After a year of almost constant political turmoil – encompassing the EU referendum, a Conservative leadership election, a Labour leadership challenge, and two UKIP leadership elections – some might expect England’s political parties to take some respite and regroup ahead of the 2020 elections.
But not UKIP. Like the last drunken reveller trying to keep a party going long after everyone else has checked out, UKIP blearily staggers into 2017 stirring up controversy and outrage wherever it goes.
UKIP limps into March on the back of a disastrous campaign in Stoke-on-Trent Central in which charity board member, former pro footballer, PhD, and future MP for Stoke Central, Paul Nuttall, turned out to be none of the above.
To make matters worse, UKIP donor and self-appointed spokesperson for the party, Arron Banks, expressed his disgust at other parties’ use for their own political gain of UKIP’s politicisation of the Hillsborough disaster, saying he was “sick to death” of hearing about Hillsborough.
And now, at the same time that UKIP’s leader and chief financier compete to see who can cause the most outrage while simultaneously espousing the value of “professionalism”, Nigel Farage has waded back in to the fray to point his finger at the real problem in all of this: UKIP’s sole MP, Douglas Carswell.
Nigel Farage had resigned his leadership for the third – and possibly final – time in the wake of his European Union referendum victory claiming that he “couldn’t possibly have achieved more”. Clearly UKIP have achieved their central purpose: bringing about and winning a referendum on EU membership. If one were to be pernickety however, one area in which they could have achieved more is Parliamentary representation. But not so, according to Nigel Farage who seems convinced that, if anything, UKIP has too many MPs and has made it his mission to eject UKIP’s sole Parliamentary representative from the party.
It is fair to say that Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell have not seen eye-to-eye for a long time. The honeymoon period immediately after Carswell’s defection from the Conservatives notwithstanding, the two have barely been on speaking terms. The fact that such a rift has grown between UKIP’s two most prominent figures is indicative of a long-standing underlying problem with UKIP as a party; beyond a desire to leave the EU and willingness to wear the colours purple and yellow in combination, there is really not much in common between its members.
This is fundamental to the disagreement between Farage and Carswell. For Carswell, UKIP was a means to an end. For Farage, despite his protestations about wanting his life back, UKIP has taken on a greater personal significance. Whether it is through a knighthood, or the continuing relevance of the UKIP party, Farage wants greater recognition and acclaim for his role in the UK voting to leave the EU. This is borne out in Farage’s recent criticisms of Carswell trying to “sabotage” UKIP by joining the Leave EU campaign rather Farage’s own Vote Leave, something that is surely an irrelevancy now that the UK has voted to leave. But instead Farage feels betrayed and marginalised by his erstwhile colleague’s decision to put the cause ahead of the party.
At its heart, UKIP has always been a single issue party. Its occasional forays into broader policy areas – such as the NHS, public breastfeeding, and grammar schools – have been sporadic and poorly sustained distractions from their central goal of taking Britain out of the EU. Now that purpose is all but achieved, and with the Conservatives taking forward UKIP’s vision of a hard Brexit, there is little reason for the party to exist for anyone other than those whose legacy is invested in it.