Watching Nigel's keynote speech to the UKIP conference I was struck by two things. First that it was utterly refreshing to hear the leader of what is a significant political party actually addressing the issues which concern ordinary people and second knowing that, from personal acquaintance, he is sincere in what he says and not merely, like most politicians, grubbing after votes without ever intending to fulfil the promises he makes.
As I contemplate the journey which many of us in the anti EU movement have made in the last fifty years I thought that perhaps those who have come later to the fight might be interested in some of the history of what has become another long march.
It all started well when Prime Minister Attlee rejected Heath's proposal that Britain should join the European Iron and Steel Community, stating that we were not interested in subjecting our democracy to such an undemocratic project and this opposition was later mirrored in the attitude of Hugh Gaitskill. However, in 1963, when Macmillan, realising that the days of the dominance of his kind of patrician Tories was over, tried to transfer control of the country to Europe, we were only saved by the good sense of General de Gaulle who understood Britain better than most of our own leaders and knew that she would not willingly sacrifice her independence to create a new European political entity, whose founding fathers were intent on creating a new political order. Later in 1967 that weaselly pragmatist Harold Wilson tried again and received the same answer from de Gaulle who said "England in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her exchanges, her markets, her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has in all her doings very marked and very original habits and traditions. In short, the nature, the structure, the very situation that are England's differ profoundly from those of the continentals."
Unfortunately after de Gaulle lost power in 1969 and the UK elected Heath as Prime Minister things went badly; he was determined to sign away Britain's independence at any cost, as the fishermen were among the first to discover. The Tory party declared itself 'the party of Europe' and, at the party conference, only four brave delegates voted against the policy, so in 1973 we became part of the European project. Those members of the public, such as myself, who opposed joining, found themselves derided as either stupid or extremist and reduced to supporting fringe pressure groups such as 'Operation Out', whose badges I still possess. When in 1975 Wilson called a referendum on whether to stay in the EEC the overt bias shown by the media and the lies told by the Yes camp enabled him to win. I remember that the leaflets we delivered, of which I retain some, warned of the consequences and spokesmen such as Enoch Powell and Tony Benn pointed out that the ultimate aim of the Treaty of Rome was a fully federal Europe, yet inane arguments about cheap wine and pie in the sky promises of economic benefits convinced millions, many of whom have come to regret that decision since.
The years that followed were bleak for Eurorealists for, despite the Labour party running on a platform of withdrawal in 1987, their overall manifesto was so extreme as to lead to their heavy defeat, after which time the Labour party too decided to throw in their lot with the EC. Implacable opponents such as myself did our best in supporting the various groups such as the Anti Common Market League and for over twenty years I was a member of the national committee of the Campaign for an Independent Britain (CIB), a fine organisation created by patriotic figures such as Douglas Jay, David Stoddart, and Peter Shore. I was Chairman of the Campaigning Secretariat and one of my proudest moments was when, in private conversation, the latter referred to myself and my wife as comrades in the struggle for British independence. In the House of Lords David Stoddart remains one of the strongest voices attempting to regain that independence.
In the very early 1990s I met Nigel at a demonstration outside an embassy in West London and he invited me to join Alan Sked's Anti Federalist League. Dr Sked had once been a convinced supporter of the EU but, having run an academic examination of the reality, became committed to the need for the UK to leave. Shortly thereafter the decision was taken to create the UK Independence Party and I joined the first national executive committee. I remember that we held our meetings in small offices above a shop in Regent Street, facing all the problems that a new party experiences. We spent our own time and money travelling to various by-elections and I remember when Nigel, Gerrard Batten (now an MEP), myself and my wife stayed in an hotel in Wales with buckets in the corridor to catch the rain coming through the roof. I remember going to Hastings to address the fishermen who subsequently gave support to UKIP and later working for the election of candidates in old Northern mining communities, unfortunately unsuccessfully.
In 1994 twenty four of us stood in the European elections and did well for a new party, Nigel and Craig MacKinlay holding their deposits and I only missing out by a few hundred from doing the same, getting nearly ten thousand votes in Kent East. In 1997 we contested several hundred parliamentary seats but our efforts were damaged by the advent of the Referendum party, which being better financed, and receiving more media coverage, split the anti EU vote. I stood against Heath in Bexley but support was poor. Again, as in 1994, we paid our own deposits.
In the years that followed I worked with the CIB and the Democracy Movement (which grew out of the Referendum Party) and we held many demonstrations and ran street stalls raising awareness of the issue of EU membership. Sterling work is also being done by the Labour Euro Safeguards Campaign (LESC), for whom I run the website, and the Campaign Against Euro Federalism (CAEF) which seeks to rase awareness among trade unionists to the fact that they are being taken for a ride by the Europhiles and that the EU is a disaster for ordinary working people.
Following the change to the electoral rules for European elections UKIP made a breakthrough by gaining seats and, despite the sort of internal arguments which afflict small parties, have gone from strength to strength, coming second in the last European elections as well as in the Eastleigh by-election.
The EU is proving to be the undemocratic monster we always predicted and its hubris in creating the single currency may yet lead to nemesis, although at the cost of the suffering of the ordinary people. The political class in this country is now totally discredited with everything falling about our ears from the state of education, the health service, the condition of the roads, future energy needs and of course the survival of our democracy in the face of dictatorship from Brussels. With a few honourable exceptions Parliament is infested with incompetent, ill informed and self interested nonentities and the only hope is a cleansing of the stables by electing people of principle who will take the necessary steps to halt this decline.
It has been a long march from the days when we were derided as fools or fascists and our views have now entered the mainstream. However, as we all know, apathy, and misplaced loyalty to the old parties, mean that there is still an uphill task facing Eurorealists. Whatever happens those who have taken this journey can be proud of the fact that at last the British people now have the realistic choice of voting for a democratic party which represents their views on the major issues of the day. There is hope for the future and I am sure that in the end our membership of the EU will be a distant, and much despised, memory.