh Assembly, gave a comical speech depicting his rivals in Wales – First Minister Carwyn Jones (Labour) and Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood – in rather less than flattering terms. It was difficult to ascertain whether he or Ray Finch made the funniest contribution. What is beyond doubt is that both were very warmly received.
Party chairman Paul Oakden made a strong contribution, highlighting the fact that it was the political Left, who forever campaign against ‘intolerance’, who were more intolerant of any dissenting opinion than anyone else. Ukip was not ‘fascist’, as some claimed – after all, “we don’t even have a militia”, as one sagacious political scientist had observed – and the closest people in Britain to fascists, in attitude, were, in fact, members of the Left.
It’s impossible to name-check all the speakers, but mention should also be made of the contribution of Suzanne Evans (Health). Whatever one may think of her own opinions (some feel she is too moderate for Ukip), what is beyond doubt is that she is an extraordinarily articulate speaker. And she made another tremendous contribution to the Conference.