Fawlty moments mostly avoided as Ukip launches manifesto
Party’s policy document a mixed bag, with the usual obsessions of EU and immigration
Ukip leader Nigel Farage at the launch of his party’s election manifesto in Thurrock, Essex. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images
The Thurrock Hotel in Aveley, in a nondescript district of Essex near the Dartford Crossing bridge, hosts “Fawlty Towers Experience” dinners promising “comic mishaps, manic mayhem and major mischief”.
Yesterday, the hotel hosted the launch of the election manifesto of the UK Independence Party (Ukip). Over the past five years, the party has held similar gatherings that have started well but descended into Basil-like chaos by the end.
This time, however, Ukip was organised, if not slick. Unlike the near-500-page manifesto produced in 2010, yesterday’s was professionally put together, eye-catching in places, but obsessed primarily, as always, with the European Union and immigration.
However, Suzanne Evans MEP, author of the manifesto, insisted that Ukip was not “against immigrants” but rather against open-door immigration that has added “seven million to the population of the UK since 1997”.
In all, the policies are a mixture of offerings across the political spectrum, including more money for the National Health Service, more doctors, more nurses, and the removal of everyone on the minimum wage from the tax net. Equally, the manifesto opposes the so-called “bedroom tax”, which penalises people in council flats that are deemed too big for their needs, seen by many as unfair, but it supports a £26,000-a-year cap on benefits to families.
The manifesto also touches Conservative pressure points: more money for defence; more jobs for soldiers when they leave the military; and an end to plans to build a high-speed train line from London to Manchester and Leeds.
It includes plans to cut overseas development aid from £11 billion a year to £4 billion, “matching the sums offered by Italy and Spain”, along with tax cuts for middle-income earners.
However, Ukip, even if it is running in most constituencies, is genuinely competing only in dozens, and there it is confident that its messages – often deemed politically incorrect and often racist – are getting through. That confidence was illustrated by party leader Nigel Farage’s reply when he was asked if he stood over his declaration in the leaders’ debate on TV that HIV-infected immigrants should be barred entry to the UK and treatment with £25,000-a-year drugs.
“Do I stand by that? You bet your life I stand by that,” he said, linking the cost of such treatments to the alleged decision of hospitals not to treat elderly patients suffering from breast and prostate cancer.
One of the constituencies where the Ukip message is getting through is Thurrock itself, where the locally born Tim Akers MEP is running. In last year’s local elections, Ukip, which had just one councillor on Thurrock Borough Council, added five more to its tally.
“Now we hold the balance of power, as we will do in the Commons after May,” said Ukip’s deputy leader, Paul Nuttall.
Bookmakers have Akers as the 11/8-on favourite, ahead – if the betting odds are right – of Labour’s Polly Billington, who is, in turn, far ahead of the outgoing Conservative, Jackie Doyle-Price.
“The Conservatives are nowhere. If Conservative voters vote for the Conservatives, then there is a chance that they will end up with Labour elected,” claimed Akers, turning on its head the split-vote argument often used by the Tories against Ukip.
Reckless’s absence is understandable, given the battle he faces to hold on to Rochester and Strood in Kent, though it could be argued that having some TV profile might have been welcome in the final weeks of the campaign.
Carswell’s non-attendance, however, is more questionable. He holds the safest of safe seats in Clacton, another Essex constituency just an hour further up the coast, but he is clearly unhappy about much of Ukip’s language on immigration.
Standing in the sun in the hotel car park later, Akers discussed local crime rates with resident Wendy Cooper, though he stopped her when she complained – in front of a reporter – about the sale of halal meats in Britain.
“You’ve no idea what you’re buying, no idea,” she said.
Cooper then left for home, but returned when she saw messages on Twitter alleging that Farage supported foxhunting: “A lot of people on Twitter love animals, like I do.”
Having checked, she was satisfied that Farage was pure on the question of foxhunting, though, in fact, the Ukip leader has publicly called for the repeal of the ban on the practice and spent part of Christmas attending legal hunts.