UKIP’s Existential Crisis?

BY JAMIE FOSTER

UKIP is facing a crisis as a wave of resignations sweeps across key positions in the party over the leadership of Henry Bolton. The ex army officer already faced a vote of no confidence from UKIP’s NEC but is refusing to step down following reports about racist texts allegedly sent by his girlfriend Jo Marney. She is alleged to have said that Megan Markle would taint the royal family, that all black people are ugly and that she would never sleep with a negro. Mr Bolton ended his relationship with her when news of the texts emerged. Nonetheless senior figures within the party still think he should resign.

Henry Bolton is the fourth leader of UKIP since Nigel Farage left the position 18 months ago. Diane James lasted just 18 weeks, saying that she couldn’t work with the UKIP hierarchy. Paul Nuttall left after a disastrous showing at the last general election. Henry Bolton became leader last September after beating off a challenge from the anti Islamist candidate Anne Marie Waters. He had emerged from virtual obscurity to take the position. Over Christmas he left his wife to begin a relationship with Ms. Marney.

The crisis comes at a terrible time for UKIP whose finances are said to be in a parlous state. It is thought that the party cannot afford another leadership election and may be on the verge of bankruptcy. The leader of UKIP in Wales, Neil Hamilton, has called on Mr Bolton to step down. If Mr Bolton continues to refuse to resign an emergency meeting of the party will be held in which the membership can forcibly remove him.

UKIP’s continued relevance is an open question following the referendum result. It is also questionable whether the party can survive without Nigel Farage at the helm. Farage himself is said to be in talks with the businessman Aaron Banks about the formation of a new political campaign. So what is UKIP for now?

The party has had little success in persuading the electorate to vote for it in general elections. With Brexit becoming a reality it is hard to think of anything that UKIP is needed to campaign for. It was supposed to put pressure on the Tories to ensure that Brexit was managed according to the will of the people who voted for it, but with the infighting and chaos at the helm it seems that UKIP is incapable of doing much to hold the Tories to account.

When it looked like the UK was stuck as a member of the EU there was a real reason for UKIP to exist. Sending UKIP MEPs to Brussels was a way of protesting the EU’s grip on British public life. Now, with a process in place to remove us from the EU it is hard to see how UKIP can find a new raison d’être.  It is also hard to see how Mr Bolton can survive as its embattled leader. There comes a point when an entire party is calling for your resignation when the right thing to do is to step down.

Had UKIP made significant gains as a result of their association with the winning side of the referendum, things would be different. Oddly for them they didn’t become the voice of Brexiteers, who came from too many political backgrounds to be represented by a single party. UKIP can claim credit for keeping Brexit on top of the political agenda but was unable to make political capital out of having done so. Now we may see them having largely achieved their political ambition while simultaneously disappearing as a political force.

Whatever the future holds for Henry Bolton the writing may be on the wall for the party he still leads. We are going through a strange time in British politics. The Lib Dems are also at the point of disappearing as a political force. Labour is being taken over by Momentum and the Tories have been reduced to the party of managing Brexit. Whatever you think about UKIP, its possible demise will do little for the health of multi party democracy. Maybe I am writing them off too soon, but in order to survive they need to take giant steps to put their house in order. Otherwise the current crisis could be an existential one.

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