There was one star of Ukip’s manifesto launch today: Suzanne Evans. For once Nigel Farage didn’t steal the show, it was the party’s deputy chairman — and the brains behind its ‘Believe in Britain’ manifesto — who came across as professional and reasoned. Over 100 people turned up at the Thurrock Hotel in Essex to see the release of the manifesto booklet. While it is a slick offering, and full of glossy pictures of its senior figures, it revealed nothing particularly new.
The two main messages in Ukip’s manifesto were already briefed out in the Telegraph and Daily Express this morning: a pledge to increase defence spending beyond the 2 per cent Nato commitment and a pledge to reform taxation to introduce a new 30p tax threshold. The party is clearly trying to show it is the party of the armed forces — an olive branch to Conservative voters — as well as fiscally credible. Foreign affairs have been noticeably missing from this election campaign, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Tories and other parties respond to Ukip’s pledges.
The party is making much of the fact the manifesto has been independently costed by the Centre for Economics and Business Research. The firm’s director Oliver Hogan says in the introduction that the cost savings outlined by Ukip are ‘sound and reasonable’. But like all the other manifestos, the numbers will be no doubt pulled apart in the coming hours.
Unlike the Liberal Democrats’ launch this morning, Ukip did take plenty of questions from the media — including from the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope. He asked why there was only one black face in the manifesto and the room exploded with boos and cheers — egged on by party staffers — until a group of black and Asian supporters stood up and the jeers turned into applause. As the video above shows, Farage looked uncomfortable at the heckling.
Moments like this are a reminder that Ukip has much in common with the Scottish nationalists. Both parties are trying to professionalise their public image but the grassroots supporters remind them of their insurgent roots. The atmosphere in the room was unlike any other political launch of this campaign: buoyant and bolshy. It was also odd that the party’s two MPs, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, weren’t present at the launch today. Ukip pointed out they were out campaigning — an odd choice given what a key event this is for the party. Today felt like the beginning of something new for Ukip, possibly a sign of what the party might look like if Nigel Farage doesn’t win in South Thanet.