UKIP formally launched their EU campaign in the South East of England this evening, with a rally that filled the Portsmouth Guildhall.
With Eastleigh currently one of the focal points of the UKIP campaign, following UKIPs breakthrough in the 2013 Eastleigh by-election, Eastleigh News travelled to Portsmouth to see what was happening.
On arrival at the Guildhall, we were greeted by a small but vociferous protest. This comprised the local branches of various political parties and Trade Unions. Anybody entering the Guildhall to attend the rally was subjected to a tirade of abuse from the protestors, who regarded that as an acceptable thing to do and were clearly well rehearsed in these tactics.
Because of the protest, Police were very evident in the Guildhall Square, but always in appropriate numbers and responding flexibly to the changing dynamics of the situation. Their presence quickly increased when the EDL arrived to confront the Socialist Workers party, but the Police presence reduced when protestors followed Police instructions and the confrontation dispersed.
Eastleigh News had mixed fortunes, with Ray successfully getting inside the rally whilst Stephen and his shedload of camera equipment was refused entry. We subsequently learned that all recording of the meeting had been prohibited, with Nigel Farage reporting to the audience that this was because the Portsmouth Lib Dems had refused permission for any recording.
The meeting opened with Mike Fitzgerald, the UKIP PPC for Portsmouth North welcoming the audience and requesting that there should be no flash photography whilst people were on stage. To enforce the restriction, there were plenty of ‘heavies’ around the auditorium, who politely asked anybody who did try to sneak a picture to refrain from doing so.
Mike Fitzgerald then introduced the four main UKIP candidates for the S.E region, one by one, with each taking the opportunity to speak to the Audience.
First up was Hampshire County Councillor, Ray Finch. In his speech, he said;
It’s brilliant to see so many people here today, who want to listen to the words of freedom, because that’s what we’re about. It’s about the freedom to make our own way in the world, about freedom to make our own solutions, right or wrong, it’s about being what want to be, a free independent sovereign nation. That’s why you’re here, that’s why we’re here and that’s why we’re asking you to support us on May 22nd and in the following General Election.
Next up was Diane James, former UKIP candidate in the Eastleigh by-election and a UKIP Councillor on Waverly Borough Council In her speech she said;
Ladies and gentlemen. You are going to be our ambassadors for the next few weeks. I don’t anticipate that the attacks are going to stop, they must have a little more ammunition to throw at us, but they don’t seem to realise that it doesn’t work any more. That the voters out there, they don’t care any more. They see through the smears, they see through the attacks, but what they do see is a group of individuals, from backgrounds that are not the political class, that actually want to deliver the best for this country.
And the best for this country ladies & Gentlemen, is leaving the European Union, being friends with Europe, but not being controlled by the European commission.
Thirdly was Janice Atkinson, who was introduced as a writer for the Daily Mail and Daily Express and Chairman of UKIP South East. In her speech she said.
In 2010 I stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Conservative party.
When I fought a key marginal, in West Yorkshire, I wasn’t allowed to talk about three issues: the EU, immigration and grammar schools.
What I really, really objected to most of all, was not being allowed to talk about immigration. Now the Lib-Lab-Con had got together and had decided that immigration was not the big issue. But it was an issue in my constituency. The tragedy of not being able to talk about immigration was that the BNP, the vile BNP, didn’t get just one vote. They didn’t campaign in my constituency at all. They got 4,500 votes and they stopped me going to Parliament.
Shortly afterwards, I saw the light and joined UKIP.
I tell you its much more fun with Farage…
As the audience found out for themselves when Nigel Farage finally took to the stage.
Farage covered many points, succesfully entertaining and inspiring the audience in his usual affable style. He received a couple of standing ovations, but particularly well received was a pledge to reverse the decline of Portsmouth, with Farage saying;
It is a huge pleasure to be here in Portsmouth.
And when you think about all this City represents, Portsmouth, the home of the Royal Navy. A place where we’ve got not just the Victory, but Warrior and everything else. But isn’t it very sad, that in the last four years, under a coalition Government, they’ve turned Portsmouth from an active working naval dockyard, into being a museum city.
That is something that one day, a UKIP Government needs to reverse…
There was only one significant heckler ejected from the meeting and when a show of hands was asked for, it was established that approximately 45% of the audience were not currently members of UKIP.
Interestingly, although the protesters outside included the obvious suspects, the Portsmouth Conservatives were also seen leafleting anybody that they possibly could.
I spoke to Flick Drummond, the Conservative PPC for Portsmouth South at the next election, who said;
It’s a very noisy presence from the Socialist Workers. We had a big street stall here earlier on. About 20 of us were out. They brought Nigel Farage up to meet us, it was quite a barn-fight, I can tell you.
If they’re here we’re here too, as we also want to get our message across.
We see them every week. We have a street stall every week and they’re on the other side the street. We love it because they go ‘Bring in the Bulgarians and the Romanians and keep out the Etonians’ . What’s really funny is that people are signing their thing, then coming to us and saying ‘we don’t like immigration’…
I say ‘do you realise that you’ve just signed something to bring in the Bulgarians and Romanians…?’
But this is politics and everybody has their own point of view and you have to respect people’s point of view.
The Conservative party are broad-church and we listen to other people, we listen to other people and we just get on with it. I’m running a very positive campaign.
When asked if the Conservatives were worried about the threat from UKIP, Flick replied;
We’ll we see how it turns out at the Euro elections. I don’t know their candidate in Portsmouth South, but I’ve been working here for six years, quite hard. I do a lot of community projects and I think people realise that’s important to them. I’m certainly getting a lot of very good feedback. I don’t know how UKIP are going to do, but I’m not particularly interested.
A lot of people have said to us that they might vote UKIP in the Euro’s but will be voting Conservative in 2015 because they don’t want to see a Labour Government back again. We have to win this seat to be able to ensure that we have a Conservative Government, not a coalition a proper one..
Ray concluded by asking what would be the problem with a Labour Government, to which Flick replied;
What isn’t the problem? If you look at the last Labour Government and what it did to the country, there was a massive deficit, far too much Government spending.
We’re really putting the country back on its feet, which we have historically done each time the Labour party have spent, spent, spent. It’s all very nice to spend on lots of projects, but we can’t afford it as a country. Each time the Conservatives put the country back economically.
I hope the public will look at figures and see how well we’re doing, see how well the economy is doing and vote for us…
You can hear the interview, complete with background noise, by playing the following track.