Saturday 6 August 2016

Why the UKIP leadership debacle is a sign of the party’s strength, not its weakness

This week would appear, to the casual observer, to have been a pretty disastrous one for UKIP. The power vacuum opening up in the wake of the colossal personality of Nigel Farage is sucking in the best and the worst that the party has to offer. The results have been explosive already, and the leadership race has technically only just begun.

Steven Woolfe’s rejection by the party’s NEC as a result of his late submission of nomination papers has sparked fury among the membership. Polling before the event showed he was the clear front-runner and the favoured candidate for a substantial portion of the party’s grassroots. The move has been seen as an example of cynical manoeuvring by those at the top of the party with personal agendas.

We now face the prospect of an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM). This stems from a provision in the UKIP Constitution whereby if 20% of UKIP branches sign a letter requesting such a meeting, it must be held. It’s likely that the topic of discussion will be a substantial restructure to the NEC, and perhaps the party itself.

There is much talk in the media of rivalling factions within the party, and it’s been widely reported that UKIP, as a result of this dispute, may split or crumble. Aaron Banks has spoken freely on the topic of starting a new party and there has been open debate on how many members would join him in such an endeavour.

In reality, the current situation is unlikely to be caused by warring factions. It’s actually altogether simpler than that, and it boils down to the sort of person that typically joins UKIP.

I’ve often heard UKIP referred to (sometimes disparagingly) as The People’s Army. Perhaps unintentionally, there is an inference with this branding towards the militant nature of your average ‘Kipper. UKIP has always strongly promoted individual liberty, shunned the nanny state, and demanded transparency and accountability from our elected representatives.

This libertarian cocktail is particularly alluring to the sort of voter who isn’t afraid to speak their own mind, who wants their opinion to be heard and who is willing to put in the effort to make sure that it is. The result is that in comparison to members of the other main political parties in the UK, the wider UKIP membership is significantly less tolerant towards any perceived slight from those above them in the party hierarchy.

This upcoming EGM - or even its threat - is a demonstration of exactly the sort of accountability that UKIP wants for the whole of the UK, where if a large enough portion of the population disagrees with a decision made by anyone in a position of seniority, the decision can be overturned.

The media are reporting on a party in chaos. I disagree. This is UKIP showing that it really is the party of the ordinary people. The party members have a voice, and currently they are using it to tell the NEC exactly what they think of their decision. I hope that one day we will be able to hold a UK government to account with such fervour.