Kippers are well aware that, without your timely intervention last February, UKIP may not have survived. I attended the EGM in which we removed Mr Bolton and approved your installation as interim leader. Later, I joined the multitude who responded to your plea for extraordinary funding with a modest donation.
The extended farce of leadership changes had rendered UKIP, the only party of Brexit, totally ineffectual for eighteen months after the referendum, during which we had plumbed the depths of despond in a general election and lost our valuable deposits. Last spring, we were confident that, with you as leader, UKIP would regain public credibility and be able to assert pressure on the government to pursue its lacklustre Brexit preparations with determination.
Yet on Sunday, December 9th, many activists who would have attended the Brexit Betrayal rally boycotted it. I went to Parliament Street merely as a non-marching observer and to take photos. You and your kitchen cabinet would, no doubt, interpret that as disdain for any event associated with Tommy Robinson. In fact, I had marched twice this summer in his support: at the Freedom of Speech event, and the Free Tommy Robinson march. Supporting someone facing an injustice is one thing; sharing a party with him another.
Many of us also participated in the referendum second-anniversary event, all the while wondering why UKIP had allowed the occasion to be organised and dominated by a street-protest movement, the Football Lads (re-branded DFLA), not founded until 2017.
Merely a guest speaker at all three events this summer, you made low-key – almost apologetic – pleas to the crowds to vote UKIP at the next general election.
As summer turned to autumn, there were few signs of UKIP making any impression on the Brexit debate in the media. Instead, you were being questioned on your alleged Islamophobia.
Finally, a few weeks ago, you decided bizarrely that our membership would mushroom if Tommy Robinson became the face of UKIP – despite the fact that, in all his recent campaigns, Brexit had been absent. Despite, also, his disqualification from membership and the criminal records of his associates.
UKIP does not need simply to recruit members. It needs foot soldiers, officials and credible candidates who are prepared to graft on through thick and thin. Above all, it needs voters. We may even need them all at the next European elections …
But what you have done is to alienate grassroots of the party, as well as the general public – an electorate influenced largely by the mainstream media that are characterising us with renewed hostility. Dissenting UKIP veterans are being dismissed as “crusty old Tories” by your close associates, though mostly never members of that party. Are they now regarded as dead wood to be discarded, or at best taken for granted?
Your next move, the last straw for many of your former fans in the party, was ceding the organisation and on-line promotion of a Brexit Betrayal event to Tommy Robinson.
That left you – the party leader – looking little more than a backroom bureaucrat.
Finally, at the Sunday rally, you chose to reveal the dirty linen of the party in front of perhaps six thousand patriots – nearly half of whom are not party members – by gratuitous references to those who simply and honourably disagree with Tommy Robinson replacing you as the face of UKIP on the internet.
As the marchers finished squeezing into Parliament Street and you blinked in the low sunshine, the sea of faces before you must have been a great relief, considering the manner and haste in which the event had been organised.
Maybe that welcome sight generated a euphoria which led to uncharacteristic slips in your customary discretion? Whether scripted or not, this is what you said towards the end of your opening speech:
“Some of my colleagues tell me that I should be concentrating on Brexit, kind of overlooking the fact that that’s exactly what I’ve been doing while some of them have been lining their pockets in Brussels. Right, I’ll tell you what I’ve done: not even I’m concentrating on Brexit, but I’ve even got Tommy Robinson to talk about Brexit. That’s an achievement, isn’t it?”
Thus, you admitted that Tommy Robinson is a latecomer to the Brexit campaign. He even confirmed it himself:
“…I was not one of the main campaigners for Brexit. I devoted all my time and attention to the Islamisation of this nation.”
If you knew that Tommy Robinson would also be making references to the dissent in the party over his alliance with you and Lord Pearson, you were not disappointed:
“…I’m going to leave the Brexit issues to the people who’ve been campaigning for twenty years and working tirelessly for it and if.. I think if all of them… and what you witnessed this week as well… the amount of pressure there must have been on Gerard Batten this last week… And he’s still standing here… That is a leader!”
In your closing speech, five minutes before the end of the rally, you again referred to grassroots’ disapproval:
“I’d like to thank those colleagues of mine who had the courage and the decency to actually support me in what could have been a difficult week, except that I know that the cause I represent, and what I do and say in UKIP, is supported by so many thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions of people out there in the country.”
And, moments later:
“Somebody said – I can’t remember who it was now – that we shouldn’t hold this meeting because it was going to be attended by a lot of, er, bald, tattooed thugs.”
The behaviour of the crowd was impeccable. But, despite Tommy’s YouTube invitations scoring about thirty thousand views, and your own efforts, only about six thousand people crowded into Parliament Street, an area of two thousand square metres which the Police correctly judged would suffice. Initially, the street was packed as far back as Parliament Square – containing about 6000 people:
But, over half an hour before the National Anthem, and long before the final speeches, a couple of thousand people had already drifted away:
How many of the few people persuaded by Tommy Robinson to sign up for monthly direct debits are likely to remain in UKIP this time next year?
The primary responsibility of a party leader is to carry the best people with him. How many more stalwart activists, veterans of elections and the referendum but no longer finding UKIP their natural home, will resign or simply not renew their annual membership?
Many of your critics in UKIP, like yourself, have devoted decades to the cause of regaining UK sovereignty. Yet you have chosen unilaterally and undemocratically to ignore, disdain and marginalise them – at the tipping point in the nation’s struggle – in favour of a street protester who admits to being a newcomer to the cause.
We have seen three leaders of promise fall short for different reasons. Can you now avoid being the fourth?
Chris Scott (UKIP activist) – 15th Dec 2018