UKIP launched their by-election campaign in Eastleigh this morning, having officially announced Diane James as their candidate yesterday.
The press conference was filmed in the old Julian Graves Store in Market Street, which has been transformed into the UKIP campaign HQ for the duration of the next couple of weeks.
At that conference, UKIP party leader Nigel Farage explained how Eastleigh is special to UKIP and to him personally, as it is where he and the party first stood in a Parliamentary Campaign, beating Lord Sutch by 169 votes. Mr Farage added that he had considered standing in Eastleigh again and had found the idea an attractive proposition, but had decided to “grow up” and concentrate on his job as party leader.
Diane James, the UKIP candidate for Eastleigh, explained how the selection process was a tough challenge, not just because of the tight timescale that had been forced upon them but because of the quality of the candidates that she had been in competition with, during the selection process, adding that it was an honour to be selected to represent Eastleigh.
The press conference revealed that UKIP plan to make immigration a campaign issue, with Nigel Farage at pains to explain very carefully how Romanians and Bulgarians becoming eligible to enter the UK on 1st January next year was a threat to the UK. He chose his words very carefully and his comments drew a round of applause from the UKIP members/supporters that were present.
Speaking to Diane James after the press conference, Eastleigh News asked whether specifically highlighting the problem with Romanians and Bulgarians was a risk to the UKIP campaign. Would being so explicit, focusing on people from certain countries only, turn-off voters..? Its a more general problem with uncontrolled immigration from the EU isn’t it…?
Diane James hesitated for a split second, then openly responded;
We have absolutely nothing whatsoever against any particular group from any country, but the rules are changing next year and that will allow an fresh influx of people from Romania and Bulgaria to enter the UK, to seek work and claim benefits. There’s plenty of evidence in countries such as Germany to show the problems that such immigration can cause with employment, crime etc. The issue is relevant to the UK and it is appropriate to raise it as an issue in this by-election campaign.
When asked about why she is documented as being an Independent on the Waverley Borough Council website, Diane James explained;
I feel that at that local level it is inappropriate to take the party line, but I’ll have to review that in the next Borough election.
Then asked if she had any connection to the Conservatives or been a member of the Conservatives, Diane James replied;
I have never been a member of the Conservatives. Other members of my family have been and some still are. The Conservatives have also made overtures to me, but I have declined.
Finally, when asked how well she knows Eastleigh, Diane James explained that she knows the area well. She is a regular visitor here on business and also passes through the Airport from time to time.
Interestingly, there was a Big Issue seller working directly opposite this mornings events in Market Street, clearly bemused by the unusual goings-on around him and not really understanding what UKIP are about, or their policies towards immigration.
Although happy to talk to the BBC and Eastleigh News, the UKIP members, suporters, candidate and party leader that were milling around all seemed to ignore this EU citizen, nobody from UKIP seemed inclined to enquire of or listen to his side of the story…
Other notable goings-on at the launch event this morning included a mobile hoarding travelling through Market Street, to remind everybody that tommorrow (13th Feb) is the last to day to register to vote in the election. It disrupted some of the procedings, though it was not entirely clear who had hijacked who…
And the fast-food shop that is situated next to the UKIP campaign offices in Eastleigh, besides being handy for the inevitable late nights at UKIP campaign HQ, provided some great photo opportunities…