Somewhere in a parallel universe, 100,000 Brexit supporters from across the political spectrum and from all walks of life marched united through London on Sunday 9th December 2018 to make a timely perfectly-timed show of public opinion to demand our politicians not betray the democratic will of the people.
Leave Means Leave, UKIP and all the significant pro-Brexit groups worked together to pull it off. They came by the busload from all parts of the country. Speakers included Conservative MPs, Labour Leave, successful entrepreneurs, economists and trade unionists. UKIP leaders past and present put aside their egos and petty feuds in a display of unity for the cause.
Sadly it wasn’t to be. I’ve read an estimate that 3,000 people attended Sunday’s Brexit Betrayal march. That seems about right to me. It’s notably fewer than the numbers some of the Football Lads’ marches are reputed to have attracted.
Not all the blame can be placed at the feet of Gerard Batten, but he contributed two stunningly bad decisions – firstly to prevent UKIP working with Leave Means Leave, and secondly his determination and impatience to wed UKIP to Tommy Robinson (who, fairly or unfairly, most normal people who still get their news from the mainstream media believe to be an extremist thug), against common-sense advice and sticking two fingers up at the NEC at exactly the moment when UKIP should be the obvious party to which all decent disenfranchised members of the public should be able to turn.
There were many Kippers on the march – though by no means all of those who were holding the UKIP signs which had been handed around – far fewer than there might have been, the party Chairman and NEC having dissociated the party from the march and the party having been plunged into a state of meltdown, which Batten must reasonably have predicted when nevertheless pushing ahead with this.
For Britain were there, looking like last year’s news, especially now their leader-by-proxy is telling his followers to join UKIP. The Identitarians were there, former members of proscribed organisations and even one ‘Black Hoodie for Brexit’ was there, looking like he might have got caught up in the wrong march. Most people on the march though seemed to be ordinary people who in many cases had no party allegiance. Indeed many seemed to be proud of the fact, distrusting politicians of all colours, including UKIP (and especially Nigel Farage).
Unlike the ‘anti-fascist’ counter-protest, the march was entirely peaceful, well-behaved and good-natured. Even the ageing skinheads, including the one with half his face tattooed, were quite relaxed. In fact, it was a bit too quiet in some ways. We really need to work on our rousing chanting and singing. The crowd was very mixed in age – with a far greater proportion of young and working-age people than at your average UKIP meeting.
When we reached our rallying destination and the speakers took the stage the whole point of the event became clear. Alan Craig acted as the Master of Ceremonies and Gerard Batten the warm-up act for the star of the show Tommy Robinson – the new personality for UKIP to build a cult around – and Tommy Robinson was telling everyone to join UKIP.
There was then a succession of mostly UKIP speakers – those who hadn’t already left the party in the preceding week – finishing with Robinson’s return to the stage to ask everyone to follow him as he went through a pantomime of signing-up to UKIP’s £4 membership deal on his phone, culminating in the punchline, “Oh no! It’s been declined. You’ll have to sort that, Gerard.”
And therein lies the central irony. Gerard Batten is asking someone who isn’t allowed to join UKIP to ask all his followers to join up.
Looking around, I saw nobody following Robinson’s steps on their phone. As UKIP speaker after UKIP speaker came and left the stage, the crowd seemed to get bored and start to thin out. They had come out today just to be lured to one big UKIP advert.
Gerard Batten and Tommy Robinson seem to think that all it takes is the say-so from Robinson and all his supporters will simply follow and join UKIP in their tens of thousands. People need more convincing than that. I spoke to people that day who were proud to say they were apolitical, yet were getting involved in all sorts of actions and local issues – even a pro-Brexit rally in Cardiff which no one felt the need to tell UKIP about. If UKIP doesn’t take the lead in organising actions, people will organise themselves without us.
The sad fact is UKIP has been a shower of shit for the last 2 ½ years. We’ve been fighting among ourselves, embarrassing ourselves in the media and attracting a risible share of the vote in elections. What’s the point people getting us elected if UKIP representatives then do and say very little and defect whenever they please? UKIP is no longer taken seriously in politics, in the media or by members of public who want to take up issues on the ground. We can’t expect members and activists to fall into our lap. We need to earn their trust and respect.
Suzanne Evans claims the party has been infiltrated. I wish! If only I were seeing a host of eager new activists coming to branch meetings and offering to help with action days and stand for election. The party has been hollowed-out.
Don’t get me wrong, I believed that UKIP had to reinvent itself in the way Gerard is trying to do, but only AFTER BREXIT, as it would inevitably spilt the party at exactly the wrong time and entail a long-term project to win over the public. The damage is now done. The toothpaste is out of the tube. Batten has made a reckless gamble without a mandate. I hope I’m wrong and members will now pour in – or perhaps this is where the UKIP story ends.