By Theo Cronin
“I hate it! I don’t want to be a ‘kipper’,” said Mike Glennon, the new leader of the UK Independence Party at West Sussex County Council.
“But I am very proud to be a U-kipper,” he added, in answer to one of the last questions I put to him regarding the name by which his party’s members have become known.
I had visited Mr Glennon’s family home in Offington Gardens, Worthing, to find out more about the local UKIP group which last month became the official Opposition party at County Hall.
The group has found itself in an unprecedented position – rising from no representation to boasting ten seats on the council, with a mandate premised on 30 per cent of the popular vote.
But as the old adage goes, with power comes great responsibility, and many, not least the annihilated Liberal Democrats reduced to just eight seats from 18, want to know if the new UKIP councillors are both ready and capable of the challenge that lies ahead.
“We are aware we are beginners and we are on steep learning curve,” said the 55 year old former accounting and politics teacher who took early retirement to pursue a life in politics.
“We do not have a magic wand and it will take us time to get up to operating speed.”
The ten UKIP members, mostly from the county’s more deprived and urban wards in Adur, Selsey, Bognor and Bourne, have won four year terms in a council that remains dominated by the Conservative group with 46 members.
Mr Glennon spoke of the ‘supreme joy’ in achieving this bridgehead on the county council after the May elections, but it had also ‘exceeded their expectations’ with some of his group quite surprised to have actually won.
However, having achieved this small but significant position of influence, what pressure will they bring to bear on the council and what are their policies and political persuasions locally?
“We are broadly ex-conservatives, right of centre,” said the UKIP group leader who won his seat in the Lancing division.
He clarified they were not ‘right-wing’, a term now widely ‘misconstrued’, but instead ‘middle of the road politics of the ilk the Conservative party once was’.
Unprompted he rejected allegations of racism, and said: “My wife is Malaysian, my sister-in-law is Spanish, and Nigel Farage’s wife is German. So it is complete ludicrous taunting.”
Mr Glennon recognised that, with 46 Conservatives backed by ten UKIP members, County Hall in Chichester was probably the most right-leaning it has been in a generation.
“It could well be,” he said. “A lot of the broad Conservative philosophies we are not uncomfortable with, so in many cases we are not going to be antagonistic towards them.
“But what we would say is that we want to move more towards local democracy and local control, not to just be ruled by one central government diktat that comes down from head office like this supremely smug and complacent centre right the Conservatives have become.
“We have got to listen more to what local communities want, listen to what people at the grass roots want, and if that is not consistent with what your party wants at the national level – tough!”
Was this a curious inconsistency from a party itself so extensively characterised by its national policies – anti-immigration and anti-European Union?
“I see your point there,” admitted Mr Glennon, “but central to our national policies is that local control should be evident.
“That’s why we want local control within a European context. We want Britain to be run by Britain, and we want, within this country, counties, boroughs and neighbourhoods empowered far more.
“For example,” he added, “we want more local referenda – if a petition of five per cent of the population can be raised on an issue we want to see a local referendum.”
Combating the challenge that referendums cost thousands to administrate the local UKIP leader said: “I believe that democracy is worth paying for.”
He also stated the roads of West Sussex were a ‘high priority’ and as a ‘matter of life and death’ they too required investment, as did the care services offered by the county council.
Outlining a significant departure from Conservative policy he said UKIP would reinstate care for those with just ‘moderate’ needs – a service controversially withdrawn by the Conservatives in order to save millions.
Mr Glennon reaffirmed that in addition to these additional expenditures it remains UKIP’s policy to lower taxation. But how could these seemingly contrasting positions add up?
“It is not as hard as you think,” he said. “There are savings to be made elsewhere by achieving efficiencies in what we do.
“It is not about dismantling services, although there are some services which could be scrapped altogether.
“For example the amount of time and effort in the public sector spent on diversity monitoring for any applicant.”
He also said there could be better merging of services across the county, similar to how Adur District Council and Worthing Borough Council have merged services in recent years.
Despite these assertions I put it to him that a lack of clear policy is a persistent criticism of UKIP and quoted UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom who recently said getting the party to develop policies ‘was like herding cats’.
Mr Glennon said they are ‘still a young party and there are growing pains’. He admitted the party needs to become ‘more formalised’
In terms of development he said they are ‘against the Government’s presumption in favour’ of it and that ‘development should be on a like for like basis’.
Asked what of the need for additional housing provision he gave at first a slightly ironic answer saying ‘we might need to revert more to a European mentality with maybe more apartments’, before changing tack to a more traditional party line.
We had been talking for more than 20 minutes and until this moment immigration had not been mentioned.
He said: “I am resentful that much of this demand for new housing is coming from Britain’s unlimited immigration scenario, which is courtesy of the European Union and the parties that support that - Liberal, Labour and Conservative.
“The door on this country is open – it needs to be closed.
“Immigration has become mass immigration and it is verging upon invasion, and so many of our problems are coming from that.”
Mr Glennon wished to end the interview by giving his political predictions for the next two parliaments.
Labour under Ed Milliband would win the 2015 general election with a small majority, he said.
“The Conservative Party will implode and disintegrate, and split right open which will bring a new opportunity for a party right of centre in this country to formulate itself ready for the 2020 election.”
He is confident a ‘reformulated and mature UKIP with large tranches of existing Conservatives brought within it’ would win power in seven years time.
“It is already happening,” he said, “and the Liberal Democrats are going to disappear off the face of politics for ever.”
THE INTERVIEW by Theo Cronin is a weekly feature published in the West Sussex County Times and West Sussex Gazette as well as associated sister titles in West Sussex. If you know someone you believe should be interviewed email firstname.lastname@example.org.