THE INTERVIEW: Will UKIP oust the Tories this May?

Three weeks ago the County Times published an interview with UKIP’s West Sussex coordinator John Wallace.

In light of yesterday’s Eastleigh bi-election results, the article takes on a new resonance...

THE INTERVIEW by Theo Cronin

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“In West Sussex, you can take an ass and put a blue rosette on its backside, and there’s a good chance it will get voted in!”

The words of political campaigner John Wallace from Pulborough who believes purple rosettes with a garish yellow pound sign will prove more prevalent come this May’s county council elections.

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) aims to contest every seat in the South East, with Mr Wallace, the party’s West Sussex county organiser, contesting the Pulborough seat.

“When I first joined people did not know what UKIP stood for,” admitted the 63 year old , “and since then we’ve been accused of being all sorts of things.

“Cameron called us ‘a bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’ in 2006, and even recently he described us as very odd people.”

The UKIP campaigner first became inspired politically in 1992 by an earnest publican ‘incandescent’ with rage when Francis Maude signed the Maastricht Treaty on behalf of the John Major Government.

Until then, the mechanical engineer had been mostly ambivalent, distracted by the trials of running a small business and bringing up a family.

But, now passionate about politics, he admits to trying to introduce the subject into every conversation he holds.

I met Mr Wallace and his wife Liz, the UKIP chair for the Arundel and South Downs branch, in their Carpenter’s Meadow home overlooking the beautiful River Arun flood plain in Pulborough.

It was shortly after the Prime Minister’s much anticipated speech on the European Union, where the PM pledged to renegotiate Britain’s membership terms before giving the British people an ‘in out’ referendum in the next parliament, should the Conservatives gain power.

Mr Wallace, initially ‘delighted’ it was widely recognised UKIP forced the PM into making his historic speech, remained unimpressed with its content.

“Cameron is playing with our sovereignty,” he said, “in order to try and strengthen the Tories’ position in this country, and I think this ploy is going to fall on its face.”

But the PM did appease disquiet from his backbenchers, and many believe he took the wind from UKIP’s sails.

“It shot their fox,” in the words of Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert.

Mr Wallace strongly disagreed: “On the contrary, it shows how desperate Cameron is to keep on in power.

“I don’t think he stands a snowball’s chance in hell of getting re-elected, because I am sure people will realise his game is up.

“To vote Tory so that after that point he can negotiate our membership having already told us that he is in favour of EU membership – this guy is crazy!”

What is the UKIP alternative though? “We believe in this country being able to run itself and not be dictated to by foreign powers, which at the same time are costing this country £150 billion a year.

“We are for the people. We want people power through referendums both at the national and local level. And the decisions will be legally binding.”

But if UKIP offered the British people an in or out EU referendum, and the vote went in favour of the EU, would the ‘legally binding’ decision make UKIP defunct?

“No,” said Mr Wallace. “We have a complete platform of policies, and we are developing more all the time.

“We are the only party that is against High Speed 2 for example – that in itself is an EU construct.

“But the problem we have with the EU is it is now implementing UN rules,” he started to continue, before tailing off and deciding not to expand upon his point, adding: “I could be looked upon as a loony.”

“Or closet racist,” I joked, wondering how much Cameron’s insult had actually insinuated itself into the UKIP psyche.

Mr Wallace had said earlier he found the insults ‘funny’, saying of the PM ‘this guy is desperate – if he has to insult us, clearly he has no firm ground to stand on as far as his politics are concerned’.

The terra firma of UKIP politics and influence is growing however, with the party’s ambitions for local government significant.

With a surplus of candidates in West Sussex, Mr Wallace thinks they will achieve 15 to 20 per cent of the vote come the May elections, with the hope this will be replicated across the entire South East.