There has been a lot of criticism about the structure of UKIP and the role of the NEC in particular, but not many constructive suggestions for how exactly to reform. I present a few ideas.
At present, the party has five power structures, namely (i) the financial donors, (ii) the party leader and his team, (iii) the NEC, (iv) the MEPs and (v) Regional Organisers and branches. Note the word ‘members’ does not appear. How things work is that the leader and his team develop policy with the influence of the financial donors and the NEC.
The MEPs try to say their bit but unless they also have a role in the party leader’s team they are marginalised, except to the extent they can make a financial contribution. But given that MEPs are selected from party lists and are there by the grace of the leader who puts them on the top of the list, then there isn’t a lot they can complain about so in general they are docile and unwilling to rock the boat.
Another interesting feature is how difficult it is to get onto the NEC. At the last election there were 91 candidates, many with no track record of even standing for office on behalf of UKIP. Moreover, NEC members have seen themselves as representatives rather than delegates, meaning they do not take instructions from the constituency that appointed them but make up their own minds. In practice this means they can be convinced by other members of the NEC to do whatever they want, with absolutely no accountability to the people who elected them.
Branches and members have no role in decision making. Apart from NEC members not being accountable to ordinary members, the most glaring hole in the governance is that there is no Annual General Meeting of the members where the members would ratify or reject major decisions made by the NEC and leadership. In addition, there has never been an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of the members because the hurdle for organising it (20% of all branches need to hold their own branch-level EGM first) is too high. Hence the members have none of the usual protections of a corporate governance system. This is the root cause of why so many members feel distant from UKIP leadership.
How leadership decisions are actually made was revealed in a series of unedifying tweets between David Coburn and Suzanne Evans (SE) yesterday in an argument over ‘who introduced SE to Nigel first’ (no joke). SE came out and said that in fact it was Annabelle Fuller, NFs press secretary at the time, who introduced her to NF, and NF promptly gave her a role in his leadership team which she still occupies to this day. The members have absolutely no role in any of these decisions; they are all done behind closed doors with no accountability. That nobody at the top apart from fall guy Paul Nuttall has resigned since the local and general election results demonstrates that nobody feels any sense of accountability to the members, and members are powerless to demand change.
So, how should it work? First, the members have to be in charge. There should be an AGM which all members can attend in person to vote or vote by proxy. The members should vote on key policies, review the work of the leadership team and the NEC, and certain powers, such as changes to constitution, should be taken away from the NEC and reserved for the members at AGM. The hurdle for an EGM should also be far lower so that one can actually occur every three years or so.
Second, the NEC should become more of a delegation and less of a representative organisation. NEC representatives should be regionally elected and be accountable to that region. They would take instructions from the region. If the region does not like what they are doing then the region would have the power of recall and deselection. NEC delegates should report back to their region, tell them what happened at the NEC and take instructions. It goes without saying that NEC minutes should be available to all members.
Third, the NEC should be more like a board of directors and not get involved in management. Under the guidance of members, who approved policy in the AGM, the NEC is there to set targets for the leadership team and review its performance.
Fourth, the leadership team should be freed from the influence of financial donors and the kind of back-scratching as exemplified by the appointment of SE (and many others). The choice of members of the leadership team should be proposed by the leader to the NEC for approval in a transparent way. At the AGM members would also have the opportunity to recall any leadership team member.
Finally, the policy making process should become a direct democracy exercise. JRE has begun this with his online system (which if you have not tried already I suggest you go and take a look) but I am not optimistic as it is noticeable that the leadership is not actively promoting it. Any organisational change that is not championed from the top is doomed to failure. But in my new governance structure I propose a similar system for proposing policy that would go to the AGM for adoption.
These is a basic outline for a new system. Of course the devil is in the detail, but I hope that one of the leadership candidates takes this forward before being ‘captured’ by the system upon their election. If the system wins again, then UKIP is lost forever.