In my bedroom somewhere is a miniature British Union Flag and a banner which proclaims “#TeamRaheem” and “Make UKIP Great Again” on either side. They were handed to people who attended the launch of Raheem Kassam’s campaign to become the next leader of the UK Independence Party, an event NMC UK Editor Sebastian Cheek and myself attended exactly one year ago. 12 months on, and UKIP still isn’t great again. And I worry if it ever will be.
A few days later, Kassam withdrew, knowing the party’s establishment were always going to prevent him from winning. And since then, that establishment has almost cost the party its relevance and existence. Nothing can gloss-over the pathetic state the party got into during the Paul Nuttall leadership, and now UKIP’s task is not so much uphill, as more a Matterhorn climb to get it back to its 2014 halcyon days.
Henry Bolton hasn’t particularly started that climb well. Even though he has partaken in media interviews reasonably well, Bolton’s reneging on the promise to appoint David Kurten as his Deputy Leader has left many members feeling disenfranchised, and with two parties formed off the back of Bolton’s victory, the task is precarious to say the least.
During the campaign, it emerged that Bolton had been a member of the Liberal Democrats and even stood for them in the 2005 General Election, and it’s possible some social liberalism lingers within, hence his decision to renege on appointing Kurten, a fervent campaigner against cultural Marxism and champion of more traditional values. It may be a decision Bolton may never recover from given that Kurten is undoubtedly one of the most popular elected figures within the party, and that is where Bolton’s first big task lies.
Listening to the membership
There’s no real way to sugar-coat it – UKIP’s membership has dwindled significantly. Bolton himself admitted as such on a recent BBC interview and said the figure is “around 27,000”. Some of them were stupid enough to think the Conservative Party were going to implement Brexit properly (oh how stupid must those people feel now) and some have now gone to join Anne-Marie Waters’ For Britain or aligned themselves to John Rees-Evans’ Affinity. Bolton’s job is to convince those left why they should stay and convince others why they should join.
Firstly, he has to take their concerns into consideration, and this is where I am sure he will be met with questions regarding the Kurten promise. Bolton said during his first keynote speech as leader that he would be undertaking a tour of Britain to engage with the members and it would be wise to follow-through with such a plan. Former leader Nigel Farage has been a longstanding advocate of Direct Democracy in some form or other, and Rees-Evans was the figure who brought it to the forefront with his two leadership campaigns which championed the concept. Whether you believe in Rees-Evans’ particular form of Direct Democracy or in a softer approach, listening to the members, especially in a party such as UKIP – one that is that little bit smaller than other mainstream parties – is essential otherwise the membership numbers will get lower.
The topic of Islam in Britain was much-debated within the leadership campaign. Waters take a tough approach on Islam, which in my opinion always risked alienation amongst moderate Muslims who abide by the rule of law in Britain and also abhor the actions of radicalised Muslims who have caused terror and destruction, particularly in our major cities this year, but many will feel Bolton, who suggested UKIP led by Waters would be akin to “a socialist workers’ party”, is too soft on the issue. Regardless on how extreme or soft his approach is, Bolton must accept there is a problem with radicalised Muslims in Britain and must talk tough on it.
Drag UKIP into this century and reform its structure
Whilst Kassam boasted an attractive manifesto in his campaign, one of the policies I agreed with particularly was his stance on “taking UKIP into the digital age”. This was something also advocated by Rees-Evans, both realising that UKIP is stuck in a bygone era with some of the ways it is operated.
Kassam also proposed reforming its restrictive National Executive Committee, which has long been the rod UKIP made for its own back, and turning it “into regional board, elected by grassroots members, to allow the party to function properly”, as well as “an executive board as a limited company, but also to make sure the NEC is really representative of our party”. Farage has also spoken-out on his wish for the party to be reformed, beginning with the NEC, with whom he has clashed previously. Bolton needs to act on this soon otherwise it will be business as usual, which is the last thing UKIP needs. I also believe that if this becomes reality, the aforementioned UKIP establishment will be eradicated.
Be the champions of Brexit with one eye on the future
Who was it who said that UKIP needed to be “the guard dogs of Brexit”? It was Nuttall, several times. Whilst it became a phrase that wore-out quicker than a cheap pair of socks, the truth is UKIP must be the party that needs to hold the shambolic Government to account over Brexit to ensure that Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union is not watered-down in the way Theresa May and most of her cabinet seemingly want it to be.
But of course UKIP has to plan for a Britain post-Brexit. Whilst it is not as popular as it was when it received four million votes at the 2015 General Election, that result is proof that UKIP’s fully-costed manifesto – which Bolton has said is what he will be referring to as leader – held its own with the other main parties and that the party’s Conservatarian spine resonated with many. If Bolton is really set on basing UKIP on that manifesto, then he may just yet have some hope.
In my opinion it has been a shaky start for Bolton, and it is no secret that he has a heck of a job on his hands. If it is true that he is considering selling his own home for the cause, then he will win respect from many. Given his background in the military, Bolton is undoubtedly a man of steel. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that that steeliness and resolve helps him make UKIP great again.