The kitemark on the back of the Nigel Farage branded “hard Brexit” condoms confirm they are fully compliant with EU regulation, but they are about the only thing at Ukip’s annual conference that are. Ukip’s youth wing shifted 160 of the things just on day one, raising £160 for their cause. For the same price they could have bought 32 copies of A Proposed Charter of Muslim Understanding by Gerard Batten MEP, which was “reduced” to £5 long before the gift shop opened for business.
Ukip’s gathered ranks meet for two full days at Birmingham’s International Convention Centre this weekend in a curious state of crisis, not least as most of the their big ideas have been stolen by the gang who’ll descend upon the same space next weekend and do the same: the Tories
One difference between the two is that, highly unusually, Ukip conference sits in the dark. In the conference hall, the first few rows are bathed in purple iridescent light from the towering Ukip branded backdrop.
If viewed from the correct angle, the large white letters of whatever topic is in session can just about be read in white reflection on the heads of the members in seats E3 to E15.
The hall’s packed out for ‘IMMIGRAT ON’, the third I having been rendered unreadable because someone’s had the temerity to turn up with actual hair. It’s packed not merely because IMMIGRAT ON is a very very popular subject round here, but also because it serves as a warm up for Gerard Batten himself: author, theologian, MEP, and the party’s seventh leader in the last two years.
In the ‘buildup’ to Ukip conference, which is to say some begrudgingly written preview pieces in a vanishingly small selection of the national press, the concern has been that Mr Batten, a chap who makes public pronouncements on the subject of Islam with a frequency rivalled only by the Ayatollah Khomeini, might be “too right wing” for Ukip.
But here in the conference hall, where the spectre of IMMIGRAT ON is visibly haunting them, the assembled masses are doing their concerted best to allay whatever fears Mr Batten might have had on this front.
Paul Oakley is Ukip’s man on immigration; a barrister, apparently. And if your case is being heard by a highly suggestible, poorly educated, semi-closeted racist then definitely hire him because the anecdotal evidence on show here is that he’ll win them over with ease.
“There are more people per square mile in the UK than there are in Pakistan, in China and in Nigeria,” Oakley begins, with all the studied grace of the captain at your local EDL golf club. “There is only so much diversity we can celebrate in this country. So what is to be done?”
Perhaps it’s the darkness that liberates a voice from the back to shout, “Send them back!” and others to cheer. It’s not the kind of behaviour you can expect to get away with in broad daylight, or indeed in any other room but this one.
“The climate alarmists will tell you we are more at risk from rising sea levels,” Oakley continues. “In fact we are more at risk from sinking through rising population.”
It’s a clever gag, substituting a very real threat for an imagined one, and the audience lap it up.
Rough sleeping is blamed on immigration, so is the housing crisis, which we learn can be solved not by building more houses but by reducing the numbers of people.
“We do not want to carry on covering our country in concrete to house these new arrivals that none of the long term residents have invited,” Oakley makes clear. “And if we say so, we’ll be accused of nimbyism.”
On all counts, Oakley is wrong, but that doesn’t matter. In a moment, they’ll be told by their party leader that “It’s not about being right wing, it’s about being right”. They’ll be told that they “won’t be cowed into silence”, no matter how often they’re called “racist”, which, in several cases is an accusation that’s demonstrably true.
They’ll be told that they “won’t stand for mass migration” and another member of the crowd will shout back “We won’t stand for ANY migration!” and there’ll be more cheering.
For as long they’re in one another’s company, Ukip are right about everything. “Who can forget the Breaking Point poster?” Oakley asks, a question to which the conventional answer is absolutely nobody, because around four hours after it was unveiled, an MP was murdered in the street by a far right gunman. Yet here, two and a quarter years on, a referendum won, that poster still remains a great cause for celebration.
“We were vilified,” Oakley tells them, entirely accurately. “Letters were written to The Guardian.” They boo. “But we were right! We won! And we make no apology for telling the truth to the British people.”
They will also make no apology for telling the British people things that are very obviously untrue.
Gerard Batten, who is a classic of the east London turned Essex genre, lacks Nigel Farage’s natural public school bonhomie. Nigel Farage changed the world through pretending to drink beer and pretending to feel right at home with ordinary working men in ordinary working men’s pubs in Essex. Which is to say people exactly like Gerard Batten.
The Batten doctrine certainly encompasses the new spirit of the age, in all its post-truth glory. “People are seeing crime increase, property prices going up,” he claims, “and if they complain about it they are called racist, they are called ‘far right’, and we are supposed to be cowed into silence.”
For “cowed into silence,” read, “shown, via evidence, that your migration based theories for these problems are wrong.”
Though he is, on occasion, happy to cow himself into silence. Ukip, he says, is the “only party with a credible plan for Brexit, and I would know, I wrote it.” But some of the intricacies of that plan are skipped over.
He recently told The Financial Times, for example, that the Brexit negotiations could be sorted out “in an afternoon, over a cup of coffee”, and that this would simply involve saying “yes to free movement of goods, services and capital, and no to the free movement of people.” This theory doesn’t get another airing.
Since Jacob Rees-Mogg and co started branding Theresa May’s Chequers 'agreement' a sellout of Brexit, Ukip’s fortunes in the polls have ticked slightly upwards. Ukip knows it has wagged the Tory dog before, and it thinks it can do so again.
“Ukip’s achievements have been truly historic,” Batten tells the crowd, entirely correctly. “A few thousand patriots have brought this country to the point where it can restore its independence from the European Union.”
Apparently, that achievement stands under threat. “Mrs May and her Tory government intend to betray Brexit,” he says. “I have absolutely no doubt about that. Don’t waste your time joining pressure groups. Only an electoral threat at the ballot box makes a difference and threat comes from the UK Independence Party.”
It’s a small threat, for now, but in the short years ahead, who knows. There is a vision, kind of. Batten correctly diagnoses that “people who work and pay taxes, or who are unemployed, who would like a job but don’t have one” are “not being represented by the Marxist ideologies of Labour, or the big business interests of the Conservatives”.
“These people need a champion,” he says. “I want Ukip to be that champion.” One of the great apparent political mysteries of recent years is the bleeding of large numbers of votes from Lib Dem to Ukip. Well, Sir Vince Cable could have come out with any of that.
On Saturday morning, the party is vaguely set to consider a motion to allow English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson to join the party, which would be a giant leap in the direction of its reconstitution as little more than some kind of anti-Islamic movement. It is unlikely the party will even consider it, though Batten has indicated he personally wouldn’t necessarily be against amending the party’s rules to allow Robinson to join, if the party wanted it.
It would be a clear indication of where they see the fight moving in the years ahead, and a portent for the rest of us too. A Tommy Robinson branded condom – well that wouldn’t be funny, at all.