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by GK Strategy 30th September, 2013
3 min read

UKIP Conference Round-Up

This was the first UKIP conference since the party’s groundbreaking results in the local elections in May, earning a quarter of the votes cast. Activists wanted to celebrate UKIP’s claimed transition to “third party” status, after constituently polling higher than the Liberal Democrats. However, the conference was somewhat overshadowed this year by (now independent) MEP Godfrey Bloom’s antics at the ‘Women in UKIP’ fringe event, followed by his confrontation with Michael Crick.

The party is potentially on its way to second or even first place in the forthcoming European elections next May, with Nigel Farage looking to use this as a platform for the party to launch its campaign for the General Election in 2015, when UKIP hopes to finally gain itself a prized Westminster seat.

Nigel Farage reminded the Conference of the party’s influence among those in power, with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties having both adopted UKIP policies since 2010, such as an in-out referendum on the EU, border interviews for immigrants and taking minimum wage earners out of income tax altogether.

Not Just Europe

This year’s conference was the prime opportunity for convincing the media, activists, and other politicians that UKIP is not simply about leaving the EU. In order for the party to keep up its momentum and to have even a chance at winning a seat in the next General Election, one of its biggest goals (other than leaving the EU), is to make sure it has well-developed policies on tax, the economy, education, energy, and health.

Arguably one of the few policies not driven by the party’s intense dislike of the European Union is that of reinstating grammar schools. UKIP hope to make this one of its key policies for next year’s local elections, as the party’s Deputy Leader and education spokesman Paul Nuttall MEP confirmed in a speech during which he claimed that UKIP want to end “school selection by house price”.  Judging by the riotous reception this policy received, it will be one which will unite both young and old in the party, putting even more pressure on Conservative backbenchers unhappy with the Prime Minister’s stance on selective education.

Another key policy announcement was the party’s overwhelming support for the fracking of shale gas. Roger Helmer MEP, UKIP’s energy spokesperson, attempted to dispel “myths” created by “eco-warriors” on the dangers of fracking, and stated that it would become party policy to support the creation of a British Sovereign Wealth Fund based on shale gas, similar to Norway’s funds from North Sea Oil.

Freedom

One of the major policy speeches was given by non-UKIP member Mark Littlewood, the Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Although a former Director of Communications for the Lib Dems, his speech, on the importance of a small state, was well received by conference, adding that UKIP could really tap into a demographic who believes in free trade, the free market and civil liberties.  It remains to be seen whether this would expand or eradicate UKIP’s appeal, but the fringe event held by the IEA was overflowing.

What next for UKIP?

UKIP conference was a unique experience, clearly different from attending any of the three main parties’ conferences.

As UKIP gains more media attention and undergoes further scrutiny from the other parties, it must now attempt to develop policies which will convince businesses to join and speak up about the many benefits of leaving the EU, which will still allow the UK to be an outward looking and truly global country, as echoed by Nigel Farage in his keynote speech. This will be easier said than done, given widespread business disapproval, including from powerful bodies such as the CBI, on what they perceive as UKIP’s isolationist approach to trade.

Nigel Farage has made it clear that he wishes the party to become more professional, and the increased vetting of its MEP candidates should ensure that this happens, avoiding any more blunders by its elected officials. However, it is also vital for UKIP success that it does not support only the kind of “elite focus grouped politicians” for which its members hold so much disdain.

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