Yesterday evening the Leadership Hustings came to Wales. I was reminded of the song ‘99 bottles of beer on the wall’: having started out with seven prospective candidates on July 30th, there were now only four sitting on the podium. I won’t retell the Woolfe saga. Also, by now most of you know that Jonathan Arnott MEP has stepped down from the running, and those who’ve been to other hustings have reported that Diana James was absent. She was not present last evening either. That, and the fact that she is doing her own round of hustings, starting tonight, was not at all well received by the members I spoke to, nor were certain MEPs impressed by it. After the hustings, I was told several times that this would definitely cost her votes.

Thus the remaining four – not a gang! – on the podium were, in order of speaking,  Lisa Duffy, Liz Jones, Bill Etheridge and Phillip Broughton.

The format of the event was as described by other readers: a five minute introductory statement from each of the candidates; answers in turn on written questions from the audience, and a three-minute closing statement.

It’s not only us members who found this format – ordered by Head Office –  not fit for purpose. The candidates themselves do so as well. Mike Hookem MEP, who supports Bill Etheridge, told me that they’d written to Head Office asking to change it, but answer there came none …

It was a respectable audience, of around 100 members, and those of us who came early used the opportunity to greet and chat with old friends and those ‘new’ AMs (Welsh Assembly Members) who attended. Candidates were relieved so many had turned up – in Scotland there had been only ten.

Onto the nitty-gritty then! It was remarkable how each candidate, in a more or less blatant fashion, had tailored their starting statement to the Welsh members. While it was certainly flattering to hear from them how wonderfully well we had done in Wales, and if elected how they would support Wales UKIP with more funding, we felt it was nice electioneering but no more than that.

I won’t go into the particular statements – starting and closing – of the four candidates, because I did manage to speak to all of them, reminding them that we, members and readers, do want them to lay out their stalls for us here on UKIP Daily. Each one of them promised to do so in the next few days. It is understandable that they didn’t have much time to do so already because they’ve been haring up and down the country, from England and Scotland to NI and Wales for the hustings. So we’ll see, and I will hold their feet to the fire …!

The questions from the audience – ranging from what they’re going to do about Brexit to how they propose to lead the Party, what to do about Foreign Aid, and Party finances – and the candidates’  answers were illuminating.

Good use was made of ‘trigger’ expressions like ‘direct democracy’, without going into particulars nor explaining what they mean by it.

Phillip Broughton again and again reiterated how ‘we must change our tone’, without clarifying how and why. Liz Jones kept insisting forcefully that UKIP should now be all about going to Westminster. Lisa Duffy emphasised her previous organisatorial experience and Bill Etheridge got much applause for his strong insistence that the elected leader must listen to the members.

I’m sad to say that generally the candidates’  answers were, well, a bit fluffy, although many questions didn’t demand more than a waffling reply. The candidates sounded good but did not exactly go beyond electioneering phrases used to elicit applause. Quite a few times I had the impression that some of them were addressing the London media rather than us.

One question however showed them up. The well-known member, also a contributor to UKIP Daily, Hugh Moelwyn Hughes asked how the candidates proposed to improve Party Finances. This question is of interest to all UKIP members, not just the Welsh ones. The candidates’ answers illustrated the points I made above about fluffiness, trigger words and posturing while not giving particulars. Briefly, from the notes I took and in the order they spoke, they answered thus:

Liz Jones: ‘restructure the Party – direct democracy – get new donors – seduce the wealthy people to give us money – hope and pray for new donors.’

Bill Etheridge: ‘don’t overspend – must understand our ‘business’ – make savings e.g. by moving Party Headquarters to the North – must not get into a position where the Party becomes the plaything of one rich person.’

Phillip Broughton: ‘a broader message – must change tone of message.’

Lisa Duffy: ‘have a unified Party people want to donate to – not make mistakes of current directors – must give offers to donors.’

I believe you can all make up your own minds as to which candidates answer was the least fluffy and the most sensible!

Generally, were the attending members impressed by the answers they received on their questions, from Brexit to Foreign Aid to what to do about the Welsh Steel Industry? Their applause was polite and only rose when a candidate went into particulars – difficult when only given a couple of minutes, I grant you, but those were the rules and they applied to all. So the answer is: not really very much!

I leave it to the candidates to enlarge on my report in their own statement articles, which they promised to deliver, and therefore won’t steal their thunder here. We’ll see how their articles  compare to the notes I took!

Let me close with the one point which got the most thunderous applause. It was made by Bill Etheridge only: he’d work to privatise the BBC. Yes, we really did like that, and how!

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