An audience of almost 100 people were faced by several of the candidates:

Peter Whittle, the establishment candidate
Anne-Marie Waters, the Muslim expert
Neville Watson for JRE who was unable to attend following the death of his father
Aidan Powlesland, the economist
Marion Mason, the nurse
David Kurten, the teacher
Jane Collins, the MEP
And former contender David Allen, who has thrown his support behind Henry Bolton

Ben Walker did not attend; no explanation was available but Jane Collins read a script from him.

Initially, each candidate was allowed three minutes to state his case. This was followed by a Q&A session and a round-up at the end.

Peter Whittle started by admitting the party “is is in a bit of a bad way at the moment”. “Firstly, we have to have a major reorganisation of how this party is run, secondly we have to make sure there is never again any standing aside in constituencies, thirdly we have to restablish the links between the central party and all the local associations because it has broken down.”

Anne-Marie Waters agreed. “The party seems to be reinvigorated,” she said, “but I don’t think it is good enough to talk about politics and political machinery, we should talk about the party as it does need reform.” She spoke about the bigger and smaller pictures. “The bigger picture involves the EU which was designed as a power grab, to remove people’s say over their own lives and their own countries. When we drive home this message and link it with the mass immigration that is transforming Europe, only then will we keep public opinion high enough to make Brexit happen.”

Standing in for John Rees-Evans, Neville Watson claimed John is the ‘natural leader of this party’. He praised the other candidates for ‘putting their heads above the parapet’. “Its not easy to be leader of any party,” he said, “and at the end of this we are a team because that’s the only way to go forward. We have been on the pitch when no one else was. We fought a lone battle and won, and we can do it again.”

Jane Collins then read a piece on behalf of the absent Ben Walker. Ben joined the navy following his A levels and served in Portsmouth, taking a tour of the Falkland Islands. In 2003 he left the services and has been a member of UKIP since 2011. He claimed to have ‘huge drive and ambition and was ready and willing to tackle the challenges ahead’. “The party is going through an extremely difficult time at the moment with no real sense of purpose or direction. This needs to change. I want to return this party to its base; you the members should have a louder voice and more empowerment.”

Aiden Powlesland told the meeting that he did not think the electorate cares what we do in the party. “What matters is how we stand in the electorate’s eyes. We want to be a party for wealth creation.” He said as leader he would reduce the burden of taxation of British industry and he also wanted free trade. “We declare that we will buy whatever we can get for the best price,” he said. He called for a reduction in the welfare budget by 43 percent, which would save £114bn, and proposed a £25bn increase in defence.

Marion Mason told the meeting she has been a member of the party since 2008 after being increasingly concerned with Europe. She described herself as a grassroots member and said she wanted UKIP to build and go forward. “Some of our members no longer think we’re fit for purpose,” she said. “We are needed more than ever. Brexit means Brexit and we want the party to more to the central ground, a political party that will go forward.”

London Assembly member David Kurtenjoined UKIP five years ago and spoke about an incident outside Parliament when he had a Union Flag in front of a pro-EU demonstration. “They were annoyed,” he said. “My photographer said we won the referendum, we’re coming out of the EU. They said with absolute sincerity no, we’re going to keep you in.” He pointed out that there are people within the establishment who are determined to take away the freedom we have won so we have to keep Brexit at the top of our agenda.

Jane Collins described her life as an MEP in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire and said the role of the party leader was to provide political direction and stability, not to become distracted by administration. “As leader, I will put together a new team of professional people who will each have their defined roles and will be answerable to a new, reformed NEC.” She said her campaign has three issues – messaging, and she has the ability to get a message across in bite-sized chunks, campaigning, and she would go to the branches to discuss election material and train canvassers, and fundraising. “You have to attract personal donors,” she said, adding: “This is the most important election you will ever vote on. If you get this wrong, UKIP is finished.”

For Henry Bolton, David Allen said he began as a candidate but made a decision to step down and support Henry. “This is about leadership,” he said. “We did badly in the General Election of 2017, we now have to bring ourselves back. The leader has to resonate and connect with the membership and the public.” He outlined Henry’s leadership qualities and experience and added: “Henry has an exceptional background which is why I’m backing him to lead the party.”

There then followed a question and answer session which covered questions on the working class, the two-party hold on the media, getting out of the EU, migration, the one thing that would be changed with the party, spokesmen, MEP’s party donations, the young vote and second home ownership.

Each candidate or representative was then given a couple of minutes to sum up his thoughts.

Organiser Jack Smith was pleased with the turnout, especially as the arrangements were completed within a week, but some of the audience were less than impressed. One attendee said he had found the debate very interesting and had been in favour of one of the contenders but now was in the process of changing his mind. “I now have to have a careful think,” he added. “I would have like to have seen John Rees-Evans but understand he was unable to come.”

Another attendee was also unimpressed. “To be honest I thought there were a lot of people there who were there to offer soundbites. I thought that some of them just didn’t have the leadership qualities I would want. Two of the candidates were impressive but one of those had former links with organisations that I don’t think we should have any involvement with.”

See also

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