Can you imagine being so hacked off with a government that you start your own political party to protest?
A group of UK vapers, frustrated with EU attempts to ban electronic cigarettes, have done just that.
I caught up with Dave Hallam and Alan Beard, two of the organisers, over Skype.
What’s the name of your political party?
Alan: UKVIP – UK Vapers Independence Party.
What drove you to set up your own party?
Dave: The total frustration over the EU TPD regulations [the Tobacco Products Directive, which include restrictions on ecigarettes], which was all thrown together in a rush without anyone’s consultation. UK MEPs helped to get this through in secret and it just infuriated me and the majority of the vapers out there who were aware of it. That was basically the reason why we got together to try and fight it as a lot of other vapers have done all round the social media.
Alan: I think also as well as that, James, is to break out of our own little group to get the message out to further people in the community. The activists tend to sort of drive each other, but it’s essential to get the message out to other people, there are two million vapers in the country, and there are only probably about a 1000 to 1500 people who are active. And to actually achieve anything we must break out of our own little community.
Why have you decided to start your own party instead of working with an existing political party?
Alan: Well I think apart from the Tory MEPs, who have been incredibly helpful throughout the process, the others such as the ALDE EU group and the Lib Dems have wavered and dithered, I don’t think they are really representing us completely. They have been supportive on occassions, Chris Davies has made the right noises in the past but he doesn’t seem to represent what we want at the moment.
Dave: That’s part of the reason why we named the party independent, so we are independent from all the other parties. Our main line, obviously, is ecigs and to fight the Tobacco Products Directive.
What’s your thoughts on UKIP?
Alan: UKIP make the right noises but they don’t actually do the voting in the EU. They have hardly turned up for any of the actual votes. So unless they actually back up what they are saying with hard votes, it’s a bit of a waste of time.
I was interested to see you called your party the UK Vapers Independence Party. Why the independence part – couldn’t this potentially put off people who are keen to see ecigarettes remain legal and available but who do not support independence from the EU?
Alan: It’s not independence from the EU we are looking for, and that is something we will have to make completely clear. We will be putting that in the manifest and any pamphlets that go out – we will be making it clear that we have no connection with UKIP and no policy on the EU. We don’t want to get involved with that at all.
How far along are you with setting up the party?
Dave: We are registering the party today, so that should be all going forward. It’s possible that the registration committee will come back and tell us that we can’t name the party UKVIP.
Alan: We have got an alternative if need be, we have the name UKVP, and we might have to use that. But again, this name has been launched, it has got over 500 Facebook likes and it’s out there so I would personally like to see it continue at the moment.
So where will you be fielding candidates?
Alan: London is where we are looking at at the moment. One of the candidate, Barry Norton, actually lives in London. The other candidate, Liam Bryan, can get into London easily.
Dave: And part of all this going on is to raise the media awareness of ecigs, and where the best place is is London.
Will you be choosing who you campaign against carefully?
Alan: To a certain degree, yes. We will be facing the Tory MEPs anyway, in many of the consitutencies, even though they have been very supportive, apart from Struen Stevenson in Scotland, of our case.
Dave: I think the biggest one we would have liked to have gone for would be Linda McAvens constituency – Yorkshire & Humber. That’s on the backburner. [Linda Mc Aven has been one of the driving forces for a call for an effective ban on ecigs.]
It must be quite expensive as well?
Alan: Five K for an application, James, for each constituency.
How will you be raising funds?
Dave: We are already raising funds from many places, mainly through donations. We have had loads of donations in already and we thank everyone for supporting UKVIP for that anyway. We have all the social media websites and the various Vaping forums – UK Vapers, Planet of the Vapes, AAEC [All About Electronic Cigarettes] and of course our own website (page since removed).
Alan: We already started with £600.00 when the idea was set up in early December.
Where did the money come from?
Alan: That was on UK Vapers. The initial idea was to get an MP, and Russell V. Ord, was prepared to stand but we thought it would be ideal to get an MEP out there. So Peter Gill, myself and Dave re-appraised the idea. It’s still really early days!
How do you plan to campaign – will this mostly be online?
Dave: Well it’s a mixture of things. Currently it’s mostly online, we are getting various social media managers involved who can run that side for us because it’s a 24 hour job. From there on it’s going to be focussing on London and the South East with feet on the ground, there are about 30 activists in London who will be helping us to get the message out to everybody.
Realistically, given the huge organisation and finances of the parties you will be campaigning against, what do you think you can achieve?
Alan: To spread the message to the public, and break out of the small group we are in at the moment, inform more members of the public, and to inform people who vape but are not involved in forums or campaigning.
Dave: Getting media attention, getting other people involved and getting the message across about ecigs to the general public. With all this new scientific research coming out, and there’s more coming out as we speak, hopefully the public will get to know about this and become more aware of it. We also hope to turn all this bad press around turn it to our advantage.
Certainly we can hear through social channels and the EU parliament that there is a lot of shuffling of feet from people who were dead against ecigs and who are now coming over to our side.
Alan: If we could save the deposit that would be great, but we are talking over a 100,000 people just to save the deposit. That’s an extremely tall order, but that’s our aim, and it would be nice to extend this into the 2015 elections and indeed into the local elections to get the message out there to as many people as we can.
Would you vote for UKVIP? Let me know in the comments!
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