The jury in the trial of a former Ukip parliamentary candidate for Great Yarmouth accused of West Flegg has retired to consider its verdict.
Matthew Smith, the Norfolk County Council member for Gorleston St Andrews who had been selected to stand for parliament in the key target seat of Great Yarmouth at the next general election, is one of three men standing trial at Norwich Crown Court over the alleged forgery scam.
The charges relate to county council elections in the Yarmouth area in May 2013, when Smith stood for election and acted as Ukip’s electoral agent.
Prosecutors say that he submitted nomination forms for eight candidates that contained forged signatures in a bid to “cut corners”.
The 27-year-old – who had previously worked as a full-time administrator for the Conservatives – denies the charges, saying that he was the victim of a conspiracy.
Smith, who also stood as Ukip’s candidate in the elections for Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner, claimed that the genuine paperwork was replaced with forms containing forgeries after he fell out with his former Tory allies.
Judge Anthony Bate completed his summing up of the case and sent the jury out to deliberate shortly before midday.
Two other men – Ukip member Michael Monk and Daniel Thistlethwaite, who stood as a candidate in the West Flegg ward at the same election – are also on trial.
Monk, 60, of Freeman Close, Hopton, and Thistlethwaite, 19, of Station Road South, Belton, each deny one charge of making a false statement in nomination papers.
Smith, of High Street, Gorleston, has denied six counts of making a false statement in nomination papers knowing that they contained false signatures and three of making false nomination papers.
It’s an unusually candid way to begin a political interview.
“One thing that irritates me more than anything, and you see so much of it the higher up the political hierarchy you go, that’s it’s full of a load off… people who aren’t particularly honest, let’s put it that way,” says Louise Bours, Ukip MEP for the North-west and the party’s official health spokesperson.
“I like people to be straight with me, I don’t like all this…shenanigans in the background, I’d rather people be honest and up-front and I always try to answer things very honestly.
“So, honestly, I have no experience in health whatsoever,” she says.
To be fair, most Health Secretaries could – and perhaps should – have said the same when they started the job.
Ms Bours, a former actress, mother-of-two and town councillor in her native Cheshire, was sent to Brussels with 23 other MEPs in Ukip’s most successful ever election last May. She was chosen to be the party’s health lead last summer. Having been a relative unknown among the Ukip ranks, she was projected into the national spotlight this week after Nigel Farage told the BBC that the idea of replacing the NHS with an insurance-based system was “a debate that we’re all going to have to return to”.
Ms Bours immediately issued a statement distancing herself and the party, reiterating that she and “the majority of Ukip members” support a state-funded NHS: a commitment she says will be in the party’s manifesto. “That is not going to change at all, no matter what Nigel’s personal opinion is,” she says.
It is not the only issue on which she disagrees with Mr Farage. The day before we meet, Parliament has pushed ahead with legislation to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes. Mr Farage, perhaps the country’s most photographed smoker, called the policy “counter to freedom”.
Ms Bours begs to differ. “This is a personal opinion I’m giving now, because it’s not something I’ve looked at yet. It’s not something I’ve talked about with my group yet,” she says. “I listened to a doctor this morning, from Christie’s [the cancer hospital] – that’s the kind of person I want to listen to. He felt it worked… he’s a guy, a top oncologist, a top anti-smoking expert telling me that.”
She is also a fierce advocate of the smoking ban, but does back the party’s policy of providing ventilated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.
“I love the smoking ban. Absolutely love it… Who wouldn’t think it’s a good thing? Except smokers…except Nigel,” she says, with a hearty laugh.
She bristles when reminded of Mr Farage’s views on HIV and migration. In an interview last year, Mr Farage said that he wanted to control “the quality” of people allowed to live in the UK – and suggested “people who do not have HIV” as an example. “I’ve looked at Australia’s minimum health standard…they exclude people with long-term medical conditions and I think you have to look at those kind of things,” Ms Bours says. “HIV is rather a bad example though, to be honest. HIV is managed now, isn’t it. As somebody with personal experience, through very dear friends, HIV is a bad example… I know perfectly helpful, fabulous folk… I think it was an unfortunate example that he used.”
Between Ms Bours in one corner, and Mr Farage in the other, what health policies have made it into the manifesto? Much cannot be discussed until it is finally approved by the party’s National Executive Committee. However, Ms Bours can confirm that improving care of the elderly would be a key priority, with a single funding pot combining NHS and council money to pay for services outside of hospital.
NHS management posts would be slashed, as will the burden of “bureaucracy” for GPs, and hospital watchdogs the CQC and Monitor would be abolished in favour of local “health boards” led by clinicians who would be responsible for care standards.
NHS spending, Ms Bours says, should be protected.
Immigration, she believes, has impacted on NHS services in some parts of the country, but not others. She insists that Ukip border policies would not hurt the NHS workforce. “What we want is highly skilled, highly qualified doctors and nurses. Now if they come from Basingstoke, fabulous, but again if they come from Brazil, that’s fabulous too.”
It is certainly hard to doubt her passion for the NHS. And on the importance of state-funding over an insurance system, she couldn’t be clearer. “When my youngest was poorly, it was a time when money was tight. Thinking back now, if I had had to think about: ‘Oh no, I’ve got to ring an insurance company’ … the stress of that on top of the stress of what was going on with my daughter – to inflict that on people is just terrible. To my mind, state-funded means: people don’t ever need to worry.” Whether her party is with her on that, only time will tell.
Less than four months before the general election, the UK Independence party’s manifesto is “just a series of bullet points”, according to one official, prompting the party to appoint a new head of policy.
The delay matters because Ukip support has surged and polls suggest the party may enter the next parliament with several MPs, prompting greater than usual interest in its election promises.
Senior Ukip figures say their manifesto may not be ready to publish at the Ukip spring conference on February 27-28 and have expressed concern at the slow pace of work on it.
Ukip confirmed on Tuesday that it was removing Tim Aker, the head of policy, from his role overseeing the drafting of the manifesto.
Neither Mr Aker nor a party spokesman replied to a request for comment. But Suzanne Evans, the former deputy chair who has been brought in to replace him, told the FT: “Tim Aker is an MEP, fighting for a seat in Thurrock and now a local councillor too. He was delighted to hand over the manifesto process.”
One person involved in the preparation of the manifesto said: “It will be largely ready by the spring conference, but perhaps not in full written form. It is going to take a lot of hard work to get to that point though.”
Another said: “A lot of people got irritated with Tim throwing his weight around. All he has for a manifesto at the moment is a series of bullet points, not a proper document at all.”
Ukip’s policy process has been particularly challenging for this election, because party leader Nigel Farage disowned every policy in the 2010 manifesto.
This included ideas such as a flat income tax of 31 per cent, a phasing out of national insurance, compulsory uniforms for taxi drivers and safeguarding British weights and measures.
The Financial Times revealed earlier this month that the party is planning a series of new policies, including ringfencing the National Health Service budget, raising the income tax threshold for lower earners and opposing a new runway at Heathrow.
But many details remain unclear, not least how the party would manage the economy and cut Britain’s gaping deficit.
Part of the delay is attributed to a split between those wanting to keep the party grounded in its libertarian roots and those wanting to push it towards more populist policy positions.
Those tensions erupted in public on Tuesday as senior party figures turned not only on Mr Aker, but on Mr Farage himself, who was quoted by the BBC saying the party should return to the debate over radical transformation of the NHS.
Mr Farage has previously advocated replacing the service with an insurance-based system, even though the party says it is committed to maintaining an NHS free at the point of delivery.
His words echo those of several officials, who have told the FT that maintaining the health service in its current form is only party policy “for now”
Louise Bours, Ukip’s health spokesman, made an unusual public attack on her party leader. She said: “Nigel is entitled to his opinion and others are entitled to theirs, . . . [but] I am certain that if the party discuss it again, we will reject it again. The vast majority of Ukip members, the British public and I will always favour a state-funded NHS.”
Another senior party official expressed irritation that Mr Farage would speak openly about such a possibility so close to the election. The person said: “Nigel has foot-in-mouth disease, he just can’t help himself.”
The row encapsulates what some in the party have billed the split between the “blue-collar kippers” and the “uber-libertarians”, as the party tries to win over disaffected Labour voters.
Internal rows suggest the party is struggling with pressure in run-up to the general election
Ukip is facing pre-election turmoil after policy differences and personality clashes burst into the open, with the party’s health spokeswoman slapping down Nigel Farage’s suggestion the NHS could eventually be privatised.
Amid signs of in-fighting and internal rivalry, a senior source admitted last night that the mood in Ukip’s higher echelons had become “scratchy and irritable” ahead of the 7 May ballots.
There is also dismay in parts of the party over the slow progress in compiling its manifesto, with the MEP responsible for drafting the document revealed to have recently relinquished responsibility for the task.
A fresh spotlight was shone on Ukip’s growing pains yesterday in a BBC interview when the party leader raised the prospect of ultimately replacing the state-funded NHS with an insurance-based healthcare system.
While stressing his party remained committed to healthcare free at the point of delivery, Mr Farage indicated it was “a debate that we are all going to have to return to” because of Britain’s rapidly ageing population.
Ukip’s health spokeswoman Louise Bours swiftly contradicted her leader as she insisted the vast majority of party members “will always favour a state-funded NHS”.
Ms Bours said: “Nigel is entitled to his opinion and others are entitled to theirs, we don’t whip people into all thinking the same thing, like the establishment parties.
“As he has said before, he raised the idea for discussion a while ago, the party discussed it and rejected it. I am certain that if the party discuss it again, we will reject it again.”
The clash followed the disclosure that Suzanne Evans, Ukip’s deputy chairwoman, had taken over the writing of the party’s manifesto from the Euro-MP Tim Aker.
He was reported to have fallen behind with completing the final draft, leading to protests from candidates that they were struggling to answer voters’ questions on the doorstep.
The party dismissed claims he had been sacked as “complete tosh” and said he had asked about 10 days ago to be relieved of the duty, although sources acknowledged Mr Aker had been behind schedule as he attempted to juggle his other jobs as an MEP, councillor and parliamentary candidate.
Work on the manifesto was also affected by the furore surrounding the party’s general secretary, Roger Bird, who was cleared internally of a sexual harassment allegation but stood down from his post by mutual consent.
Meanwhile, the party has been hit by a farcical series of events over its choice of a candidate in the Essex seat of South Basildon and East Thurrock. Kerry Smith – who was selected after the former MP Neil Hamilton pulled out amid controversy over his expenses – was forced to quit over offensive remarks he made in a telephone call.
Evidence is also emerging of rival camps gathering around Mr Farage and Ukip’s first elected MP, Douglas Carswell. The MP for Clacton upset some party traditionalists with a call for it to be “inclusive” and is understood to be at odds with senior figures over health and defence policies.
Aker was in charge of preparing Ukip’s 2015 manifesto before stepping down – but they say it will be “almost entirely” his work anyway
Ukip’s policy chief has quit just six weeks ahead of the party’s manifesto launch in February.
Head of Policy Tim Aker, who was expected to complete the 2015 policy platform before its launch at the Ukip spring conference next month, has been replaced by deputy chairman Suzanne Evans.
A Ukip spokesman said Aker chose to step down on January 12th following his election to Thurrock Borough Council on December 5th.
Aker is also standing as the party’s general election candidate for Thurrock, hoping to unseat Tory MP Jackie Doyle-Price.
Earlier reports suggested Aker had been sacked for failing to deliver the manifesto on time, but this was denied by the party.
A party spokesman said: “The full policy platform is and always was scheduled for the Ukip Spring Conference at the end of February.”
He also the manifesto was “almost entirely” Aker’s work and said replacing him with just weeks to go before its launch was not an indication of problems with the document’s preparation.
Last night, The Times reported a senior insider fuming: “There was growing disquiet that none of us had seen hide nor hair on the policy front. It was especially annoying for candidates, who are banned from making any specific pledges before the manifesto is published. They don’t know what to tell voters on the doorstep.”
Aker’s replacement, Suzanne Evans, took to Facebook this morning to praise Aker’s work, saying his commitments as an MEP, local councillor and election candidate meant he “simply couldn’t continue” with the full time job of developing the manifesto.
She also addressed the Times’ claims that he’d been sacked, describing it as “codswallop”.
“He was keen to hand the brief over,” she said. “And I feel very sorry that he is having to face some appalling lies form mischievous journalists.
“Still, we all knew this campaign was going to be bloody…”
The forthcoming manifesto is the party’s first full policy document since their notorious 2010 election platform, dismissed by Nigel Farage as “drivel.”
As well as her new responsibility for Ukip policy, Suzanne Evans is deputy party chairman and the party’s general election candidate for Shrewsbury & Atcham.
Evans wrote a book last year entitled Why Vote Ukip? – in which she suggests the party would demand all tourists visiting the UK prove they have medical insurance and that meat imports leave us at risk of Ebola if they were in power.
She also suggests the party would seek to abolish the Ministry of Justice.
Cllr Brian Morris (UKIP, Keighley West) tweeted his call for information on his rivals, after criticising a Labour leaflet sent to homes in the ward .
He said the leaflet featured comments made by UKIP Keighley Town Councillor Samuel Fletcher on the NHS last year which caused Cllr Fletcher to resign from the party last Friday.
In his tweet, Cllr Morris said: “Hi All Kippers. Can anyone who knows, or has any information or bad press, on any Labour councillor in Keighley or Bradford that can be verified please let me know as soon as possible.
“The reason for this is it looks as if the dirty tricks brigade is working overtime to undermine UKIP in Keighley.
“So we must be prepared to retaliate shot for shot if it continues.”
Cllr Morris told the Telegraph & Argus today: “I like to shoot from the hip.
“No-one will benefit from saying things like that in public. Nobody wants to hear this type of thing.
“I have had quite a number of responses to my tweet already.”
Jason Smith, UKIP chairman for Bradford, distanced himself from Cllr Morris’s stance but said he will not face any disciplinary action.
Mr Smith said: “It’s Cllr Morris’s personal opinion, not the opinion of the UKIP party.
“I’m not going to reprimand him for having a personal opinion. That’s not the way we operate.
“I don’t think it’s the right way to go about business in politics. I want to debate with Labour on policies.
“If Labour want to dig dirt on our candidates, I think Cllr Morris is making a point after Labour put a leaflet out in this area. Mr Fletcher fell on his sword over his comments.
“I’m not going to go down in the gutter with Labour.
“In my opinion, Labour wants to drag the election campaign into the gutter.”
Labour and Bradford Council leader David Green denied there was any dirty tricks campaign being carried out by his group in Keighley or anywhere in Bradford.
He said: “I just find it pathetic.
“I’m not aware that there is any dirty tricks campaign against UKIP going on in Keighley or anywhere in Bradford.
“I am aware they are being challenged on their policies.
“Cllr Morris and his mates need spend their time on their policies, rather than trying to fight out what would appear to be a negative and dirty campaign against other people.”
Every time I see, hear or read about Nigel Farage these days, he seems to be apologising for someone else.
UKIP now dismiss their members with such regularity that, in the run-up to this year’s general election, I decided to keep tabs on just who is being dumped this week for calling a guy a “fucking carpetbagger arsehole” or insisting that gays love sex with children and animals.
Who’s Been Dismissed: Rozanne Duncan.
UKIP rank: Independent councillor in the soon-to-be-contested-by-Nigel-Farage constituency of South Thanet, Kent.
What She Did That Was So Wrong That Even UKIP Had to Kick Her Out: She told a BBC film crew that she had a problem with “negroes” because “there’s something about their faces”.
Standard Back-peddling Quote About How Unracist She Is Because She Has Exactly One Black Friend: Duncan got a full house on her UKIP apology bingo card by claiming she is “not a racist” and that she had “many Asian shopkeeper and local business friends”. Because buying an emergency onion from a corner shop once a week gives you carte blanche to go in two-footed on non-white bone structure.
What Happened Next: Rozanne was actually booted from the party back in December, after party chiefs revealed she made “jaw-dropping remarks” in a BBC documentary about Nigel Farage’s attempts to secure the South Thanet seat in the upcoming election. The comments in question weren’t revealed, presumably because they’d be a right downer over Christmas, but today the Times reported them in full. And, predictably, they are the exact kind of bigoted shit your weird drunk aunty might come out with at the last family meal she is ever invited to.
What UKIP Said: At the time of her sacking, a UKIP spokesperson said of Duncan: “UKIP is expelling Cllr Rozanne Duncan under rule 15 of its constitution for bringing the party into disrepute. She has 28 days to appeal.” To say UKIP is headed up by a man who goes on talk radio to sincerely defend his god-given right to say “chinky”, you’ve got to work pretty hard to bring it into disrepute.
What She Said: At the time Duncan said: “I was not expelled for having an ‘association with or membership of an organisation incompatible with membership of the party’, nor have I links with a far-right or any other group. The only group I’ve ever belonged to is the Conservative party – unless you count Mensa, the Women’s Institute or the Order of Women Freemasons.” Once again proving that the only people who ever apply to be in Mensa are the worst smart people ever. The kind of people who think doing a riddle is better than watching TV. People who need a laminated card in their wallet to tell them they’re better than others.
I guess she’s got one less of those now.