I thought the summer’s UK Independence Party leadership election was an unpleasant slugfest. It is positively cuddly in comparison to what is happening this time, but only if you read between the lines. And the bias.
When Raheem Kassam and Peter Whittle withdrew, it seemed that the more refreshing, and, in my opinion, creditable candidates had gone, along with UKIP’s opportunity to realise a chance to continue the legacy left by Nigel Farage. But there was, and still is, one hope left.
John Rees-Evans was a name not only had people in British politics never heard of, but I imagine a large number of UKIP members had never heard of, but now he is their greatest champion, and if elected, will make them more powerful than ever-before.
Mr Rees-Evans’s campaign began with a radio debate on LBC against Whittle, frontrunner and Farage’s former Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall, and former spokeswoman Suzanne Evans. During the debate Mr Rees-Evans questioned aspects of Ms Evans’s policies. In a livestream posted on Facebook (more on that later), Mr Rees-Evans played a recording on his phone of a conversation initiated soon after this debate in which all candidates are reminded to fight a clean campaign, which many seem to believe is a barely-veiled barbed remark towards Mr Rees-Evans. The party officials in the recording are not named, with many alleging they are the voices of Party Chairman Paul Oakden and Piers Wauchope, a former Parliamentary candidate and current National Executive Committee candidate. Later that evening, the first of four hustings events across the country took place without little fuss.
The next hustings event, held in Newport, Wales, caused more of a stir. Speaking third out of the four candidates that remained at that point, Mr Rees-Evans spoke of the party’s wish for “a quiet, decorous coronation” and said that a vote for anyone else would be a vote for “business as usual”. He then proceeded to walk out of the building, to applause and ovations from generous portions of the assembled audience. From that moment on, Mr Rees-Evans couldn’t be ignored much more. But it is evident that many have attempted.
Yesterday, Mr Rees-Evans’s presence was missing from a segment on BBC’s Sunday Politics, where Mr Nuttall and Ms Evans were questioned together. Mr Rees-Evans claims that he was invited to participate on the programme’s sister show Daily Politics and film a prerecorded segment, which he was told would be similar to videos recorded with Mr Nuttall and Ms Evans. Instead, M Rees-Evans’s was the only one recorded which was then shoehorned into the Sunday Politics segment on the party, with Mr Nuttall and Ms Evans sitting in the studio live.
Mr Rees-Evans conducted a livestream on Facebook in which he entered the BBC Wales studios – where the programme is broadcast – and asked if he could be given permission to appear. The request was not accepted and was asked to vacate the building. A link to the full livestream will be at the bottom of this article.
Also mentioned by Mr Rees-Evans in the Facebook video, and reported by Breitbart London today, the legitimacy of UKIP’s leadership election process has been questioned after it was confirmed that the party used staff in Newton Abbott to send members their ballot papers in the mail, instead of using the Electoral Form Services, who was tasked with sending ballot papers at the previous leadership election. Breitbart London also reported that some members have been sent duplicate ballot papers, whereas some haven’t received any at all. The deadline to return the papers is this Friday.
Mr Kassam, editor-in-chief of Breitbart London, said: “This whole race is looking more and more like a sham at this point. There is no integrity to it. And the next leader, whomever they may be, looks to have an illegitimate mandate.” Mr Kassam withdrew three weeks ago, saying that the party’s hierarchy were treating the process as a “coronation” towards Mr Nuttall, an opinion that was echoed by Mr Rees-Evans at the Newport hustings event.
Mr Nuttall’s campaign has revolved around the word ‘unity’ – he bills himself as the candidate to deliver this but has said little regarding the means of achieving this. Many have questioned the reasoning behind his decision to stand, having decided against standing in the summer election, which was won by Diane James, who resigned 18 days later, and has subsequently left the party. A UKIP source in Wales told NMC UK that Mr Nuttall “would be the most reluctant leader of all-time.”
Ms Evans’s campaign was launched with the promise to taking the party into the “common-sense centre-ground” of British politics. It was a move condemned by many members of the party, with whom her popularity has waned since criticising Mr Farage’s leadership, which was deemed to be bringing the party into disrepute and was suspended for a period.
Mr Rees-Evans is still travelling across the country speaking to party members but took time to answer questions put to him by myself and New Media Central UK Editor Sebastian Cheek.
Q: Do you feel that today’s decision to exclude you from the BBC programme is going to cause more damage to Mr Nuttall’s and Ms Evans’s campaigns rather than your own?
John Rees-Evans: “Yes. On the basis of the feedback that I – and those assisting my campaign – have received from members since this morning, I am convinced that the cooperation between Paul and Suzanne and the BBC in shutting me out of the debate has served to damage both of them substantially. Conversely, these actions have proven beyond doubt that I am the only genuine anti-Establishment candidate in this race and the fact of this has attracted a surprisingly substantial amount of support to me today.”
Q: You have asked the question on your social media that Mr Nuttall and Ms Evans are scared. In your opinion, what are they scared of?
JRE: “I think they know that it would be impossible for them to make a cogent case against my platform of achieving a demonstrably far more honest expression of genuine democracy than the unsatisfactory approximation of feigned democracy that we have now, whereby the high-ups make decisions behind closed doors and simply hand down their agenda to the rest of us, without making any attempt to obtain our consent or canvas our views and concerns on issues.”
Q: If elected leader, is there any plan for those within UKIP that many feel have been unfaithful to it and to Nigel Farage i.e. Douglas Carswell/Neil Hamilton?
JRE: “Similarly to our party’s policy on recall, members would launch a motion to replace an elected representative via ‘UKIP Direct’. Provided a minimum threshold of participation were achieved, a majority vote would trigger an election at which alternative candidates could contest the position.”
Q: “Do you have a set plan for electoral success in 2020 should you be elected?”
JRE: “Yes. We’ll immediately begin the process of brainstorming to identify political opportunities at national level. We’ll quickly build our own internal media organisation and create compelling content that effectively communicates our message on issues where we stand to gain support. We’ll disseminate our message via social media channels, thereby by-passing the emasculating filter of mainstream media. In this way effective, non-intrusive campaigning for 2020 can begin immediately, with more traditional campaigning methods being employed in the few months ahead of the election.
Similarly, the revised NEC organisational structure would be duplicated at branch level, and local groups would brainstorm similarly to determine effective local campaigns that could gain support within communities and demonstrate that UKIP was in the business of genuine serving people and improving lives.
We’d effectively have a vertical pincer attack strategy whereby we were dynamically prioritising national level policies in response to whatever political opportunities presented themselves, while simultaneously liaising with activists at local level to coordinate complementary local campaign initiatives that targeted voters across a broad demographic range.”
Q: Do you feel giving the power to make policy to the members might contradict the leadership and thus leading to the image of a fractured party?
JRE: “No. In a genuine democracy, the only legitimate authority accorded to the leadership is that which is imparted by consent of the people. The arbitrary insistence of the leadership to obtain cooperation of the membership in support of a political direction that is the product of the leadership’s own agenda is a flagrant abrogation of the democratic principle.”
The new leader will be named on Monday November 28th at the Emmanuel Centre, Westminster.