It is incredible to think that the General Election was only a week ago. The dust has not yet settled and yet we have a new interim leader and leadership candidates emerging. The assumption that what we need is a quick leadership election should be examined, based on our poor recent experience of leadership contests. In fact, the lesson that we should have learned is that in our current structure, no-one can be successful as leader. It nearly broke Nigel, a man of such fortitude that even a plane crash couldn’t kill him. Diane James lasted 18 days. Paul Nuttall stepped up out of duty and honour but couldn’t wait to get away from it. Bodies of other contenders lie in dramatic white chalk outlines on Brussels floors.
The party needs deep structural reform and a new culture needs to be created. In summary, the party now is the exact opposite of what it needs to be. This makes matters simple, as to imagine the new structure, simply take what we have now and reverse it.
At present the leadership team is hunkered down and closed off to outsiders. Nobody knows what is going on or who makes decisions we have to live with. I stood as a parliamentary candidate, but throughout the campaign I had no communications from HQ except for a hard copy of the manifesto four days before the election itself (which I already had from the launch event) and a request for money which I didn’t respond to as it was clear by then that no amount of money would help.
I attended two press conferences but was ignored by the party in-crowd. Despite at least 10 PPCs being in attendance at the manifesto launch we were ignored. Any sensible organisation would use an election as a talent recruitment tool, making a database of the skills of the new members and PPCs and considering how these skills could be used. Not UKIP! There is no sign this is improving. After receiving the ‘adrenalin shot’ email from Steve Crowther, I penned a reply. An automatic email came back ‘all mail to this address is automatically deleted’. Great.
In this era of mobile social media, engagement has never been easier. And yet there is no attempt to engage with members at all. In fact the impression given is that the members are an inconvenience. During the campaign I was awaiting the ‘call to arms’, the gathering of the talents to fight the good fight. No such call came. I had six weeks off work and could have provided a lot of help. I offered my full-time support at the candidate selection session in Nottingham to the party officials I met. They smiled wryly and appeared to make a note. Nothing happened.
I am a chartered accountant, IT literate, social media literate, I even own an 8-seater van. I had a lot of resources available for six full weeks for no charge, but apparently these resources were not required, thank you very much. And yet I keep hearing how the small head office team works wonders although it is so stretched. No wonder it is stretched if it turns down free resources! One other member put it to me like this: they think you are employees when in fact everyone is a volunteer. In a voluntary organisation, recognition is very important as are basic manners like saying hello, please and thank you and smiling.
Members are shut out of policy making entirely. This is absolutely unforgivable with the technology we have today. Our conferences are meaningless back-to-back 15 minute presentations punctuated by polite applause. There is no discussion, let alone any membership decision making. The only way you can participate in decisions is if you happen to know someone higher up that you can privately talk to, or if you have money to give. This is how things really work.
Hence I propose an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Members to by-pass the current management and NEC structures and to impose the views of the members. We need to reconsider the constitution of UKIP, the party rulebook, the obviously malfunctioning governance structure, the policy making procedure, the personnel, and to change the culture to one of transparency and meritocracy. The organisation needs to be more performance-target led, with much more education of officers and branch members. We need a hothouse of reform. We need strong central functions to help build branches and capabilities like data and social media that individual branches cannot create independently. And we need an organisation that actually likes its members, that smiles at them, that engages and recognises their contribution.
Our biggest failure in this campaign was in policy design. Take a look again at our five pledges. They would be decent enough statements if we were not in a competition against three other parties. They appear to not have been tested on voters. For many people, the first four of the five roughly translate into ‘we don’t like foreigners’. The pledges say nothing about the economic troubles people face. In fact for most people struggling to get by, with fewer public services, poor housing, zero-hours contracts, disability tests, these are the primary concerns, and yet none of our five pledges covered economic insecurity directly. Our core base have only seen their lives get worse in the so-called recovery, but we had nothing to say to them on this. We are talking to our (shrinking) base but not expanding our appeal.
The young face a future of debt, unaffordable housing and insecure work and they need hope. The way to communicate hope is not to repeat the things you don’t like (this is depressing), it is to identify what both of you would like and to create an aspiration. We actively repelled the young and even if we had the message we have nobody who understands the power of social media to communicate it. And nobody would want to contribute these skills to the current leadership as they would not be appreciated. I tried to contribute social media training to my region, spent 6 hours preparing a step-by-step guide to facebook advertising, only for it to be binned by the regional organiser for the simple reason that it wasn’t his idea. And he can get away with this because nobody in head office holds him accountable for having a social media capability.
So, as a fresh start for UKIP, as a recognition that we cannot continue this way, as a means of re-energising the members and re-setting their expectations of what the party can be, and as a way of creating a new structure whereby a leader can be successful and focus externally rather than constantly be fighting internal fires, we need an EGM. We members need to stop our whining and take control of our party. And, with the reforms made, it may even be possible to motivate talented members like a certain Mr N Farage to throw his hat into the leadership ring.