The last month has been all about leadership. Of the Labour Party, of the country, of UKIP.
And just when we thought all the questions had been answered, with May bedded in as PM, Corbyn safely re-ensconced as Labour leader and Diane James crowned as the new queen of UKIP, the latter threw a mighty great spanner into the works.
After just 18 days, James decided that the UKIP gig wasn’t actually for her and resigned. Or to be technical, decided not to formalise her nomination from party conference. Coupled with the much publicised ‘fracas’ in the European Parliament, it’s not been a wonderful few days for a party that should be riding the crest of the wave that is Brexit.
Which begs the fairly obvious question – what next for UKIP?
Just two months ago I wrote about UKIP’s over-reliance on Nigel Farage and the risk that UKIP would collapse under the weight of political backstabbing that had dominated the leadership election up until that point. The events of the last week do nothing to dissuade those ‘concerns’.
While Farage has stepped in as interim leader, there’s little to suggest he will make a permanent return to the role. So UKIP must find a way to plot a long term path that doesn’t rely on their former leader.
Clearly this must involve coalescing around Brexit.
This may sound obvious. But currently a desire to ensure that Brexit really does mean Brexit is pretty much the only thing that some members of UKIP can agree on. With Nigel Farage publicly declaring his animosity towards UKIP’s leader in Wales, Neil Hamilton, Diane James explicitly declaring that she couldn’t command the authority of the party, and MEPs allegedly trading blows in Strasbourg, this is a situation that gives a whole new meaning to the word disunited.
The new leader must instil a fear in party members that their victory in June is under threat. Yes, Theresa May has said all the right things regarding Brexit, but UKIP must create a sense that all is not as it appears.
UKIP has cemented its reputation as the party that won Brexit. It now needs to become the party that delivers Brexit. It must make itself the voice of those who fear being misled or forgotten by Whitehall, and as we have seen in the experience of Jeremy Corbyn, and Donald Trump across the Pond, those people are not in short supply. Based on UKIP’s success at the 2015 General Election, there are four million of them.
And in reality this shouldn’t be such a difficult task. Across the north of England especially, there are millions of would-be Labour voters who feel ignored and left behind by Corbyn’s party but would recoil at the idea of voting for the Conservatives. UKIP has become the natural home for these voters and is a party perfectly placed to represent their views on Brexit.
UKIP achieved its long term goal of bringing the UK out of the EU. Now it must recalibrate its aims, its approach and its delivery. But first, it must pick a leader who can unite the party.
Harder said than done.