Cast your mind back to May 2015. UKIP has just polled four million votes in the General Election but failed to win more than one seat in the Commons. Nigel Farage resigns.
And then unresigns.
Farage was mocked for his flip flopping. Derided for offering the shortest resignation in history. But if anything, history has proved him astute. UKIP’s current predicament suggests that his u-turn may just have saved his party. At least until now.
The current UKIP leadership election is proving just what a one man band the party has become. Infighting, insult flinging and mass resignations reveal that despite the vote for Brexit, despite the four million mandates in 2015, and despite winning the European Parliament elections in 2014, this is still a party lacking the machinery, infrastructure and talent to be taken seriously.
Steven Woolfe MEP, UKIP’s immigration spokesperson and the favourite to succeed Farage, failed to submit his leadership papers on time – 17 minutes late to be precise.
Woolfe blamed a technical issue with the UKIP website, claiming that he had evidence that he actually submitted his credentials with nearly thirty minutes to spare. But this did not prove enough, and the UKIP National Executive Committee (NEC) voted to disbar him. This led to three members of the NEC resigning in protest and accusations that the NEC only made the decision because Woolfe was committed to abolishing the body. They accused their colleagues of “escalating megalomania” and “oligarchy, self-promotion and cronyism”.
This episode has been only the latest in a leadership election that, so far, has appeared more like a mafia war than a true debate over policy and future direction. Potential candidates such as Douglas Carswell were caught by a loophole that barred nomination unless a candidate had been a member for five years. In turn, Woolfe’s supporters have accused Carswell and Neil Hamilton, UKIP’s group leader in the Welsh Assembly, of being behind his disqualification. Hamilton himself has a chequered recent internal party history, having controversially stood against UKIP’s Welsh Party Leader, Nathan Gill, to lead the party in the Assembly.
All these episodes shine a light on the fact that UKIP has become a party overly reliant on a dominant figure head. Its public profile, its campaigning zealous and ultimately its electoral success can, in almost every instant, be traced back to one man. And now that that one man has decided to step back from the limelight, it has become clear that he was the glue holding disparate warring elements together.
Without Farage at its head, UKIP is quickly descending into a series of tribal bust ups. At a time when it should be capitalising on a Brexit ‘Mission Complete’, assessing its future direction and establishing credentials beyond its until now narrow platform, it’s becoming embroiled in internal politics and backstabbing.
A Farage ‘un-resignation’ now might be just what UKIP needs.