UKIP Must Step Back From The Brink

UKIP Leadership Crisis - Patrick OFlynn - Nigel Farage

 

It’s bad enough that the nearly four million people who voted for UKIP in the 2015 general election are represented by just one MP in Westminster, thanks to Britain’s punishing electoral system.

But now, some personalities within UKIP seem determined to put their own personal egos ahead of the eurosceptic cause at a particularly sensitive time for the still-maturing party, placing all of this hard work in jeopardy.

From The Spectator:

Ukip is doing a very good job of convincing voters it is not a serious party. After days of shadowboxing over the use of Short money to fund the party in Westminster, its economic spokesman Patrick O”Flynn has broken cover to attack Nigel Farage — and he certainly isn’t holding back. In today’s Times, O’Flynn says the Ukip leader has become ‘snarling, thin-skinned, aggressive’, instead of a ‘cheerful, ebullient, cheeky, daring’ politician. He goes on to describe the week of turmoil since Farage quit as leader, before withdrawing his resignation four days later.

And the Guardian:

O’Flynn refused to name who he wanted out of the leader’s team but it is understood that he and [Douglas] Carswell are gunning for Raheem Kassam, Farage’s senior personal adviser, who is understood to be out of the country at the moment, and Matthew Richardson, the party secretary, over a feeling that they were responsible for American-style attack politics that may have alienated more moderate voters. Richardson is reported to have offered his resignation.

Speaking on Sky News, O’Flynn said the advisers around Farage “have an awful lot to answer for. There are a couple of people around him who I won’t name who are influencing him in the wrong direction.

“They have been given far too much influence, far too much sway, and have treated certain very loyal party staffers absolutely abysmally. Someone needs to call time on them. Those are the people I have an issue with, in terms of their conduct and advice. I am a loyal supporter of Farage’s leadership. I just want to get it back to how it was before this group came to prominence.

UKIP has made remarkable progress in just five years, winning the 2014 European elections, picking up hundreds of local council seats and emerging as the strongest credible opposition to Labour in scores of northern English seats. Love UKIP or loathe them, they have earned a place in the top tier of British politics.

Nigel Farage’s resignation was mishandled, but the reasons for Farage wanting to remain as party leader are quite understandable. He made his pledge to resign if he lost Thanet South at a time when UKIP still expected to confound the First-Past-The-Post electoral system and return a sizeable contingent of MPs to Westminster. Had this been the case, it would indeed have been untenable for Farage to remain as leader of the party when UKIP’s political centre of gravity had shifted so decisively from Brussels to London.

But of course this did not happen. Douglas Carswell is UKIP’s sole Member of Parliament, and has expressed no interest in taking on the party leadership himself. There is no logical reason why the UKIP leader should have a Westminster seat when the vast majority of their elected representatives are MEPs sitting in Brussels and Strasbourg. Taking the example of the Green Party, for all of Natalie Bennett’s flaws, the decision by Caroline Lucas to let someone other than their sole MP take on the task of growing the brand and increasing membership was the correct one – as Nigel Farage no doubt realised.

And yet despite the progress made and the success UKIP have had in pushing Britain’s membership of the European Union to the forefront of political debate, they stand poised to throw it all away.

This toxic drip-drip of briefingscounter-briefings and counter-counter-briefings by rival factions is self-serving and unseemly, and threatens to make the party look ridiculous. And by extension, this unnecessary drama – at a time when the parties of the right and the eurosceptic caucus should be pressing their advantage – makes the people who were brave enough to lend their support to UKIP start to look ridiculous too. And let down very badly.

There are more than enough challenges facing UKIP in the coming years without adding personality clashes and outsized egos to the mix. Top of the agenda will be finding a way to accommodate the huge influx of former Labour voters into what was traditionally a party that stood for small government, personal freedom and low taxes – if indeed it is desirable to make such an accommodation.

The 2015 manifesto, ably presided over by Suzanne Evans, did a good job of papering over these differences, and attracted Labour support while remaining for the most part (with exceptions like advocating the repeal of the “bedroom tax”) a call for smaller government and a stronger national defence.

But there may be still to come a battle for UKIP’s soul – assuming that the party can remain in existence long enough for the debate to matter.

Now is not the time to settle scores in public, be it in the pages of the Times or on the panel of BBC Question Time. Now is the time to remember that UKIP are not only the voice of nearly four million voters in this country, but also that it is only through their presence and pressure that the Conservative government is taking any steps at all to recalibrate our relationship with the EU.

These small but important victories were very hard won, and it would be a very great shame on everyone concerned if personal rivalries and differences of opinion were allowed to bring this work crashing down.

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