One thing is absolutely certain: as the days and weeks pass by, Nigel Farage’s legacy as UKIP leader seems all the more remarkable.
How on earth did he keep a party so fractured in check for so long? Answers on a postcard please because we have no idea!
Founded in 1993 as the little-known Anti-Federalist League, the United Kingdom Independence Party has risen to huge national prominence in the past decade and achieved what many before it couldn’t – breaking the stranglehold of the big political three in British politics. Add to that an historic win in the 2014 European Parliament elections, attracting nearly four million votes in the 2015 General Election and the integral role it played in the EU referendum and UKIP really has defied all its many critics to leave a lasting imprint on the UK’s political landscape.
For years it has seen constant growth but like a dedicated bodybuilder whose physique gradually plateaus over time, UKIP has reached a crossroads and it must choose the right path – a clearly defined path – or face a slow and painful political extinction to put it bluntly. Part of its great appeal has long been its ability to connect with the large swathes of working class voters with absolutely no intention of ever voting Conservatives or Labour again.
This large cross-section of the electorate has watched on with disdain for years as scandal after scandal and broken promise after broken promise has filled the column inches of daily newspapers. Safe in their ivory towers, and with their two homes paid for, career politicians pledge to put more money in these people’s pockets and improve public services whilst, in reality, their towns and cities slowly erode in front of their very eyes.
UKIP were…are… the breath of fresh air these people want and need. A change from the oh-so predictable Westminster politics, UKIP politicians were in touch with ordinary concerns on the street and weren’t afraid to tackle the metropolitan elite head on. A party personified by a leader who loved nothing more than a pint down his local pub. It was a vote winner, pure and simple.
But as senior figures started to jostle for position in the run-up to the referendum campaign, we have seen a gradual shift – an evolving change in attitude from some quarters – as fractures between different cliques began to emerge. With it came a wave of petty politics, name-calling, point-scoring, overinflated egos and it hasn’t gone away since, regrettably.
With Corbyn’s Labour drifting dangerously yet willingly to the left, there is a gaping chasm which UKIP are more than capable of stepping into by capturing traditional, patriotic Labour heartlands in the north once and for all. But rather than grasp this opportunity with both hands, UKIP seem hell-bent on destroying themselves from within and becoming the very thing its core voters despise. From leadership election debacles, suspensions of senior figures, constant squabbling between factions, suspicions of Tory mole interference and even fights in the European Parliament building, this is a party which has bordered on the farcical too many times in the past 12 months.
Whether the outgoing Steven Woolfe was right to deliver his parting shot in full view of the mainstream media is debatable. Many will rightly say it lacked class. But his words, calling UKIP “ungovernable without Farage leading it” and “riddled with infighting between camps” mirrors the frustrated view of many ordinary UKIP voters and is hard to argue with.
Already we have spoken to many staunch UKIP supporters, once buoyed by their fight against the establishment, who have now grown tired and disillusioned by the endless stream of unprofessionalism. One said to us very simply: “I thought they were different, but it appears all politicians are exactly the same!”
It’s far from being an irreversible position but with membership already falling UKIP politicians need to take stock and remember the winning formula which brought them to this point. They need to remember that each pathetic Twitter spat turns off another voter for a generation. UKIP used to be above this and it still can be – but first it needs to elect a charismatic and forward-thinking leader who can unite the party, banish the really disruptive elements, win over new voters and reform the outdated National Executive Committee as Diane James promised but failed to do. Whether that person is Raheem Kassam, Suzanne Evans, Paul Nuttall or Peter Whittle remains to be seen. But with one poll from Ipsos Mori this week suggesting UKIP support has plummeted as low as six per cent, these changes need to happen and they need to happen quickly.
Standing up for those without a voice in Britain