UKIP leader Nigel Farage wrote off HS2 as a ‘crackpot’ plan and claimed credit for MPs voting against military action in Syria at the party’s biggest ever public meeting in the Midlands.
Addressing almost 900 people, Mr Farage also backed shale gas ‘fracking’ as a way to reduce energy bills and praised former Wolverhampton MP Enoch Powell as ‘brilliant’.
During the meeting, which drew supporters from across the region and is billed as the biggest public meeting in the Eurosceptic party’s history, deputy leader Paul Nuttall, a member of the European Parliament for the North West, said the party was opposed to same sex marriage.
He said it left the way open for churches and religious institutions to be forced to conduct them by the European Court of Human Rights. He said civil partnerships were ‘far enough’.
Mr Farage is seen as UKIP’s biggest asset and has won support from voters but the party is struggling to get anyone else on its front bench team to have such a high media profile.
Last night’s meeting at Telford International Centre was paid for by Brian and Jill Seymour of Seymour Manufacturing.
The couple would not disclose how much it cost but Mrs Seymour, a parish councillor standing for UKIP in the European elections next May, said it had been roughly the ‘cost of a car’.
The European elections will be held on the same day as hundreds of council seats in the West Midlands go up for grabs, and UKIP is hoping to improve on its successes in the county council elections earlier this year.
Mr Farage said: “Our model should be the Liberal Democrats. Not in policy terms but on how they focussed on areas where they are strong, focussing on district councillors and parish and city councils. They trebled the number of seats in Westminster that way. We need a volunteer army. We need people to stand up and put their heads above the parapet.”
He said last week’s vote by MPs not to intervene in Syria was the first time the House of Commons had ‘expressed the majority view of the country’ and said UKIP had campaigned against it. “The House of Commons is in fear of the electorate and that is a good and happy state of affairs”, he said.
He described HS2 – which will cut up swathes of Staffordshire countryside – as a ‘crackpot’ plan and said he wanted to stop the ‘grand folly’ of high speed rail with UKIP candidates standing in areas affected by it.
He told the meeting: “I am really pleased that the likes of the Institute of Directors are saying that this is a grand folly and won’t work.
“The only way to stop it is by UKIP gaining seats and councillors and ultimately MPs up and down the proposed route. Then we will stop this grand folly from running through England’s green and pleasant land.”
Mr Farage said people had stopped talking about immigration after the speech by ‘a former MP for Wolverhampton’ – a reference to Enoch Powell. “Brilliant as he was”, Mr Farage said,
“It stifled debate on the issue. It’s the issue no-one wants to talk about.
“This country has always been the most open and tolerant in the whole of Europe, if not the world, bar none. We gave homes to refugees of Germany, Russia, Uganda and after World War
Two we felt we owed a debt to the Commonwealth. Immigration ran to 30,000 or 50,000 a year. Now we are told we should celebrate that last year’s figures were better than the year before because 497,000 came.”