- JRE wants “total independence from all forms of anti-democratic imposition”
- Would be happy to work with fellow leadership contenders
- Wants 100,000 members by next year
- Hopeful to bring Steven Woolfe back to the party
The last 12 months have been of differing fortunes for the UK Independence Party. 2016 saw their long-term goal of Britain voting to withdraw from the European Union achieved, but since then there has been little to celebrate. In the immediate wake of the Brexit vote, leader Nigel Farage resigned, they then elected a new leader – Diane James – who quit 18 days into the job, and so they then sought another election, which was won by Farage’s long-term Deputy, Paul Nuttall. Nuttall quit the day after this June’s General Election, where UKIP polled just over half-a-million votes, not only down on 2015’s impressive 4million votes, but down on the 2010 election too. Sources within the party have told me that Nuttall was perhaps “the worst party leader in political history”.
Tragic, really, given that during the election he eventually won, fellow candidate John Rees-Evans declared that they party’s top brass were treating the election as “a decorous coronation” for Nuttall. During that election, Rees-Evans spoke to us several times and convinced New Media Central that he was the candidate to endorse. Rees-Evans has once again spoken to us just days before he discovers whether he has on this occasion won the race to lead the party. Baring the slogan “Be The Government”, Rees-Evans has continued to campaign with a platform of Direct Democracy within the party, and several sources have told me that he stands a good chance of winning.
New Media Central’s interview with John Rees-Evans was recorded last week. Due to technical problems, a transcript of the interview will be available below the link in case listeners may miss any of Mr Rees-Evans’s answers.
Jack Smith: In the last leadership contest, you decided to withdraw from the hustings events and went on your own tour across Britain. On this occasion, you have done all the hustings events that you have been able to attend.
John Rees-Evans: Last time, they were essentially choreographed. The way the rules were drawn-up to us made debating impossible. I was critisised having a debate with Suzanne Evans (fellow leadership candidate) on LBC radio. I didn’t insult her personally, as people know that wouldn’t be in my nature. What I did do was critisise her stance on something, and was subsequently told there was 13 complaints for it. People sanitised things that they thought people would want to hear without having a proper debate.
JS: So the hustings on this occasion have been conducted better?
JRE: It’s totally organic. No interference whatsoever – we’ve been totally allowed to get on with it.
JS: When you toured Britain last time, you engaged with many members across Britain. Do you think what you did there will help you this time?
JRE: I think so, yes. I had something like 28 public meetings over two weeks. In politics, people have short memories. They’re used to people changing tact when it’s convenient to do so. What I did last time may not necessarily carry over into this election, even though my stances are the same.
JS: This elections sees a lot more candidates than the previous one. Would you be willing to work with the fellow candidates should you win?
JRE: Yes. I’d be happy to work with pretty much all of them. There are some members of their teams I don’t believe I could have constructive working relationships with but would be happy to be working with the candidates themselves.
JS: Anne-Marie Waters (fellow leadership contenders) has drawn criticism from some circles over her approach to the topic of Islam, and one of the other candidates (Henry Bolton) attempted to have her removed from the election. You and the other candidates remained free to compete against her. Why was this?
JRE: Yes. My position is that it is up to the members who wins, not the hierarchy to engineer the result. If she broke the rules, I would agree that she should have been removed from the ballot but I looked into the rules she allegedly broke, and I saw nothing that suggested she had.
JS: Would this stop you from working with Henry Bolton?
JRE: No, absolutely not. I don’t have a problem with any of them. I think from Henry’s perspective, he respects the fact that I respect the fact that Anne-Marie has a lot of support. Hypothetically if Anne-Marie got 3,000 votes will constitute a sizeable proportion overall and the members have a right to have their concerns represented. Anne-Marie’s campaign embodies her concerns and I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Anne Marie is speaking up for. For example, there hasn’t been a single conviction for Female Genital Mutilation since 1985 when it was made illegal. It’s shocking. There’s something badly wrong and no-one has had the courage to confront the Government with the risk of being politically incorrect. UKIP is the only party that can tackle these sort of sensitive political issues, but in the case of Anne-Marie’s messaging, I don’t believe that opposing Islam per se should be the raison d’etre of UKIP. What she is pushing for is important which the party should take onboard, but I don’t believe her messaging supports my ethos.
JS: The cornerstone of your campaign is Direct Democracy. How do you plan to implement it and how has DD inspired you and this platform to people who aren’t as au fait with it?
JRE: DD is a way of cutting-out the middle man. Most people don’t trust politicians. What happens is we elect people we entrust to vote on our behalf. What ends-up happening is they make no effort in this regard and make it up themselves. They vote on what they think is best. If they were voted for based on manifesto to which they were committed, it would be understandable but in modern British politics, there is no obligation on the part of politicians there is no penalty if they renege on any promises in their manifestos. Democracy is a shambles because of that. Unfortunately, that is also true to an extent in UKIP. It’s not by design and I’m not alleging that the hierarchy are corrupt elites who will do whatever they want but the reality is they make little effort to follow through with what members want. For example – we have 83% of members’s email addresses on record. In a democracy the democratic expression is valid if they understand what they’re voting for. So why don’t the party send emails to all those people manifestos for all the candidates as well as links to their websites for members to understand and for them to make what is an informed decision? Why should the party feel that they should be the ones that make all the decisions? DD takes away authority from the hierarchy to people who are capable of making a decision themselves. That’s what I’m pushing for in the party and eventually at national level.
JS: You’ve showed scepticism in my earlier question about how Anne Marie’s message is delivered to people, and many see her as turning UKIP into an anti-Islam party first-and-foremost. Do you believe that UKIP’s main objective is ensuring Brexit is delivered in the way the public voted for?
JRE: It’s an important objective and it should be at the top of the objectives. But once we have Brexit, we still have the same problem in Britain in that we have a bunch of bureaucrats who impose their will on us against our will. Let’s say we get a proper Brexit, we still have a similar problem in the UK. Parliament isn’t much more democratic than the EU Parliament. An example is the vote MPs took before the referendum last summer, where three quarters of the MPs voted to Remain. If they were representing the people-at-large, what you may have got was an even split between Leave and Remain. My worry is that once we leave the EU, the lobbyists, who have an easy job influencing legislation by setting-up lobby groups in Brussels and Strasbourg will set-up a base in London. What I’m in favour of is challenged by people who are allegedly-representative parliamentarians. Once people are elected to positions of power, they don’t represent us. They follow a party line and are in favour of vested interests. That won’t change if we leave the EU. For me the only satisfactory outcome is that we have a total independence from all forms of anti-democratic imposition whether that is outside or within the UK.
JS: Before the referendum, Nigel Farage, during an interview on TV, said that he felt the days of a political party where members carry membership cards in their wallets was old fashioned, and that he hoped UKIP would change. Farage and former party donor Arron Banks have been inspired by the Italian Five Star party that sits with UKIP in the European Parliament. Is this a direction you’d take UKIP into?
JRE: There would be some similarities given that Five Star operate with Direct Democracy. On the subject of Five Star, I was speaking to an Italian in London a few weeks ago, and he was asked by a senior member of UKIP when Five Star were inaugurated what he thought of them. He said they were disorganised, not very disciplined and they would not amount to much. But he said to me that now he thinks they will become the next government in Italy. The fact is once you offer the people the opportunity to oppose their rule of government, once they understand the implications and see how easy it is, it’s very attractive. A lot of people have the opportunity the kinds of decisions politicians make, it may be something they will want to go for. What I would say though, there are going to be decisions the ordinary voting public won’t have interest in. Convoluted things that won’t connect with their daily lives. What I’m fighting for is a system that people will vote for what does interest them. If enough do vote they will exceed a participation threshold and so their votes count. If it doesn’t exceed then parliament retain prerogative.
JS: One thing that is happening with UKIP at the moment is that the party have decided that it will be rebranded regardless of who wins. How will you approach this should you win?
JRE: In principle, I agree something needs to happen. My feeling is this decision should be with consent of the members. Most people are adverse to change, especially socially conservative people and UKIP is mainly made-up of those people. If you impose a name, branding, logo, colours etc, they are going universally rebel. I think the case needs to be made more convincingly first. The British public believe that UKIP’s completed its mission by winning the referendum, and in many people’s minds, that’s what people think UKIP was conceived to achieve. We need to demonstrate to those people that we’ve completed one phase and will move onto another phase. For me, there’s never been a change in our objective. It’s independence and we won’t be if we’re still under a form of domestic political oppression. Nonetheless, the referendum on Brexit has become synonymous with independence, so the way we can counter this notion is by a sort of rebrand or refresh. I think the hierarchy haven’t necessarily presented this in a strategic or tactical way and I think they’ll have difficulty with people rebelling. If I win, I will take the rebrand, thank those responsible, put it before the members and if I agree with it, I will advocate it but would offer others the opportunities to present their own ideas and over the coming months, we’ll discuss the ideas and ensure members vote on it so it reflects the majority of the members.
JS: One thing people will know about UKIP in recent times is that it is struggling for money and has not got as many donors as it once had. What’s your plan to make UKIP more financially viable in terms of winning elections?
JRE: I’ve got a number of plans. Firstly, Direct Democracy should increase membership. At the moment, there’s no compelling reason to join us, even if you’re sympathetic towards us. I was sympathetic towards UKIP since the early 1990s and have never voted for another party but never became a member 2014 when I had to in order to stand as a candidate. Once we have a system where by in order to influence decisions made by being a member, it could strongly motivate people who sit on the sidelines. One of the aspects of DD that’s included in my strategy is for national and local campaign initiatives. For example: if old people get a raw deal and they don’t get enough support, or that 13,000 veterans are homeless and the Government isn’t doing enough, you need to join the party, propose these initiatives and hopefully persuade others to join so they can vote in favour of your proposals. So you’ll have access to like-minded people who’ll vote with you, and this added incentive to become members will hopefully cause a rise in members. I’d be disappointed if within a year of DD functioning we wouldn’t have 100,000 members and that would increase funding. In addition, I’ve also designed a program called UKIP Affiliate, whereby we hopefully attract business owners to become members, or if they already are members they will register their business details in a directory. It’s a members-only directory, and to be on it, you would agree to discount to be taken off the cost of services you provide and half the value of the discount would benefit the buyer, and the other half would accrue to party funds. It should stimulate networking between business owners and members, and this should produce more funding.
JS: Lastly, going back to a previous question regarding working with fellow candidates, you have been subject to rumours that you would be happy to take back people to the party who have left, such as Steven Woolfe. Would you want to bring him back?
JRE: Absolutely, he’s a huge asset. He’s been subject to criticism, but haven’t we all? Steven is an asset, he’s good on the media front and I think he’s popular with party members. If I became leader I think we’d stand a good chance of getting him back.
JS: Would you deploy him in the role he was previously doing (spokesman for migration and for economics)?
JRE: I’d have a conversation with him and ask him where he’d feel most useful.
As with the last leadership election, New Media Central believes that John Rees-Evans is the man that has the best possible chance to reverse the fortunes of the UK Independence Party. As NMC UK Editor-In-Chief Sebastian Cheek told me: “Having met him, I know he can be trusted to lead the party.”
We want to Be The Government.