When I came back to the table Paul had opened his laptop and pulled out his written notes – a couple of pages of printed A4. The laptop screen showed a multi-tabbed spreadsheet and I could see 155 rows. As he set out the agenda for the meeting I was glad I had brought my notebook. It had felt faintly ridiculous, like I was pretending to be a proper journalist, but I was a mere blogger someone I’ve spoken to many times at the events I organise in Southwark. I was prepared for a beer and a chat, not a briefing.
Paul and I share a common goal: we want to replace a cold destructive atomising system with warmer, more open and more prosperous minarchy. We want to see a country – Britain – shift decidedly in a libertarian direction before we are dead and unable to enjoy it. Paul, at 35, is a couple of years ahead of me on that score, though he seems older, and he has chosen a different route to change. For me, having learned about these amazing ideas, the imperative is to tell the world about them. I tend to assume that if people know the same things as me, then they will do the same things and want the same political policies, so I think about education and the national debate. Paul has a more direct approach: he wants to be one of the elite 650 people that get to make policy in this country. He seems to neglect education a little but wants to take his principles to Parliament and enact them there, where it matters. Trying to persuade the country a person at a time is not for him. He says political tribes are no longer defined by ideological labels but by clusters of policies on the issues of the day.
Of course, this does mean that for libertarians who seek to educate and inform Paul has little to offer. He says optimistically that “you don’t know what comes of things” and points me towards the fact that MPs seem to get privileged access to the media – a megaphone capable of reaching the whole nation. And this is true; the opinion of the local MP does get a certain amount of automatic respect, exactly because they have their hands on the policy levers.
The notebook I grabbed was a squared paper exercise book appropriate for an engineering student. Neither student nor engineer, we used our smart phones and dove into detail, calculating the extent of the subsidy the Royal Mail offers to Westminster candidates. Seventy thousand stamps are costing Paul, or UKIP, the five hundred pound deposit. I’m not sure why businessmen aren’t standing as MPs and using this subsidy to send advertisements. Paul is not going to waste it. Right at the outset he had told me about his simple, but well organised plan for the mailshot. Canvas the households first, prepare three or four tailored messages and do a mail merge to get his leaflets to the correct addresses; a simple clean and professional plan. Paul Tew is a VBA and SQL programmer (Microsoft Office macros are his play ground), he knows how he can handle a mailshot single handed and has already cleansed his unedited dump of the Electoral Register database. He has the skills to do this right.
Where Paul does not have the skills, he still knows what to do. His plan included training for himself and reminders to chase up people on the UKIP forum who would act as election agent and graphic designer. He’s set his budget and has begun thinking about where the money is coming from and how it needs to be handled. I’m persuaded he’ll get the money in; much of it is his. He knows what publications to talk to and where to get the map from for the wall of his office. All these little details make the plan seem solid, serious and real. It is quite a contrast to the other libertarian candidacies I have followed, the ones that were cancelled before they started, where support was asked for without saying what support was needed. Paul feels a sense of responsibility, in part because he is representing UKIP, to handle his campaign properly and to deliver the party line. From that responsibility comes a level of enthusiasm which has him pushing harder than some parts of UKIP. Paul is the mainstay of his own campaign, and if he gets the support he needs from head office, and from his fellow travellers, then it seems likely he will deliver a solid performance for UKIP.
The last problem he faces is, not surprisingly for a popularity contest, the possibility of rejection. He may be a bit too liberal for a normal UKIP voter in Conservative Beckenham; and UKIP may be too conservative for him to appeal to libertarian activists that might otherwise help him win. Paul, a New Zealander, believes controlled immigration is the right policy for the UK: “the mixed economy creates the need to control immigration”. He notes that many UKIP policies still seek to do the impossible – central management of the economy – but are at least a bit more “common sense” than the coalition’s policies. He is opposed to Gay Marriage, but only because he believes that state licenced romance is a bad kind of romance to be left with, and he does not want to see homosexuals brought into that officious scheme as well – I agree, better we all get out of it.
Paul’s simple organised bid has better odds than prior Westminster bids of the LPUK era, and I am sure he’ll do correspondingly better. If he gets into power he will be another MP driven by sound principles to office in an unsound institution – like Douglas Carswell, Dan Hannan or Steve Baker. While many will reject his association with UKIP, I don’t think having another MP like them is such a bad idea.