UKIP's changing road to Doncaster

When I turned up to report on my first UK Independence Party annual conference I was handed a biro, a piece of card and told to write out my own ID badge.

I even had to recycle a clear plastic wallet and safety pin still in my pocket from the previous week's TUC Conference.

The venue, a relatively small conference hall off a back street in Bristol, had been a bit difficult to find but following a line of late middle aged men in blazers looking like they were heading down to the pub for a Sunday lunchtime pint did the trick.

Image caption Do-it-yourself name tag at 2004 UKIP Conference

What a difference a decade has made.

Digital Doncaster

Instead of leaving a box of blank ID cards by the door on the off chance of any media turning up, I have had to log on to a website and complete an online application form for this year's conference to be held at Doncaster Racecourse in September.

Confidence that reporters and camera crews will be queuing up for seats is clearly running high as there is a warning that failure to apply at least a month in advance will incur a £500 penalty.

Though I suspect it was more oversight than expectation that the default country in the electronic application address box popped up as Afghanistan.

There are likely to be other signs of change when UKIP rolls into Doncaster .

It was an emerging difference pointed out to me by the former Yorkshire and the Humber MEP Godfrey Bloom in a car park next to the conference centre in Southport where the party held its annual gathering a couple of years ago.

"It used to be Skodas and ten year old Fords with the UKIP stickers in the windscreen," he proudly told me. "It's Beemers, Mercs and Jags now. We are attracting a much wider range of support".

Not amused

Unfortunately, for the outspoken Bloom, that drive to widen the appeal of the party led to his undoing.

From his breakthrough as UKIP's first elected politician in Yorkshire at the 2004 European polls the jovial former city gent and territorial army officer used his talent for quick-witted humour to push back the rise of what he considered pointless political correctness adopted by the mainstream political parties.

Even last year he claimed UKIP supporters listening to his speeches found it funny when he "jokingly" used terms like "sluts" and "Bongo Bongo land" to illustrate his points.

Party managers were not so amused.

The backlash to what was widely interpreted as casual racism and sexism completely overshadowed what was meant to be a triumphant 20th anniversary conference deliberately held at a venue within a stones throw of their next target - the House of Commons.

A line from party leader Nigel Farage's speech to the conference showed just how much the party had changed.

"The trouble with Godfrey is that he is not a racist, he's not an extremist or any of those things, and he's not even anti-women, but he has a sort of rather old fashioned Territorial Army sense of humour, which does not translate very well in modern Britain"

Despite being a long time friend, Bloom was dumped as a candidate for the upcoming European elections.

So, far more than my ID badge will have changed by the time UKIP arrives in Doncaster.