Thirty years ago, with much fanfare, the founding conference of UKIP took place at the London School of Economics with a very mixed audience of over 500 in attendance. This weekend, the 30th anniversary conference, again with much fanfare, was held in a former cinema in Newport, south Wales, but with only 65 in attendance, the vast majority over the age of 60.
The event had to relocate to the Neon, Newport when the original venue in Swansea decided to cancel the booking. As it was, the party’s officers and employees (who comprised around 15 of the total audience) were locked inside the Neon building till the start time of 9.30 out of an unfounded fear of possible counterdemonstrators outside. And a series of embarrassing technical glitches (courtesy of the UKIP surrogate Voice of Wales) meant that the whole thing was rather late starting anyway.
The Voice of Wales tech team, Dan Morgan and Stan Robinson – an embarrassing shambles
VoW did not exactly cover themselves in technical glory throughout the day: the live stream they provided (£10 a time on Zoom) was pretty much unwatchable and almost entirely unlistenable.
UKIP youth wing: almost the entire membership of Students Against Tyranny (sic) including (far left) Sydney Jones, speaker and Tommy Robinson chum, James Harvey, Christopher Cousins and Jack Thomson
Addressing the faithful was a small group of right-wing proselytisers: Viscount Christopher Monckton, the climate denier and advocate of the anti-net zero Car26 group, James Harvey of the ill-named Students Against Tyranny, and party luminaries: charman Ben Walker, deputy chair Rebecca Jane (now known as ‘Barbie Jane’ by increasing numbers of unimpressed member), the virulently anti-Islamic Anne Marie Waters, and Leader Neil (‘Liar and Cheat’) Hamilton. And, of course, there was Robin Tilbrook, leader of the English Democrats who are currently hopping into bed with UKIP in the guise of the jointly launched Patriots Alliance.
According to one of Searchlight’s sources, Ben Walker seemed oddly nervous throughout the proceedings. This may have something to so with the controversy around the JP title which he has recently started to append to his name, and which is now the subject of a number of enquiries to the Ministry of Justice. Magistrates, of course, are supposed to be people in whom the public can have total trust – whether this might be true of a man only four years ago was convicted of a string of building regulation offences, fined £11,000 by Bristol Magistrates and branded a “rogue builder” by the local press is a matter to which the Ministry will, we are sure, have given the most careful consideration.
It goes without saying that Walker would, of course, have declared the conviction when applying for his seat on the bench…
His defence, when this was raised by the Welsh Nation.Cymru news agency just before the conference, was a touch fanciful: these were not real convictions, apparently, just fines: “I was fined. Never convicted. If I was convicted, I would have a police/court record. I don’t…”
Clearly, he has some way to go before he successfully completes his magistrate’s training.
The guest speaker who stood out from the pack, however, was Alexander Wiesner of the far right AfD (Alternative for Germany) Party, currently giving much cause for concern in Germany where they are enjoying certain electoral successes. They plainly do not have their finger on the pulse of the British far right, however, or they wouldn’t waste their time with a deadbeat outfit like UKIP.
By the time party leader Neil Hamilton wrapped up his speech at the end of the day, the audience had thinned out even more: the party activists, who throughout had been segregated in the upper tier, were down from around 50 to a mere 25. And who could blame them…
The question, of course, is why on earth do they struggle on, when they could just wind up the whole miserable enterprise and join Reform UK, or even the deranged Laurence Fox’s Reclaim Party. And the answer, of course, is the gravy train of legacies which is coming down the track as wealthy, ageing loyalists die, and their wills are read…