THE United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has selected Caroline Stephens, a former banker from North Wiltshire, as its prospective parliamentary candidate to contest the Stroud seat at the 2015 general election.
Mrs Stephens, who lives in Chippenham, 27 miles from Stroud, beat off competition from two other candidates to secure her party’s nomination at a hustings event held in a pub near Kemble on Thursday, January 30.
A relative newcomer to the world of local politics, the 49-year-old only joined UKIP a year ago, having never previously been a member of any political party.
The mother of two, who will be hoping to shake-up what is likely to be a two horse race between the current Conservative MP Neil Carmichael and veteran Labour politician David Drew, said she decided to sign-up with the anti-EU party after attending a public meeting in Chippenham where UKIP MEP William Dartmouth and the party’s deputy leader Paul Nuttall gave speeches.
“They spoke common sense and there was a buzz in the air, it was really electric,” she said.
“Everyone in the room was concerned about the influence the EU is having on our day to day lives and for me that is when the penny just dropped and I decided to join.”
Although the consensus among political commentators seems to be that UKIP will erode Conservative Party support, Mrs Stephens said she hoped to appeal to all voters in Stroud and not just to those who might be inclined to vote for the incumbent pro-EU Tory MP Neil Carmichael.
“I know the press have made a lot about UKIP taking votes away from the Tories but I think we will appeal to voters across the political spectrum,” she said.
“Our candidates have all had occupations that people can relate to. I have worked in a bank, for various charities and as a teacher in schools.
“I’m not a career politician, I’ve not worked as a political researcher and then become a professional politician, I have some real life experiences.”
Speaking to the SNJ, Mrs Stephens also sought to try and play down fears about the extreme views of some UKIP members, insisting that the party’s leader Nigel Farage had started to establish a more ‘professional’ set-up.
In August, UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom was filmed telling supporters that Britain should stop sending aid to ‘bongo-bongo land’, while last month the party was forced to expel one of its councillors in Oxfordshire who blamed recent flooding on the decision to legalise gay marriage.
Mrs Stephens herself said she believed the widespread flooding in Somerset stemmed from a failure to dredge local rivers.
She is, however, in favour of slashing the foreign aid budget, which has been ringfenced by the current Coalition.
"How can it be right that we waste £1 billion a month on foreign aid when Stroud schools, hospitals and roads are facing financial crises?" she said.
UKIP’s parliamentary hopeful will be meeting potential voters at the Old Lodge on Minchinhampton Common at 10am on Saturday, February 22. The event is open to the public and all are welcome to attend.
*Chris Harlow, a semi-retired transport industry worker, has also been elected as UKIP’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the Cotswolds.