With the departure of yet another leader will UKIP find stability?
I’m not sure it can. UKIP was never on my radar until the weeks leading up to the European Referendum. Here in Wales, I found myself quite isolated politically. It seemed the whole Welsh establishment and media were indeed pro-remain.
Yet not one of the many politicians I met could look me in the eye with conviction to explain the benefits of remaining. That still confuses me to this day. Along with contradictions like how Welsh and Scottish nationalist parties want independence from the UK, yet want to remain within the EU. I’m sure we’ll be talking about this for quite some time so, back to UKIP.
My first encounter with UKIP was a meeting with a newly-elected Assembly Member. We met to discuss a trip I had taken to the refugee camps in Greece. I’d already met with all my other elected members and felt it would be wrong to not use all the resources available to me. So after much consideration I decided to also meet with UKIP.
I had a pre-conceived idea that we’d not really get on. After all they’re against all forms of immigration, migration and refugees, right? Wrong! Meeting the UKIP Assembly Member reinforced how an open-mind in any situation is necessary. But especially when you’re passionate about making a positive difference. Little did I know shortly after this meeting, I’d be welcomed into the heart of the Welsh Assembly UKIP group working as its communications officer.
Being a wild horse who doesn’t like to stay in one place too long, I knew this was never going to be long-term move. After six months, I felt I’d learnt about who they were, along with a little more of the day-to day-business of the National Assembly for Wales.
Time for me to move on
When the time came to renew my contract, I found myself at a crossroads. I’d decided it was not only important to remain true to myself (my briefcase wanker days are over), I also felt a sense of responsibility to a group of people I’d come to highly respect.
But, after some consideration I decided not to sign the contract. It was clear that, as a new group, with everything that was going on they needed stability. That was something I knew I couldn’t really commit to long term.
In future articles I’ll give a more in-depth review of my time there. But suffice to say, we parted on, and remain in, good terms. There’ll be no kiss-and-tell and no revelations, I’m afraid.
So, as an outsider who has never been a member of UKIP or, in fact ever voted for UKIP, here’s how I see things right now.
Destruction of the sandcastle
Nigel Farage is someone who is synonymous around the world with the victory of the Brexit campaign. A man who dedicated many years of his life to getting Britain out of the European Union. While doing so, he helped build this great, big sandcastle known as UKIP.
Formed in 1993, it was a a relatively small political party with very little traction for most of its existence. It often overshadowed by the Eurosceptic Referendum Party (a party I’d personally never heard of). That party that dissolved in 1997, paving the way for UKIP to monopolise the single issue of the European Union.
Now fast-forward to 2006 and the entrance of Nigel Farage as leader of UKIP. It’s important to understand the world is now a very different place to what it was in the ‘90s when the party was first established. We’re now three years into a war with Iraq; support for the then Prime Minister Tony Blair was at an all-time low; nine additional countries had joined the European Union two years before (the golden egg for Farage); and migration into the UK from the poorer member states was on the increase.
So, the time for capturing the minds of an already disillusioned electorate couldn’t have been better. Nigel soon set out to work on creating more substantial polices, such as on immigration. This would prove to be effective. The larger parties were consistently underestimating the number of people arriving from the continent. And this resulted in a growing discontent from the the electorate.
UKIP upsets the cosy two-party system
The public became tired of successive governments’ failure to control immigration. This was clear in the results of the 2014 EU elections with UKIP mopping up disillusioned Tory votes, winning a record 24 seats at the European Parliament. Along with an 11-seat increase, UKIP had topped the poll, which saw the Conservatives drop to third place behind Labour.
In addition to seats in Brussels, UKIP bagged representation in both the London Assembly and the National Assembly for Wales and even taking control of a council in Thanet. Although that is now in the balance with 12 UKIP councillors going independent in protest of the leader, Chris Wells.
Personally, I don’t believe UKIP can survive. There’s been way too much washing of dirty laundry in public. And, while people continue to place Nigel Farage on a pedestal, they fail to see he turned his back on the members. Post-referendum, he has done little to stabilise the party. Sometimes he could be seen to actively encourage much of the infighting that’s become all too familiar; entertaining for their opposition, but bitterly disappointing to many who put their faith in this political party. They are now witnessing it falling down around them. And not through their opposition, but from within. There’s something telling me Farage would be happy to see the end of this party he’ll forever be associated with. But he’s sorted – his EU pension will see him through his old age.
UKIP offered Wales a fresh alternative
Although I’ve never voted UKIP I absolutely respect the decision made by my fellow country men and women who wanted an alternative in Wales, where politics was getting pretty mundane. UKIP has certainly added much-needed colour and hasn’t been able to avoid the public displays of infighting, tantrums and tiaras.
Nathan Gill and Mark Reckless both left the assembly group to become independents. Both showing disloyalty to the members and electorate that put them there. We’ve heard lots of excuses, but it’s clear one thought he was the rightful heir to the position of leader; the other thought there’d be an open door from the Conservatives. But neither got the outcomes they desired.
This leaves the eclectic five who I’ve come to respect; five who have more respect for UKIP than UKIP has for them. Having a ringside seat and the opportunity to be a fly on the wall in their early days in Cardiff Bay opened my eyes to the lengths the establishment will go to retain its cosy consensus aided and abeted by the media. Wales needs the alternative these five bring. You don’t need to be a supporter or a member to appreciate the need for change in Welsh politics.
If they are to survive in Wales, they need to learn from the more-established parties who have, for the most part, learnt the art of keeping their dirty laundry behind closed doors. Something UKIP is yet to master. My advice would be, if the next leader isn’t strong enough to curtail all this infighting that happens at a national level, to consider breaking away and forming a new, Welsh party.
The demise of Henry Bolton
Henry Bolton’s leaving in such a public way certainly hasn’t helped the party. But yet again, members have displayed some unsavoury behaviours reinforcing to many just how unprofessional this party can be. When the result of the vote was announced, the crowds cheered. The same crowds who cheered his election just a few months ago.
Bolton had come from nowhere within the political world. With extensive experience in the military and the world of security, he was the most decorated leader. But he was naïve to what it takes to lead a political party such as UKIP. And this begs the question: who were his advisors? And why didn’t they protect him from making such mistakes?
The party has turned feral and I genuinely don’t see how that can be changed under such circumstances. I’ve always favoured standing out over blending in. But it seems UKIP has stood out for all the wrong reasons. The party continuously gives fuel to the fire that will eventually engulf it.
Maybe only a seismic shift in UK politics, such as the collapse of Brexit talks, could save UKIP from the brink. But I find that highly unlikely.