An almighty row has broken out between the Hendon branch of UKIP and the Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS). BAPS has organised a public hustings meeting and asked representatives from the four main political parties (Labour, Lib Dems, Tories & Greens) to discuss local issues. The public will have a chance to grill the politicians in a question time format. On Monday the vice chair of UKIP, Adrian Murray-Leonard rang the Barnet Eye to ask why UKIP had not been invited. As we are not on the BAPS executive and were not on the organising committee, we didn't know and suggested Mr Murray-Leonard should speak to Barbara Jacobson who was acting as chair.
Mr Murray-Leonard was incensed that UKIP had not been organised, especially given his view that UKIP could surpass the Lib Dems in becoming the third most popular party in Barnet at the Euro Elections in May. It appears that Mr Murray-Leonard spoke to both Barbara Jacobson and Tirza Waisel of BAPS and was told that whilst UKIP would not be offered a place on the panel, they would be welcome to attend as members of the public. Mr Murray-Leonard responded by stating that this was unacceptable and that UKIP would attend en mass to ensure their point of view was put across.
Tirza Waisel contacted the Barnet Eye to explain why UKIP were not being invited. BAPS are specifically interested in Barnet Council and issues relating to public services. In the four years that BAPS has been in existence, UKIP have not once made a single intervention or participated in the debate on One Barnet or any local issue in any way shape or form. In the opinion of BAPS, on a local level, UKIP are not a political party, but a well organised pressure group, with a single aim of securing the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. They have no published policy on any Barnet related issue, therefore it is logical to conclude that they have nothing to offer for a public husting dealing with issues related to Barnet.
The Barnet Eye has covered Barnet politics for five and a half years and we can confirm that we are unaware of UKIP having any interest in Barnet politics. Given the huge debate over public services, we feel that it is rather late in the day for UKIP to start demanding a seat at the table, when they have left an empty chair for the debate for the last four years. The reason that they want to participate in the hustings is to boost their campaign to win votes at the Euro elections, also taking place in May. In effect they appear to be looking to turn a debate which is designed to discuss issues of importance to local people regarding their local council, into a debate about the European elections, which is there raison d'etre.
The Barnet Eye has no doubt that supporters of UKIP feel very strongly about the issue of European membership. We also have no doubt that the party will poll a large number of votes, perhaps becoming the third most popular party in Barnet. That does not mean that UKIP are a political party in the true sense of the word. To qualify for that, they would need a local, national and international agenda. At a Borough level, they would have a full raft of policies, proposing a budget for Barnet and involving themselves in the debate on issues such as One Barnet. They would have participated in campaigns about NHS, Student Loans, protection of the Green Belt, Closure of Church Farm Museum etc. As far as the Barnet Eye is concerned, they haven't, therefore they should not expect to be able to pitch up at the hustings and expect a seat at the top table.
Should BAPS be organising a similar husting to discuss the Euro Elections, I would have far more sympathy with UKIP if they were excluded as they clearly have been raising this issue locally on a regular basis. The trouble with UKIP is that as far as I can see, they do not really know what they are. If they want to be a real political party, they need to have a manifesto for Barnet and participate in the debate. If they want to be a pressure group that stands at elections, then fine, but don't pretend to be something you are not. When it comes down to it, they have not done anything for local people in regards to the debate on Barnet Council, therefore they can't expect to be treated seriously, just because an election is in the offing and it suits them.
In the interests of fairness, we are offering Hendon UKIP the opportunity to submit a guest blog detailing their policies and activities in local Barnet issues. We will publish it on condition that it refers to these and not the European Union membership issue. If they can illustrate that the Barnet Eye is wrong and they have been active on local issues for the last four years, we will support their application for a seat on the panel. If, as I suspect, they cannot demonstrate that they have any interest in Barnet politics, then I'm afraid that on a local level, we will have to conclude they are not really a political party, but a pressure group dealing with EU membership.