THE FAILURE OF UKIP
An analysis of UKIP's failures by John Petley, ex UKIP researcher
What has gone wrong? A number of things, and binding many of them together is a common thread – the failings of the current party leader, Nigel Farage.
The Farage problem – a personal perspective on a flawed personality.
Many past and present UKIPpers started off initially impressed with Nigel Farage. My personal route from awe to disgust of the man is in a sense unique, but in other ways typical of what so many past and present UKIPpers have gone through. The first UKIP speaker I heard was Jeffrey Titford, at a Democracy Movement meeting in St. Leonards, East Sussex. He seemed to be talking sense, and I was reasonably impressed.
On mentioning this to members of the local branch, the response from one received was, "Wait until you’ve heard Nigel Farage."
I was able to hear him a few months later in nearby Bexhill, and found his direct, hard-hitting style quite exciting and refreshing - a contrast from most politicians in the three established parties. When criticism of Roger Knapman began to surface following the triumphs in the 2004 European Parliamentary elections, I picked up the feeling that many members at the time wanted to replace him not with Kilroy but with Nigel, feeling that a dynamic young leader would restore the momentum that we seemed to be losing.
I would never have supported the removal of Roger. I felt that he was underestimated by the membership. (and having subsequently got to know him through working in Brussels, I believe this assessment was correct.) However, looking to when his term of office was to end, I would then have supported Nigel for leader. He seemed the rising star – the obvious heir apparent.
Amidst all the adulation, the first criticism I first heard of Nigel was at a UKIP SE activists’ meeting from a member of a branch from Kent, who said he had a big ego. Until this point, the only negative thing I had heard about him was that he had not denied visiting a brothel in (I think) Athens. My contact with him had been quite limited before starting in Brussels. He had struck me as "rather a lad" who liked his booze and fags, but I knew that I should not expect a politician necessarily to adhere to my Christian standards. I was looking forward to getting to know him better when I started my new job in Brussels, and felt rather in awe of him.
Within a couple of months, my view of him had begun to change. There were several reason for this.
Firstly, when he came to be the guest speaker at the annual dinner of my local UKIP Branch, Bexhill and Battle, his speech was disappointing. It was all about himself, and was a regurgitation of anecdotes I had heard before.
Secondly, there were further rumours of his sexual impropriety, including that he was having an affair with Annabelle Fuller, one of my colleagues in Brussels at the time, who subsequently achieved such notoriety in the UKIP press office. More serious was the fact that cronyism rather than competence seemed to be what counted. Brussels was very much Nigel’s empire, as he had been there as an MEP since 1999, was head of the UKIP delegation and co-president of the Ind Dem group.
He had considerable say in who joined the staff, and what their roles were to be. The then head of research, Adrian Muldrew, was complaining repeatedly about the low quality of work produced by two of the staff – one being Annabelle Fuller and the other Steve Reed, his current office assistant of whom more anon.
David Lott, Chief of Staff and very much Nigel’s man, refused to take any action, and actually turned against Adrian. This seemed very odd. as I had been taken on ostensibly as part of a move to "professionalise" the party.
At this time, I first heard about the questions being asked about the South East region accounts. Another colleague of mine told me that he would never give any money to a general UKIP appeal because he had no confidence where the money would end up.
Although shocked by all this, I took the Biblical attitude of not wanting to believe an accusation unless there were two or three witnesses, I didn’t have to wait long for further evidence. A chance conversation with UKIP’s previous Head of Staff (i.e. before David Lott), confirmed the essence of what I had been hearing, and added that Nigel had been a factor in every major UKIP bust-up since the departure of Alan Sked.
THE FAILURE OF UKIP, Part 2
By the summer recess of 2006, a mere seven months since coming out to Brussels, I was now firmly of the opinion that Nigel Farage was a liability to the party. I had met some of the other notorious Farage cronies like John Moran, and was not impressed. I also heard from a colleague about a conversation between Farage and Gerard Batten shortly before the Bromley by-election.
It transpired that Farage had discussed a deal whereby if the Tories selected the Eurosceptic but not withdrawalist MEP Syed Kamall as their candidate, UKIP would not put up a candidate. On hearing of this, Gerard was incensed and said, "If you don’t stand, I will." As it happened, the Tories chose Bob Neill, and with Gerard being the ultra-loyalist that he is, he chose not to leak this out. Nigel then announced at a big UKIP meeting the following weekend about how excited he was at being able to contest another by-election. Most people cheered. I was livid.
I did not vote for him as party leader, but for a while it seemed that I would have to swallow my misgivings, as in the first few months of the Farage leadership, the party acquired two Lords, then the economist Tim Congdon and several other significant Eurosceptics. A year later, I was to discover that this new sense of hope in the party was not matched by the opinion polls. UKIP slumped to below 1%, and the start of the slump coincided with Farage’s election as leader.
I had heard of Farage’s habitual lying, but had first hand evidence of it when NEC member David Abbott’s two inadvertant $100 donations to a BNP support group in America was blown up in the national media in March 2007 simply because of David’s criticism of Nigel’s leadership. Before standing for the NEC, David came quite clean about this donation, which he had made before realising who the organisation represented.
He did not want to stand for office if it would compromise him. Being so insignificant a sum, a one-off and inadvertent, Nigel and others said it was not a problem. However, when David began to start opposing Nigel on the NEC, Nigel deliberately leaked this out to he press and made it out that David had been seriously involved with the BNP. When I challenged Nigel, saying that either he or Mark Croucher were ill-advised to have done this, his reply was "Neither I nor Croucher contacted the Press."
The Press had also spoken to a person I know (whose identity I should keep confidential) who has held senior office in the party about the David Abbott business, and this person told me that when the reporter concerned rang up, he said, "I've just been speaking to Mark Croucher."
Perhaps I should add that this exchange occurred when Nigel summoned me into his office and questioned me about my friendship with Adrian Muldrew. Adrian was by now absolutely persona non grata with Nigel, but a few months earlier, Adrian had kindly offered me a home for a couple of weeks when there had been a temporary delay in moving into new accommodation in Brussels. I had left Adrian’s house quite a while before my interview with Nigel, but what business was it of his anyway?
Being summoned into Nigel’s office was by now an ordeal which I dreaded. I had to summon up my best acting skills and always stared him straight in the eye. He often shuffled his legs up and down under the table – a sure sign that he wasn’t comfortable either. Some times, it was nothing to worry about, and he was usually pleased with the research I did for him.
However, once he came into my office and ranted at me because I had contacted Mike Nattrass (whose assistant I was for a while) about a dubious amendment to a piece of Parliamentary legislation put forward at Committee stage by Jens-Peter Bonde, Ind Dem Co-president, in the name of the group.
Adrian had spotted this and said that UKIP MEP’s couldn’t support it, as it was giving more power to the EU (I can’t remember the exact details beyond this) I thought I had better tell Mike, and Mike must have contacted Nigel, who then stormed in and said, "But we always vote against this in Plenary." I guess Nigel knew I wasn’t happy with UKIP MEP’s being in Ind Dem.
THE FAILURE OF UKIP, Part 3
It was not just over Ind Dem that I disagreed with Nigel’s policy. He spoke at Hastings in November 2005 and said something on the lines of, "Well, UKIP isn’t getting much exposure because the EU isn’t in the news much now, but just wait - it’ll be back on the agenda."
He was proved right with a vengeance when the failed Constitution metamorphosised into the Lisbon Treaty, but he singularly missed the opportunity to put UKIP at the head of the campaign to oppose it. It was always going to be a tough battle to stop the treaty, but it would have put the party back in the consciousness of the electorate. Instead, it was left to an ordinary Party member to launch the 'Parish Polls' initiative.
On the day of the mass lobby of the House of Commons, Farage was in Brussels. This missed opportunity, for which he must take the blame, must represent UKIP’s biggest political mistake in its entire history.
I had the task for the last year of answering difficult e-mails sent to Head Office in Newton Abbot. I always took the party line, even if I was personally uncomfortable with it, such as over Nigel’s defiance of the Parliament’s smoking ban and support for pro-smoking groups.
Only once, when I was forwarded a query about Derek Clark signing Ind Dem’s "Bucharest declaration" on UKIP’s behalf with its support for subsidiarity and CAP reform did I deviate from this rule, and simply passed it to Ind Dem enthusiast Gawain Towler to answer. I felt this e-mail was a poisoned chalice. If I took the party line, not only would it sit uneasily with my conscience, but it could be held against me if at a later date (as I hoped) UKIP would renounce Ind Dem.
However, if I had said what I felt - that I agreed with the e-mail, that the signing was a mistake and that UKIP’s MEP’s should not be in Ind Dem - Nigel would have gone ballistic if he had found out. Fortunately, Gawain never followed up my reasons for passing this e-mail on, so I lived to fight another day.
Nonetheless, By the summer of 2007, I felt that I was living on borrowed time. In many ways, I am amazed I lasted so long. I ensured that no-one was around when I rang any known opponents of Farage in the UK, and he never knew just who I knew. I always kept my office door closed, and fortunately, the enthusiasm of Farage and his cronies to go off most evenings drinking in O’Farrell’s (the Irish pub very near to the Parliament building) meant I had some privacy.
By this time, staff and MEP’s were split down the middle. Farage supporters, notably Gawain and the odious Aurelie Laloux (Jeffrey Titford’s assistant) held the senior positions among the staff. When Aurelie went off for maternity leave, things improved somewhat, but her return signalled the start of three awful months.
The atmosphere in the office from February 2008 to my departure in April gave me an inkling of what it must have been like to live in the Soviet Union – You were always watching your back and every pair of footsteps outside the office door made you feel uneasy. So bizarre that fellow-withdrawalists should be the cause of such a poisonous atmosphere. I have to say that in over two years working in Brussels, I had no animosity from the "nasty" EU. UKIP staff were treated fairly.
My dismissal shows the utterly devious nature of Farage. He was not directly involved, but his fingerprints are all over it. It all began on Monday 7th April after the "Stop the Treaty" conference in Bristol which I went to. When I got back to Brussels, I tried to access my parliamentary e-mail account, but was unable to do so.
I entered the password about 10 times, but was repeatedly blocked. I know that I did not type in my password incorrectly. Having worked in IT before going into research, I knew hacking when I saw it. The hacker had, fortunately, failed to guess my password, but had locked me out. I spoke to Oumar Dombouya, the man delegated to manage IT affairs for Ind Dem. He re-set my password and set a monitoring facility on my account, as Adrian had had a similar problem, and suspected hacking.
On Thursday afternoon (10th April), Graham Booth came into my office with a print-out of the names, subjects and dates of the e-mails I had sent in recent weeks. He asked me to print out the contents of four of these. After he had left the office, I looked at a couple of these e-mails, and as I was doing so, the access to my e-mail account suddenly went down. When I eventually was able to bring up the initial screen and try to sign on, once again, I was locked out, just as I had been the previous Monday.
I subsequently discovered that it is within the rules to print out the list (although not the content) of the e-mails sent by EP staff without asking them. However, I did not know this at the time, and refused to take Booth ‘s word that this was the case or provide him with the content of these e-mails until I could establish the facts. In view of my suspicions about someone trying to tamper with my e-mails, I think this was quite reasonable.
However, his response to my refusal my saying that in his eyes, this amounted to a "lack of trust" in me, This was the catch-all phrase that can be used to dismiss staff if you don’t like them but can’t find any good reason for so doing. I had always got on fairly well with Graham until then, and I know Nigel set him up, because he expressed a very negative opinion of one person to whom these e-mails were sent (a branch chairman in the South East) and when I contacted this individual, he said that he had never had any dealings with Graham. Only Nigel could have singled out this e-mail.
Oumar was very helpful initially to my attempts to find out who had been hacking into my account. He traced it to a UK-registered machine (no surprise!) but could not go any further because of intimidation by members of the Ind Dem secretariat. He subsequently kept his distance from me, simply out of fear.
My dismissal was e-mailed to me on Thursday 24th April. This was a Strasbourg plenary, and I was teleworking at the time. Quite honestly, it was a relief not to have to go back to Brussels. It amazed me to hear that Graham Booth had been going round the South West telling people that I (along with Adrian Muldrew and Gary Cartwright) were MI5 spies! Meanwhile, Steve Harris, (UKIP’s SE regional organiser) again no doubt mouthing Nigel’s words, has been telling people in the South East that my dismissal was because I was hacking into other people’s e-mails!
THE FAILURE OF UKIP, Part 4
My desire to see Nigel removed as leader is not a case of sour grapes because he sacked me. He sacked me because I already held this opinion, and I am not very good at hiding my feelings. I remember having a conversation with Roger Knapman outside his office, and said something about, "the days when we had a decent leader." At that moment, Nigel came up the corridor. He can’t fail to have heard what I said.
Only in one way has my opinion changed since my dismissal. I believed right up to early November that if Nigel could be removed as leader, UKIP would have a future. The November NEC meeting was a watershed.
It is clear firstly that removing Nigel Farage as leader is going to be very difficult.
Secondly, that even if it could be done, it would not be enough – his cabal have to go too, and as names like Zuckerman are unknown to many members, it would be hard to press the case against them. Farage’s dealings with me bear the marks of a tyrant.
He brings out the worst of those that get close to him - Graham Booth’s behaviour over my dismissal illustrates this perfectly. At the same time, he tries to destroy anyone who opposes him. The party is now in the grip of man who I can only describe as evil.
The poison emanating from him has so ruined the party that it is not a case of merely removing him as leader – his political career must be ended in June 2009. If the only way of doing this is to take UKIP down with him, so be it. The withdrawalist cause needs a more honourable spokesman and a better party to fight its cause.
Farage more than anyone else is responsible for giving UKIP such a poor image that it has become a bit of a joke. I now no longer have any pride at being a member, but rather embarrassment. My UKIP car sticker has been removed a long time ago now. As we move on to look at the other aspects of why UKIP has failed, his name will come up again and again. His personal failings, which I have described above, are coupled with exceedingly poor political judgement and a disastrous policy in Brussels.
Playing on innocence
Many of those who joined UKIP, myself included, were new to politics. We could see that being in the EU was not in Britain’s best interests, but did not necessarily combine this piece of wisdom with political discernment. I would guess I am not alone in admitting that at one point, I believed two things I now regard as erroneous – firstly that anything in print that says something bad about the EU must be correct, and secondly that anyone opposed to Britain’s membership of the EU must be a good chap. I will address the first of these mistakes later on. It is the second I want to concentrate on at this point.
Nigel’s shrewdness has enabled him to carve out his power base in the party. His youth and eloquence have made him a hero with many party members. Steve Harris once told a meeting at which I was present of a phone call were someone asked him, "When is that young man going to become Prime Minister?" I have no reason to doubt that Steve was telling the truth. It epitomises how Nigel has played on the innocence of many party members.
They have not had sufficient experience to spot when his leadership has been poor. He would not have dared depict the dressing up in chicken costumes of three members of staff in Strasbourg on the front of Independence unless he was sure that his adoring fans would think it was a wonderful gesture rather than the appalling schoolboy buffoonery that the rest of the world viewed it as.
He has been able to gain total control over UKIP’s media. "You don’t work for the party, you work for me," he told one employee in the Press Office. That admirable quality of trust which is a feature of so many UKIP members has enabled him to turn the Independence into a very one-sided view of things. Our dear. loyal members are not aware of the control he has carved out for himself. He has marshalled party opinion behind him by equating opposition to himself with "attempts to destroy the party."
From now on, sadly, this will be the case, and those of us who have come out publicly against him are likely to face all manner of vitriol not just from the Faragistas, but from well-meaning members who have been denied the chance to hear both sides of the argument. The suppression of dissent is not healthy in a political party. It leads to "yes men" ending up in senior positions – a sure recipe for disaster.
THE FAILURE OF UKIP, Part 5
The Brussels disaster.
One blogger recently mocked UKIP by saying how ridiculously inflated the role of an MEP had become in the party. Other parties don’t send out their first XI to Brussels, but being an MEP gives you almost god-like status among some sections of the membership of UKIP.
The big point of disagreement I would have with this statement is that UKIP has most definitely NOT sent out its First XI to Brussels. Nigel was unable to stop London choosing the hard-working and honest Gerard Batten for the No. 1 spot, nor to stop Roger Knapman being elected in the South West. However, his objective of ensuring that he ended up with a team of which he would be the star was, to a degree, successful. The result has been an unmitigated disaster.
I have referred to the innocence of many party members. The idea that the MEP lists were manipulated would never have crossed most of our minds back in 2004. Nigel had to be careful because he had already built up a structure in which the party’s MEP’s would operate, and better to have someone unsuitable but who would not ask questions rather than a competent individual who, besides challenging Nigel’s pre-eminence, might ask too many questions, especially on financial matters.
In the five years from 1999 to 2004, he had made the acquaintance of people like Jens-Peter Bonde – a past master at making money out of Euroscepticism. The Ind Dem Group, like its precursor EDD, is a fairly loose coalition of assorted Eurosceptics from both the left and right of the political spectrum who have joined together purely for the financial benefit of being in a group.
UKIP are the only withdrawalists in this group – a fact that has raised eyebrows on several occasions when I have mentioned this to party members. Ind Dem has encouraged a culture of financial secrecy, and Farage has bought into this. His reluctance to be open about his financial matters has brought the party into disrepute, and already the Lib Dems are attacking UKIP on the doorsteps saying they have "gone native." Financial issues are likely to be an increasing embarrassment to UKIP in the run-up to June 2009.
It is not just the financial issues that have contributed to the disaster of UKIP’s MEPs in Brussels – there have been all too many instances of poor, ill-prepared speeches. Graham Booth’s setting himself up as an authority on climate change on the strength of an "O" level in astronomy has been an embarrassment. I have written speeches for some MEP’s and have seen them mutilated and spoilt by the MEP in question. Sometimes, it has been an embarrassment to listen to them in the Plenaries.
There have been exceptions, notably Roger Knapman, who ensures his speeches are well-written, and Gerard Batten, who always writes his own speeches after careful research. Sadly, however, Godfrey Bloom’s infamous speech in 2004 about women cleaning behind fridges has set an all-too-common precedent.
The press have been all too ready to pounce on bad behaviour by UKIP’s MEP’s. Tom Wise was unfortunate to be duped by an undercover reporter on the subject of MEP’s allowamnces. Nigel was lucky that the occasion when he was so drunk in a bar Strasbourg that he had to be carried out did not receive more coverage than it did.
Besides the MEP’s, the staff have not always delivered the goods. All too many of Gawain Towler’s press releases have been bad to the point of embarrassment. I was asked once to write a press release. Gawain’s editing of it included replacing one word with another meaning the exact opposite! While I cannot prove this, I would suspect that some 90% of press releases would have gone straight into the editors’ wastepaper bins.
On another occasion, at a meeting of a think tank in Brussels where the guest speaker was Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow of the Heritage Foundation, an American think tank Gawain turned up seriously drunk. He introduced me to this man (I had yet to fall out of favour at this time) but I was acutely embarrassed. Gawain has also admitted to me that he has smoked over 100 joints!
Aurelie Laloux is another disaster. She was taken on by UKIP in the 1999-2004 Parliament because of her excellent linguistic skills, as only in 2004 was English placed alongside French in official Parliamentary communications. Her political judgement is less acute, and had led to some very bizarre voting lists being produced which UKIP’s enemies like Labour MEP Richard Corbett have been delighted to publish.
When there was a debate on the Lisbon Treaty at Strasbourg in early 2008, the Green group (or was it the Communists?) proposed a 'rejection amendment' – i.e. that the treaty should be rejected. Aurelie’s voting list, prepared for UKIP’s MEP’s, did not have us supporting this amendment. She has also been responsible for choosing which debates UKIP’s MEP’s will speak in. Her choice has been quite bizarre at times, giving the speechwriters (such as myself) the challenge of preparing speeches offering very little opportunity for the MEP to make any telling point, as the debate may have been on something quite obscure – such as updating EU air traffic agreements with countries in North Africa to include the new member states.
As for Nigel’s assistant Steve Reed, he deserves a chapter to himself. We will look at him under the heading, "Professionalising the Party?" His voting lists can be a bit bizarre, and unlike Aurelie, he cannot plead the excuse that he is not working in his mother tongue.
The philosophy is that UKIP must vote against and speak against everything. What happens when the EU proposes something that will actually command widespread popular support, such as the forced reduction in mobile phone roaming charges? Credit where credit is due from the strongly Eurosceptic former DUP MEP Jim Allister, who said, "It makes a pleasant change to welcome a piece of EU legislation.
The enforced reduction in mobile roaming charges is good for consumers across Europe." However UKIP had to find something negative, such as the fact that the main beneficiaries would be people like MEP’s themsleves who make many international calls on mobile phones. While it is true that the mandate for UKIP’s MEP’s mandate is never to vote in favour of any EU regulation, if there is likely to be strong popular support for individual moves, it is surely better to abstain, or at least keep quiet, and keep the powder dry for the really serious issues.
I have not mentioned the corruption aspects and the ongoing investigations by OLAF – the EU Anti-fraud watchdog - into Ind Dem (including some UKIP MEP’s and staff), but this has done nothing to help the party, and what may come out, paricularly regarding Nigel and David Lott, could be quite embarrassing. However, one must not pre-judge.
Few UKIP MEP’s have availed themselves of the opportunity to used the Brussels staff for serious research. Gerard Batten is an honourable exception, with the excellent How much does the EU cost Britain? Booklets, which are updated each year. Apart from this, only Tom Wise, whose assistant Gary Cartwright produced the fisheries booklet, and Roger Knapman, have this far shown any interest in this important area. For seven MEP’s therefore, an excellent opportunity has gone begging.
Hard though it is to say it. the UKIP team, both MEP’s and staff, convey the image of a bungling bunch of amateurs. There are some honourable exceptions, and I have tried to highlight these. I would strongly refute any suggestion that UKIP’s disaster in Brussels has been because "they know we don’t like the EU". Yes, it is true that the Parliament’s president shows more leniency to pro-EU MEP’s than to UKIP when their speeches overrun.
This apart, I would say that the disaster has been self-inflicted and would have been avoidable with a better calibre of both MEP’s and staff. Perhaps the best illustration of the disaster UKIP has turned into is the infamous "Chicken Costume" incident in Strasbourg earlier this year. I can vouch for this being Nigel’s idea.
When the three staff members (Gawain Towler, Paul Nuttall and Ralph Atkinson) were escorted from the area near the Hemicycle by the security staff, it led to a very heated but almost surreal press conference, firstly with Gawain (still in his costume minus the chicken head!) and then Nigel, complaining bitterly to the media that the reason we were being treated unfairly in not being allowed to parade around in these outfits was because we opposed the Lisbon Treaty.
What nonsense! No wonder the rest of the European Parliament saw UKIP as a bit of a joke.At least no MEP had dressed up, although only because Gary Cartwright and I had been able to work on the wife of one MEP to persuade her husband not to be a chicken - he had originally volunteered for this ridiculous stunt!
THE FAILURE OF UKIP, Part 6
An unconvincing domestic agenda.
UKIP has always professed to be a fully-fledged political party. It has produced manifestos which range over a number of domestic issues besides withdrawal from the EU and areas with strong EU links, such as immigration. However, right up to and beyond the 2005 General Election, in spite of the manifesto produced for that occasion, UKIP was perceived not only by the public but by many members as essentially a single-issue party.
My experience standing for the party in Lewes at that time was fairly typical – I could articulate the issues relating to the EU pretty well, but put me into a debate where the focus was a domestic issue like education and I was out of my depth. I had read the manifesto, but it really wasn’t much help.
In early 2006, when David Bannerman became chairman, things began to change on this front. He launched the "Five Right Things to do" initiative that took UKIP into new territory such as education, law and order and tax. Yes, as mentioned, we had touched on these and other areas in earlier manifestos, but not in the sort of depth now being proposed.
It is perhaps hard for me to be objective here, as I did much of the donkey work for the education policy. David Lott said that it was "the best policy document that UKIP had ever produced". It put UKIP in touch with education pressure groups such as the excellent "Campaign for Real Education" and in fact led to the retired probation officer and author David Fraser if not joining the party certainly becoming more sympathetic to it – a real first for us. Until now, people had only ever joined UKIP over EU-related issues.
A few months later, John Whittaker’s Flat Tax policy was launched at a fringe meeting during the 2006 Tory Party conference in Bournemouth. This again gave us links and credence with groups like the Taxpayers’ Alliance, who were represented at the launch.
However, these initiatives do not seem to have turned UKIP in the public eye from a single-issue party. It is impossible to verify the rumour that the domestic agenda, based on traditional right-of-centre Conservatism, is really an attempt to push the Tories in that direction rather than to claim the ground for UKIP in its own right. The party, in other words, is simply a Tory pressure group.
This rumour has done the rounds for a couple of years. It is hard to prove, especially as the centre-right agenda is, in fact a good one. The problem is that UKIP hasn’t been able to take ownership of this ground. Its dabbling in domestic politics has not been convincing. Part of the problem is having a leader with no ability to speak convincingly and informedly on domestic issues.
He has little interest in the minutiae of domestic policy. Unfortunately, delegating this job to Bannerman has led to a complete muddle, with no subsequent policy launch having the profile of the Flat Tax announcement.
Bannerman’s competence is questionable.
His chairmanship of the Bow Group is one of few features about his life not in dispute. How someone with this supposed breadth of policy experience, particularly in the field of transport can propose electrifying a line which was closed 39 years ago beats me! I can vouch for the fact that this proposal was included in the first draft of the UKIP transport policy document.
These policy initiatives have failed to change either the public perception of UKIP nor the thinking of some party members. Two years on from my struggles in Lewes, I was seconded to help out with the Sedgefield by-election, and for all my enthusiasm to ensure our candidate was well briefed on domestic policies, he just kept going back to the EU all the time.
If UKIP still exists in 2010 and puts up candidates for the General Election, it will be just the same. If the candidates are not comfortable with a broader agenda, how can the electorate be convinced that UKIP is more than just a single-issue party? My sad conclusion is that it is too late for the party ever to make the breakthrough into domestic politics.
THE FAILURE OF UKIP, Part 7
Professionalising the Party?
The second catchphrase in early 2006 alongside 'Five Right Things to do' was 'Professionalisng the Party'. I came out to Brussels quite humbled at the thought of being part of this process, seeing as I was a newcomer to political research. Three years on, I cannot seriously believe that Nigel ever had any intention of making UKIP a professional party.
We need to go back to Brussels to see how shallow of the talk of "professionalism" is. Nigel’s office assistant out there is Steve (or Andrew) Reed – an individual whom I bear no personal grudge towards, but whose competence is highly dubious, to say the least.
Steve is a conspiracy theorist of the most eccentric type. He also writes the most grotesque English and has a serious drink problem. The net result is this letter, sent out from Nigel’s office in response to correspondence from a member of the public about the situation in Zimbabwe two years ago:-
Zimbabwe is certainly a country under siege from the "international community", whose neo-colonial policies in Africa are thinly disguised as "humanitarian intervention" in conflicts, which it may well have instigated, just as they were in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
So embarrassing was this letter, which also stated that the EU was worse than Zimbabwe, that extracts from it appeared in the Independent newspaper, and was the reason why a hastily-cobbled together "UKIP Statement on Zimbabwe" suddenly appeared on the party’s website. Yet Steve lived to fight another day and to produce this response to a letter which simply asked the MEP’s to support a written declaration on the setting-up of a Europe-wide register of missing children, following the McCanns’ visit to the European Parliament.
European coöperation, furthermore, is rather hindered, than helped, by the centralised bureaucracies of the EU, which, by abolishing national frontiers, have made EU-territory a playground for all types of crime, and which, in general, are rather intent on extending their powers than on governing wisely and well. This is only to be expected of an organisation, which lacks all democratic accountability…Indeed, the only way the huge, multilingual territories of the EU can be governed is by means of a repressive police-state, where every identity, asset and movement is monitored.
Steve’s briefing documents for the MEP’s display a similar lack of professionalsim. Instead of sticking to a simple summary of proposed legislation, he likes to have a rant about the EU. That’s not the job of an assistant. Gerard Batten has expressed extreme frustarion over this, but Steve remains in the Farage assistant office!
Gawain Towler’s incompetence has laready been mentioned. He has a background in the press, and appears to be widely connected but the quality of his work leaves much to be desired.
Turning to the UK, the biggest failing has been the total lack of any program to train party activists. UKIP contains many enthusiastic and committed members who have never been involved in politics before. They have joined because they have read or heard something that has convinced them that Britain should leave the EU.
Now while there are good sound reasons for supporting Britain’s withdrawal, there are also all manner of crackpot conspiracy theories doing the rounds, and some party members have regurgitated these in all innocence, believing that anyone saying bad things about the EU must be telling the truth. A professional party should have been providing education at all levels to ensure that party members are given the tools to separate fact from fiction. The total failure to do this has contributed to the image problem the party faces – Cameron’s comments about "fruitcakes and loonies" has sometimes been closer to the mark than we would like.
The result of this lack of professionalism is that the party has failed to advance among a key sector of the population. A good few people, possibly some 1/3 of the voting population, have a visceral dislike of the EU and have been easily won over to a withdrawalist position. They may not necessarily be UKIP voters, but they would agree with the overall stance of the party. There are also another significant group, my estimate being a further 1/3 of all voters, who have misgivings about the EU, but are not yet in the withdrawalist camp.
Maybe they have been conned by the propaganda of the three established parties, or perhaps they are still weighing up the arguments. As a generality, these will be serious thinkers. Such people are not going to be convinced by conspiracy theory claptrap or gimmicky, silly cartoons. Focus groups have painted a picture of UKIP as a negative party, and I would venture that some who voiced this opinion include representatives of this "middle third" that UKIP should be addressing. It will require a positive approach to win these people over, which UKIP has this far failed to make. Sadly, UKIP’s failure to advance among this important section of the electorate has set back the cause of independence by several years.
NEC problems and other structural failings.
The NEC is meant to represent the membership. It has been reduced to rubber-stamping Nigel’s decisions. Whether those on the NEC have been fairly voted into office is another matter – Lisa Duffy, a fairly unknown figure until her elevation to the NEC, apparently received more votes in the 2008 NEC election than Nigel received in the party leadership election two years ago! Naturally, she has taken the Farage line.
Since 2004, the story of the NEC is a procession of well-intentioned members either resigning or being forced out. It is claimed that some NEC members disagree in private with some of the things that Nigel does. All well and good, but they seem to vote with him, and have failed to support Delroy Young, Dr David Abbott and Dr Eric Edmond who have had the bravery to express their misgivings openly.
Another serious structural failing is the inability of the party to remove the leader. In the days of Kilroy’s membership, the rules were tightened up in this area. The net result is that any initiative to remove Nigel has fallen foul of the sheer logistics required to call an EGM.
At the core of the party is a culture of cronyism and secrecy. The biggest challenge to date has come over the selection of candidates for the 2009 European Parliamentary elections. The South West wanted the Electoral Commission to handle the selection from start to finish, but this was rejected. The result has been a series of unanswered questions and threatened court action – especially in the Eastern Region whereby Robin Page and John West never appeared on the list and the Farage favourite Bannerman ended up in pole position.
The removal of Gregg Beaman from the No. 1 spot in the North West was also shrouded in controversy. Marta Andreasen’s candidacy is highly controversial, as only under EU laws is a citizen of another country eligible to stand. One candidate in the South East region sent a delegate to the count, who saw a good number of ballot papers with votes for Farage and Andreasen only.
In a straw poll of my local branch committee, not one person said they had voted in this way. It all looks very suspicious, and the official response to these gripes of, "Well, be thankful you’re not a Tory. Their existing MEP’s automatically get the top slots" is just not acceptable. It epitomises the fact that the membership have very little power in the party. The Political Committee is appointed, not chosen. Our current chairman was appointed without the NEC being previously consulted. The control of all the official media outlets, including the Independence newsletter, means that real debate is not possible.
When the Lechlade Group think-tank was set up, Nigel told the then party General Secretary Geoffrey Kingscott that his first task was to get it closed down. He was initially no more supportive of the widely reported "Parish Poll" campaign, that was set up by an ordinary UKIP member in Dorset.
Thanks to the innocence of many party members noted above, UKIP - the party that professes to believe in "bottoms-up" democracy and whose members sing the praises of Switzerland’s political system – has become the most top-down party in British politics. Not satified with the level of control he has achieved, Farage wants to bring in a rule change that will facilitate still further the purging of dissidents, yet it will be sold to the membership as a good thing, or else couched in such obscure language that most of them won’t understand the nuances of the wording. Sadly, the art of spin is practised to as a great a degree by the leadership on the membership as by New Labour on the British Public. The sad thing is that a good few of the membership are not aware of it even now.
The last subject to be considered is the timebomb of financial scandal ticking away. Some pretty damning data about the Ashford Call Centre has been in the Public domain for a number of years. Activists have pressed for answers and have been fobbed off time after time.
The Alan Bown Donation problem is another potential pitfall. If the appeal by the Electoral Commission against the initial judgement in UKIP’s favour is successful, Mr Bown could shell out an equivalent sum to the amount confiscated to keep the party afloat, but it is not going to help the party’s standing.
Even small issues suggest that there is something fishy in how money is handled. Why can members not renew their membership by Direct Debit? So simple, so what is the problem?
Another odd issue is how UKIP seems to find so much money for big by-elections, especially if Nigel or one of his close associates is the candidate. Money seemed no object in Bromley, 2006 or Sedgefield 2007. What is notable here is how expensive each UKIP vote seems to be. With the different parties’ expenses and votes available on various websites, analysis of UKIP’s performance against other small parties, notably comparing UKIP with the BNP in the Henley by-election, shows that they gain fair more votes per £100 spent than UKIP. UKIP spent £17.056 and received 843 votes. The BNP spent £4,744.06, less that 1/3 of UKIP’s budget, but polled 1,243 votes – over 40% more than UKIP.
Lack of confidence in the integrity of the party’s finances will have the obvious knock-on effect in reduced donations, both from rich party members and from sympathetic organisations. Nigel is a past-master at drumming up enthusiasm among ordinary party members. No doubt, many of the genuine older members unaware of the issues discussed here will send in their £10’s and £20’s to help the party fight the elections next June, but it would be a matter of great surprise if the amount raised, especially in the South East, comes anywhere near the figure for 2004.
The end of the road
Sleaze, incompetence, poor political judgement, purges of dissidents, a "loony" image, allegations of vote rigging and financial problems – not a healthy situation for a small political party stuck in the doldrums. The few months between now and June 2009 are highly likely to see the publication of a few scandals involving Farage. His venomous attitude has created many enemies, and those enemies are unlikely to stay silent. Even if the rants of Greg Lance-Watkins cannot all be taken seriously, if only 10% of his allegations are true, that could pose the party serious problems in the run-up to what should have been an even greater triumph than June 2004.
It really is now too much to expect the party to be turned round. Even removing Farage as leader will not solve it. His cronies hold all the positions of power, and there isn’t the time to winkle them all out. Sadly, for all the undoubted good UKIP has achieved, it is time for it to be dismembered. The wound is too deep. The poison has spread too widely. In 2004, UKIP had a great chance to advance the argument for British withdrawal from the EU. With the right approach, the argument could have been won irrevocably by now. Independence is so noble an objective, and there is so much to support this assertion.
So UKIP has had its chance and blown it. We are left with only one option - to start again, learning from UKIP’s successes but. more importantly, its failures.
http://caterpillarsandbutterflies.blogspot.com/2009/05/503-john-petley-on-eukips-demise.html, 01 June 2009