When the Prime Minister received the news that Mark Reckless was in Doncaster the day before the Tory conference he must have been praying that the Eurosceptic MP had been on the sauce again and in a drunken stupor, got on the wrong train.
The defection of Mr Reckless was an extraordinary ending to an extraordinary conference.
I attended my first UKIP conference last year with the aid of a media pass. You see, last year, there were no corporate passes. This year however, I was informed that the Party have “professionalised” and a corporate pass would be required. You can tell when a political party professionalises because everything becomes more expensive.
With my employer £420 lighter, I was all set for my big UKIP adventure.
2014 proved to be much more of a success than 2013, which was overshadowed by Godfrey’s comments about the female UKIP contingent. With Godfrey on a plane to ‘Bongo Bongo Land’ and a dedicated Michael Crick surveillance team set up, the kippers were ready.
Political conference attendance is pretty straight forward. 50% of the people there have a ‘corporate’ pass and are there for corporate reasons, the other 50% have a ‘party member’ pass and are there for corporate reasons (a party member pass is considerably cheaper).
So imagine my shock when I arrived to find I was a minority. Doncaster Racecourse was full of UKIP party members. FULL!
This isn’t a party conference!
Right, well surely they were there for corporate reasons.
These fine kippers were here because they believe in their party. They were full of enthusiasm, full of admiration for Mr Farage and excited about the future.
This isn’t a party conference!
People have woken up to the fact that UKIP need to be taken seriously as the largest UK political party in the European Parliament. Rural campaigners and Christian organisations who have been betrayed by Dave’s Conservatives were openly engaging with UKIP.
Were the delegates ‘fruitcakes and loonies’? Some, maybe but that is part and parcel of any political conference. What was interesting was the diversity (I hate that word) of the conference. White and black, young and old, British born and foreign born, Doncaster racecourse would have delighted even Harriet Harperson.
There was a large contingent of pretty young things involved in the youth branch, YI (Young Independence). I assumed these photogenic UKIP enthusiasts were involved to further political ambitions however many of them had no interest in becoming a politician. “I want to join the RAF” said one. “I want to start my own business” said another.
I will not deceive you – it was not all harmony.
There were a number of party members I spoke to, including some prospective parliamentary candidates, who have serious concerns at UKIPs lack of detailed policy. In order to secure wavering Labour and Tory votes, UKIP do need more substance. One senior MEP conceded that UKIP will not win the 2015 general election which is all the more reason to push out some populist policies.
I met some party members back at the hotel bar and discussed the ban on hunting. I was on the panel at a Countryside Alliance event earlier in the day and thought that hunting would be a safe bet with a distinguished UKIP gentleman from a rural area. “I am completely opposed to hunting” he said.
These kippers are full of surprises!
I had a drink with an elder party member who had never been a member of a political party before UKIP. They asked whether I would remain a member of the Conservative Party. “Yes” I said. “But I can’t stand Cameron, the Party is no longer conservative, and I will not be campaigning for them in the 2015 election.” “Well, why the hell are you a member” he retorted.
“I’m going to get a drink” I said. Nobody likes a smart ass.
Nigel arrived at the hotel bar late on the Friday evening for a beer. I asked him if he was happy with the way conference had gone. “It has been great” he said. He looked delighted.
Now I know why.
Dave/Ed/Nick can only dream of the grassroots support Nigel has achieved.
When Dave makes his key speech on Wednesday, there will be no defector standing by his side to delight the crowd. The best the Prime Minister can hope for is that he doesn’t lose another MP to UKIP between now and then.