It is good news that Steven Woolfe is out of hospital and recovering well. The details of his medical condition are of course private, but Steven’s collapse was reported by at least one of our MEPs – from a closed meeting with no-one else present – as “following” the altercation. There is an implied connection, since the seizures also followed breakfast which was not mentioned, but such a connection is a medical diagnosis our MEPs are not entitled to make.
Steven’s seizures happened about two hours after the `altercation’. We now know they were not in fact due to a bleed on the brain. The two events may be entirely unconnected. But the media, continuing to conflate the two events, are able to do so because one or more MEPs fed that story to the media.
Who acted so irresponsibly and, one suspects, so partisanly? He or she is implicated in bringing the party into disrepute as well as Woolfe and Hookem. Had the MEPs kept the private meeting private then the news would simply have been that poor Steven felt unwell and collapsed.
Not such good news is that Woolfe and Hookem still have not been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation and disciplinary hearing. In any well-run company fighting employees would be immediately suspended, pending the outcome of a disciplinary process, which can exonerate one or both. In UK Employment Law, the act of suspension pending investigation is without prejudice to a subsequent disciplinary hearing.
The Party would commit no wrong in suspending Woolfe and Hookem while under investigation. Indeed, it would do right, signalling just how wrong the two were to even scuffle, and that the Party is not part of the decline in standards in public life.
The Party had an opportunity to show the public that even senior members are not above the rules, that the Party does stand for something in public life, but it has failed to take that opportunity. Why hasn’t the Party suspended the pair of them? Why allow the Party to be accused of dragging politics into the gutter?
For anyone who has followed the news, in print and on air, there can be no doubt that the reputation of the Party has been hugely damaged. As one journalist wrote:
“To many people in and outside the UK, Ukip is the public face of Brexit. So when the party’s leadership is a shambles and two of its MEPs take leave of their senses in public, it lets down not only their voters, but the whole country.”
Quite! Except, to remind you: they did not take leave of their senses in public. An MEP chose to make it public.
Continuing the analogy with company employees: it is equivalent to the fight tarnishing the company’s brand and causing a fall in sales and share price. In Employment Law that would almost certainly lead to dismissal. So I ask again, why haven’t Woolfe and Hookem been suspended?
An answer may lie in Toby Micklethwait’s article of 8th October wherein he describes the clique that ran UKIP and which, according to former NEC member Tomasz Slivinik, continues to do so. I would just add that in 2014 that clique expanded to include Arron Banks who is never far from Nigel’s shoulder and who has been particularly vocal of late in support of Woolfe and Diane James, and very nasty toward Douglas Carswell and Neil Hamilton.
To those of you who share Banks’ views I would point out that I am discussing public life, the presentation of the Party, and the lack of appropriate dignity in handling disputes. I’m not commenting on whether the various antipathies have any merit!
Woolfe was and is again the clique’s preferred successor to Nigel, and Paul Oakden is Nigel and Crowther’s appointment. So it is all too easy to imagine Nigel whispering in Oakden’s ear, not wanting his boy’s chances in the next leadership campaign to be affected by disciplinary action that might preclude him being eligible to stand in that contest. Thus Nigel tried to dismiss the whole incident as “one of those things that happens between men”, and that “somehow I doubt people will be suspended”. Actually, Bill Etheridge MEP has written about Woolfe’s frequent short temper, e.g. in The Sunday Mail, 9th October 2016, (and not Gerard Batten as previously stated – apologies from Stout Yeoman!), so the statement ought to read ‘one of those things that happen between men, one being short tempered and the other foolishly too macho not to take the bait.’
Nigel’s statement is revealing since the power to suspend “on his own motion” belongs to the Chairman under article 11.9 of the constitution. It seems Nigel was confident that Oakden would not suspend them, or was signalling him not to.
Banks too felt it was his place to express an opinion and has said “Steven and Mike were only doing what many normal people from their background do when they feel a line has been crossed.”, apparently legitimising violence as a way for some men to settle political disputes. “Their background”? So Steven was a brawling barrister?
The clique is really desperate and unaware of how inadequate the defences are they come up with. If there was a physical confrontation involving O’Flynn or Hamilton I bet suspension would be automatic!
The clique thus seems to have decided on no suspensions – and UKIP spirals onward and downward, its reputation damaged. The clique is unconstrained in its freedom to comment, but Gerard Batten MEP for example was censored over his account, published on his website, and had to withdraw some of it – the part where he witnessed Woolfe challenging Hookem to go outside.
Time and again since the summer the clique has failed to stop the infighting that they are party to and heavily implicated in, preferring to blame others all the time. But a party leader (and his clique) have a duty to act with dignity and show statesman-like leadership wherever they can. The clique have failed lamentably. They have done so, I submit, because they believe they can still control the outcome of the next leadership election and are obsessed and blinded by that ambition.
The MEPs were right to try questioning Steven Woolfe because:
“The Daily Telegraph can disclose that the Conservatives were hoping to be able to announce the defection of Mr Woolfe shortly after the party’s annual conference ended this week, in what would have been a major coup for Mrs May.”
The DT may have made that up, but if they did not then discussions between Woolfe and The Conservatives would have been going for some time. It would not have been a momentary flirtation by Woolfe. A bit embarrassing for the clique, so they needed to change the narrative, as political wonks say. They did that alright – by leaking the altercation.
Some MEPs are muttering that Woolfe should not be allowed to stand. Presumably, they fear he will win. Provided the Party organises proper hustings, and does not again allow one candidate to do his or her own thing, then members should question Woolfe thoroughly about his failure – was it reluctant dithering or what was it? – to submit his paperwork in time at the last leadership contest, and he should be questioned closely about joining the Conservatives: was he planning to stand in some sort of by-election out of respect for the people who voted for him? Does he have a statement for all the members he was potentially betraying? Can he explain why he contemplated not staying to support the new leader he claimed to be supporting? How did he think a defection would affect the Party and its new leader? Did he care? He may have good answers for all these questions or he may not. But if he stands then he will and must be made to answer.
But the clique controls hustings and this is where the MEPs must step in. If the clique tries to manipulate the questioning opportunities, then they must turn up en masse and tell the leader and chairman enough is enough, that the members must be respected. Carswell should be deputed to use his connections to investigate when and by whom contact was first made between Woolfe and the Conservatives. I personally doubt, as do several MEPs, that it was some fleeting whimsy prompted by a speech from Theresa May.
Oakden has a policy principle of giving members minimal information. He has promised to let us know the outcome of the inquiry. That probably means the conclusion, not the details. It may be no more than “there was a minor scuffle and the two have made up. Nothing to see here, move along.” But even that plan may falter because Hookem is threatening to sue Woolfe for defamation unless he withdraws the accusation that he was punched. Oh dear oh dear.
The clique believed they were clever enough to control things, to get their choice of leader. How wrong they are – and what great damage they do in trying!