At the tail-end of a sunny autumn morning, Raheem Kassam made a speech that launched his campaign to become leader of the UK Independence Party. It was a speech that convinced this website to endorse him as our favoured candidate to succeed Nigel Farage, as he was the only candidate to go to great lengths to ensure his legacy would be preserved, respected and followed, as well as launching a number of well-thought common-sense policies that would have taken the party away from the political wilderness from which Farage himself had dragged it. Three days later, I’m woken by a message from a colleague of Kassam’s, breaking the sad news that he had withdrawn from the race citing, amongst other things, a lack of integrity within the party, claiming that those at the top of the party believe it is “a coronation”. With nominations officially closed, there are four remaining candidates:
Peter Whittle – the party’s Culture Spokesman, London Assembly member and London Mayoral candidate. Whittle, 55, is the only true ‘Faragist’ left on the ballot, and is Kassam’s preferred choice.
Paul Nuttall – former Deputy Leader, Nuttall sees himself as “the unity candidate”. Said to be close to Neil Hamilton – a figurehead of the anti-Farage faction of the party – Nuttall is the favourite to win.
Suzanne Evans – former spokeswoman for the party, Evans was suspended by UKIP in March for bringing the party into disrepute, and subsequently took a short-lived legal action against the decision, in which she made the false allegation that Nigel Farage beats his wife. Evans has said she wants to bring the party into ‘the common sense centre’ of the party, a move widely-condemned by many members.
John Rees-Evans – Former British Army member Rees-Evans, 37, is the least-known of the candidates, but gained media attention after a remark made in 2014 that a “homosexual donkey” tried to rape a horse he owned.
Kassam made the announcement through his website – makeukipgreatagain.com – and also claimed that press intrusion – primarily the door-stepping of his parents by Billy Kenber of The Times newspaper – and difficulty with funds for his campaign. “The path to victory,” said Kassam, “was too narrow”.
Whilst there is no real evidence of this, I cannot help but feel Kassam’s comment is a barbed message to the anti-Farage faction within the party. Hamilton, who in 1997 was found guilty of taking money in exchange for asking questions on behalf of former Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed in parliament, props this faction up along with the party’s solitary MP Douglas Carswell, who greeted the news of Kassam’s withdrawal by tweeting the same smiley-face emoji he used to express his reaction to Farage’s resignation on July 4. Whilst Evans is running her own leadership campaign, it is generally considered that she too is in the faction, claiming just two days ago in an interview with The Guardian, that she sees Carswell “once a week”.
The contempt towards Farage was evident when I interviewed several UKIP politicians at the party’s autumn conference over the 16th-17th of September. Whilst some were keen to praise him, like the recently-resigned Steven Woolfe – who claimed that Farage was one of “the top ten politicians” in history, comparing his work to that of Henry Hunt and the Chartist movement – others were less articulate, Mark Reckless saying short and not-so-sweetly that he should be remembered as “the man who regained Britain’s independence”. Jonathan Arnott offered a similar comment, who then went to tell me his admiration for Nuttall, who, unsurprisingly, he is backing in this contest. Carswell pulled the pained facial expression of a man who had chewed on a particularly bitter clove when claiming to me that he wished Farage “well in his future career”. I’ve been told by someone formerly connected to the Vote Leave group that: “That is Vote Leave code for: ‘they can go f**k themselves’,” and added: “Wishing Nigel well when Carswell means anything but is an example of Vote Leave’s vile nature, which was reflected in their tactics to destroy not only their opponents in the Remain campaign but those on the same side who they perceived as a threat to their supremacy. Vote Leave wanted to win it all for themselves and saw Nigel, the core of ‘Faragist UKIP’, and Leave.EU as a threat to them holding the title of ‘winner’ at the end of the referendum. But Vote Leave didn’t win the referendum: the British people did, democracy did, freedom did. And there would not be a Vote Leave without Nigel, and no referendum either. That is the truth that those vile people won’t admit to.”
It’s not difficult to work it out – the anti-Farage faction are what many on the loyalist side refer to as “Tory-Lite”. It’s a masterpiece of irony that UKIP, the party that has spent the majority of its history fighting the establishment, has an establishment now running through it like a stick of Blackpool rock. In Huffington Post UK’s Owen Bennett’s recent book, The Brexit Club, it’s claimed that Carswell, after planning with Conservative MEP Dan Hannan, joined UKIP in order to “neutralise” Farage’s “toxic” leadership that they believed would act as a disincentive to potential Leave-voters in the EU referendum. In fact, recent polls have suggested that Farage, who was shut-out of working for the official ‘Vote Leave’ campaign (working instead for the Arron Banks-funded Leave.EU organisation), was instrumental in securing Leave’s victory in the referendum, where 52% voted in its favour. For them, careerist politicians with little concern except for their reputation, Farage, a former commodities broker in the City who has enjoyed a reputation to many as a more ‘man of the people’ figure, could simply not be the primary reason Britain voted the way it did, so those on the wrong side in UKIP are now looking to airbrush Farage out of its history, an impossible task given that Farage is the main reason the party gained the popularity it did, peaking in 2014, when it won the European Elections and two Westminster by-elections (albeit with Reckless and Carswell winning).
With Nuttall favourite to win the contest, the question must be asked: what really is next for UKIP? I have attempted to second-guess this many times, including on this website, but the closer we get to November 28th, when the leader is announced, the more I begin to think that one more realistic ambition is for the Farage loyalists to disassociate themselves with UKIP, as it will not be the party Farage brought into the mainstream for much longer. At the conference, Banks said that he was considering setting-up a new political movement to align with UKIP. Maybe something like that is the answer.
I would like to personally call-on Mr Farage, Mr Banks and Mr Kassam to inaugurate such a movement. A movement that stands-up for the 17.4 million people that voted for Brexit, and ensures it holds Her Majesty’s Government’s feet to the fire regarding the matter; a movement that also stands on a policy platform that encapsulates all of UKIP’s original ideas without worry of being held-back by people who want to take to, as Kassam described it, “the swishy centre-ground”. It’s certainly something I would join and vote for. Raheem, have a pint of Whitstable Bay and think about it, please.
It might be too late to save the UK Independence Party, but it’s not too late to save the UK.