Be careful of what you wish for. The NEC have unwittingly signed their own death warrant by passing a vote of no-confidence in Henry Bolton.
There are only two results of the no-confidence motion. Either Henry goes, or the NEC must vacate their seats and be replaced. Whilst the conventional wisdom has it that Henry is reviled by the vast majority of the members and will lose the vote at the EGM, 28 days is a very long time in politics.
In deciding to take a vote on a motion of no-confidence, the NEC have exposed themselves to their own destruction. To have the possibility of a wholesale replacement of the NEC in ordinary circumstances is impossible. But now, suddenly, that possibility exists. Even if the chances seem to be low, there is a chance where none existed before. Indeed the odds on Henry winning will rapidly shorten.
Did anyone really think that Nigel Farage would walk away from his life’s work? Yes, he wanted a break, but if you listen to what he has been saying recently, he is more and more convinced that the wave of populism is growing in strength. Trump is evidence of this, and in Italy the 5 Star Movement has now taken the lead in the upcoming general election polls. Yet the ‘Patriotic Alliance’ that Banks dreamt of has never materialised. Farage has sat and watched a succession of UKIP leaders have failed, and as chancers and infiltrators seek to take over the party that he built to become a fighting force.
And now, as if by magic, the opportunity presents itself to have a genuine debate on constitutional reform, replace the current NEC and bring one in that is committed to carrying through those reforms. For all the bleating of its members, the fact is that the NEC has failed to produce a proposal for constitutional reform. There were mentions of reform projects in the ‘meeting records’ but nothing ever happened. This has made it easy for the NEC to be blamed for the ills of the party. It is this combination of the NEC being widely unpopular, with the NEC’s own decision to essentially put forward a motion of no-confidence in itself, which creates the most tantalising moment in UKIP’s post-Brexit history.
So Henry Bolton is unpopular today. So was Jeremy Corbyn when 21 members of his shadow cabinet resigned. The resignations are what Henry calls ‘draining the swamp’, and this is also how Corbyn saw it. What do you think would happen if Henry Bolton came up with a reform proposal to turn UKIP into a British version of the 5 Star Movement? And if Nigel Farage came out and backed him, and his proposal? And if Arron Banks put the money up to fund another EGM to make constitutional reforms, and save the party from insolvency? Something tells me the result of the EGM would no longer be a foregone conclusion.
As others have said, the NEC is widely unpopular. If Henry’s proposal is seen as being Nigel’s proposal, then much of its toxicity will be removed. If Nigel promises to return and Banks promises the money to back Henry, then how many people would change their minds? As David Allen has argued in these pages, if you remove Henry but leave all the other structures in place, same as before, then why do you expect any different outcome for the next leader? Something has to change.
And so the NEC is in fact highly vulnerable. They have fallen into the trap of assuming that the conditions in place now will remain the same in 28 days’ time, and although they must have realised that the no-confidence motion in the leader is also in effect also a no-confidence vote in the NEC, they were so convinced of the strength of feeling in the party against Henry that they jumped into the trap.
Perhaps Henry realises this because this is also how he won the leadership election. It was Nigel’s indirect endorsement – ‘political referee’ – that won it for him. He was seen as being anointed by Nigel. As long as Nigel is out there for him, he knows there is hope. And with the 5 Star Movement improving daily, it is easy for him to convince Nigel that the same can be replicated in this UKIP2.0.
On Nigel’s radio show, he was careful to make criticism of Bolton, but to support him on the key point, namely not to resign and go to an EGM with a reform proposal. No talk from Nigel of ‘an EGM will bankrupt the party’- he knows that if the direction of the party is right, the money will come.
We are headed for the most interesting month yet in the recent history of UKIP. It seems finally the revolution is here, carried by the most unlikely bearer with the worst possible backstory. In 28 days, the UKIP we know will be gone, and UKIP2.0 will be in the process of taking its place.