The moment Paul Nuttall’s defeat in last week’s Stoke-On-Trent Central by-election was confirmed, many saw it as the death knell for the UK Independence Party. Obituaries were written by people on both ends of the political spectrum, and questions were asked of Nuttall’s leadership. It felt like UKIP was the last dodo, wandering the wilderness and waiting for time to spell its end. But a life preserver has been chucked into the ever-increasingly-murky water. And it feels a little bit like The Godfather.
The party’s biggest donor and chairman of the grassroots movement Leave.EU, Arron Banks, has made an offer many believe Nuttall can’t refuse. Banks has written an open letter to Nuttall, outlining his vision for the party should Nuttall comply to Banks’s offer that he be installed as the Party Chairman – a position currently held by Paul Oakden – in order to oversee the future operations of the party. If Banks were to become UKIP Chairman, he will rebrand the party and, as well as other plans, give emphasis to the concept of Direct Democracy, a concept championed previously by Nigel Farage and former UKIP leadership hopeful John Rees-Evans. Rees-Evans has posted on his personal Facebook page that the party should agree to this change, saying that: “…Paul Nuttall MEP and UKIP’s NEC must unhesitatingly, unequivocally, and gratefully accept the proposal being offered by Arron Banks that he should personally oversee UKIP’s organisational structure and immediately begin the process of implementing significant reforms that I believe will represent our best possible hope at this time of ensuring an as yet unseen level of professionalism and operational effectiveness as a party,” adding: “Unlike the kind of donor who operates from the shadows and makes coercive demands, Arron Banks has proven himself beyond doubt to be a true patriot, ideologically motivated, and someone that loves his country. As such I have no doubt that he is willing to put country before party. The NEC should reflect very carefully on this fact.”
It might seem strange to the layman that UKIP, the only fully-pro-Brexit political party in British politics, is rapidly becoming irrelevant and moribund when Britain is preparing to remove itself from the European Union, but there are many contributing factors to this. One key problem is the current Conservative government have tapped into the electorate, and the reasons they voted Leave, and have adopted many policies UKIP have had for a long time, and, as a longstanding mainstream party, the Conservatives are now enjoying a 18 point lead in the polls. But being a mainstream party, or attempting to, is not the way forward for UKIP. Another reason UKIP are struggling is they are attempting to appease too many walks of life at once. At the height of its popularity and success, UKIP appealed to a mixture of libertarians and Thatcherites. Today, it is attempting to appeal to those disillusioned with the Labour Party, and seems to be failing. It’s recent lumbering into centrism is failing, and the hierarchy need to rectify this pronto, as UKIP are now beginning to yield the unwanted label of being a weak party, when its previous strength and determination forced David Cameron into calling a referendum, which they helped make sure the Remain side and Cameron lost, forcing him and his Chancellor out of a job. Many sources I have within the party belief the weakness is connected to Nuttall and his leadership, which many believe is ineffective and will only take the party downwards.
It does seem bizarre that Nuttall flatly ruled himself out of the leadership race last summer, but then made a dramatic reappearance after Diane James’s resignation to announce he was standing, before going on to win with the biggest mandate in UKIP history. It leaves one wondering who twisted his arm, and who is running the show behind the scenes. Banks has recently alluded to the ‘Tory cabal’ that he believes is damaging the party, and that conveniently brings me to the final, and most crucial problem the party has: its only MP.
Ah yes, Douglas Carswell. A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma encased in a bastard. Carswell joined UKIP in its Euro Elections boom in August 2014, defecting from the Conservatives. As time wore-on, it became more-and-more apparent that Carswell was little more than a pain in the derriere, and is generally considered by many within the party – particularly the ‘Faragist’ faction – as a very poor return for 4 million votes in the 2015 General Election. Amidst the post-referendum giddiness, it transpired in journalist Owen Bennett’s book The Brexit Club that Carswell joined UKIP to ‘neutralise’ the apparently ‘toxic’ leadership of Farage in order to win the referendum. And yesterday for a column in The Telegraph, Farage wrote that Carswell personally called him in the aftermath of the General Election – when Farage offered his resignation after failing to win a seat in Parliament – to get the assurance that he would play no part in the referendum campaign, something Farage had spent upwards to 25 years of work towards.
In light of the General Election result, I had to tender my resignation to the UKIP NEC. Ahead of that meeting, Carswell called me. It was an aggressive and deeply unpleasant phone call in which he wanted my absolute assurance I was leaving and would not play a leading part in the referendum campaign. When he heard that there was unanimous opposition to this from the NEC and the party hierarchy, he almost exploded – Nigel Farage
The longstanding Farage-Carswell spat had gone pretty quiet since Nuttall’s election victory, but resurfaced last week on BBC’s Question Time when journalist Isabel Oakeshott alleged that Carswell – who was sitting a matter of feet away – had refused to endorse Farage for a Knighthood in the Queen’s recent New Year’s Honours list, thus blocking the opportunity. Oakeshott also later alleged that Carswell swiftly left the building, denying her the chance to ask him once again. Last night on Twitter, the ever-juvenile Carswell tweeted “Knight Night”, accompanied by his trademark smile-with-sunglasses emoji, alluding to the incident, which has prompted Party Chairman Oakden to summon him to a meeting today, the outcome of which, at the time of publication, is uncertain.
My views on this could not be clearer: if Arron Banks is made UKIP Chairman, the re-invigoration of the party begins. His wealth will be distributed better and more fairly and the chances of making the party seem less-amateurish and far more professional will be far more favourable. As well as this, Carswell will be removed and the unsavoury hangers-on, such as co-Deputy Chair Suzanne Evans and UKIP Wales leader Neil Hamilton, will probably follow him out of the door and back into obscurity where they belong. It’s time for the UK Independence Party to make itself independent from those who have caused damage to the party and tried to take it away from its roots.
You can follow Jack on Twitter @MisterJackSmith.