In August I was voted top of UKIP's list of candidates in the North West by party members. Although honoured that they had put such trust in me I felt distinctly uneasy. Within a week I had made the decision to stand down and resign as the party's Regional Organiser for the North West. Many people have asked why.
Until 2004 I had never voted, let alone participated, in a European election. I followed the Powellite path that voting in their elections only gave them a veneer of legitimacy. In 2004 UKIP had a leader who I trusted, a party chairman who I trusted and a lead candidate in the North West who I trusted, so I accepted and followed the party line.
The party position was, and still is, that taking seats in the European parliament deprived a Europhile a seat. That seats in the European parliament would open doors to mass media coverage. That taking seats in the European parliament would attract the resources to really fight, and start winning, Westminster elections.
I had close friends in UKIP who, even then, would not campaign in the European elections on principle. I respected their views but felt that we had no alternative. So what has happened since 2004 for me to change my position on Euro elections?
Since 2004 our results in local elections, and parliamentary elections, have not improved. There have been isolated good results such as Hartlepool but, coming in the immediate wake of the 2004 Euro elections, we would really have had to try hard to get a poor result there. The final nails in the coffin of that argument were the Crewe and Nantwich and Henley by-elections where we got just over 2% in both. Results that were as bad, if not worse, than pre-1999 when UKIP had no MEPs.
Depriving a Europhile a seat, and gaining mass media coverage, are virtually the same argument. Even friends who are pro-EU admit that the role of MEP is virtually worthless with no power and little influence. As a consequence the media have little interest in covering the work of MEPs, preferring to remain ensconced in the Westminster political village. Therefore MEPs stoop to coming out with outrageous comments to gain a cheap headline, losing the party credibility with the wider public, or end up pleased to have appeared on some obscure satellite channel politics show at 4-00am watched by a handful of insomniacs.
I said in my speeches at the hustings meetings that the party had become too Brussels focussed and that we needed to look closely at our future direction. One possible scenario in June 2009 is that UKIP may find itself with a massively reduced number of MEPs, possibly back to the 1999 level of three. That may be the doomsday scenario to some, but let's look at the political scene now compared to October 2003.
In 2003 the Tories were down on their uppers, unfit for local government let alone Downing Street. Labour were still riding high and less than two years away from another general election victory. Unbelievably Blair could still do no wrong. The Tories were led by the uninspiring Michael Howard, who always had the air of a stop gap leader, never that of a Prime Minister to be.
These circumstances led to a huge protest vote by Tories against their party in the 2004 Euro elections, which gave UKIP a huge boost. And, sad to say, the UKIP vote was also boosted by the Kilroy factor. The Euro was also a big issue at the time and prompted many people, from all parts of the spectrum, to vote 'against the EU and the Euro' by voting UKIP.
As things stand in June 2009 the Labour party will still be led by Gordon Brown, one of the most unpopular and lacklustre Prime Ministers in living memory, and that includes John Major! Even if they have a change of leader before then it will still be seen as the second unelected Prime Minister Labour have foisted upon us, either way they will remian unpopular. Blair's wow factor has well and truly gone. Next year it is likely to be Labour supporters who protest vote against their own party, and they won't vote for what they see as a Tory Party MK II. And there is no Euro factor now for UKIP, having chosen to leave the fight against the Lisbon Treaty to others will have serious repercussions next June.
Tory supporters are unlikely to do anything to slow down or stop a Tory Party currently managing, somehow, to build a level of electoral credibility and the image of a party preparing for government. There will be hard core Tory Eurosceptics who will vote UKIP, but by and large the Tory vote will remain loyal to adminster a further kick in the guts to Gordon Brown, or his successor.
The third voter category is the floater with no real party loyalty but who votes pragmatically. My guess is that next year they will also want to administer a serious blow to an increasingly unpopular Labour government. Their idea by doing that will be to warn him that in a real election he will be out. So they too will signal that by voting Tory next June, knowing that the Tories will not actually be forming a government as a result of their protest.
Part of the problem for UKIP in 2004 was that most of us were taken by surprise at the scale of the success, there was almost a 'what do we do now?' feeling in the party in the immediate aftermath. In my view the party should now be having serious discussions on what the response should be if what I have described is indeed the scenario after June 2009.
Over the last couple of years I have believed ever more strongly that our position should be to either not fight European elections or, if we do and win, that we should refuse to take our seats. That may be a radical departure from the current path but, in my view, is the one that will garner us the most popular support. Even then that would be seriously hindered if the leadership does not start taking seriously the whole range of policies that members, through working groups, have worked so hard to produce. The last ten years have proven, if proof were needed, that single issue parties create a protest when the time is right, but no lasting political achievement
However with the current leadership, people making such suggestions are more likely to be labelled 'nutters' than to be listened to as sincere people with the party's interests at heart. Even if their views do not dovetail exactly with those of the leader it is healthy, in a democratic party, for alternative views to be looked at and considered. That is politics.
I hope that this post will also allay rumours that I withdrew because of 'poor health and a lack of energy' or 'because I only expected to come third', as one rumour merchant has suggested. My health has never been better and I always fight to win.