If you thought that the events surrounding the first set of UKIP leadership elections were bizarre, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Steven Woolfe failing to get out of the runners’ paddock, four of the candidates running on one race-course and another candidate running backwards on another. Then a less than convincing win and a 18 day tenure, back to square one.
Nothing however could have prepared us for the current saga. From large numbers of candidates to rule changes and then interference or lack of interference from the UKIP acting chairman and others.
Right at the start of the second election it was clear the NEC would change the rules. It is not clear who was behind the changes but in due course they;
1 Increased the number of signatures needed
2 Increased the % of votes needed to recover a deposit
They also reduced the time taken for the election to be undertaken, forcing the entire process into seven weeks, the winner to be announced on the 28th November 2016. This reduction in time allowed is short-shortsighted and prevents the candidates from meeting the members; also the lack of hustings is wrong as little of the country is covered.
The changes in the rules hand the immediate effect of reducing the field with at least two candidates who had professed they were going to stand again dropping out, Elizabeth Jones (NEC Member) and Phillip Broughton, the first time round dark horse from the North East.
First time round all candidates who stood achieved recovery of their £5000 deposit by gaining 5% of the popular vote. This time increasing the threshold to 20% has ensured that withdrawals from the original declared field of 11 runners has continued at a steady rate slowly but very surely pointing towards just three candidates by the cut off point of the 11th November.
From the initial field of 11 runners and the eight I spoke to directly, this was the field marked as those who said they would stand.
We now have only three left with David Kurten, Peter Whittle and Raheem Kassam being the last three to drop out over the past seven days, those three being Suzanne Evans, John Rees-Evans and Paul Nuttall; a faster drop-out rate than even the Conservative Party managed.
An interesting point to notice is the field no longer contains an open and declared Farage candidate. With the two front runners, regardless of their unity platitudes, having fallen out with the interim leader Nigel Farage. Little is known of the other candidate, John Rees-Evans, other than at the Newport hustings his virtues were being extolled by none other than Sam Gould.
The extensive field, which I likened to a conga dance line at one point now resembles the end of a long evening which started with a huge ‘hokey cokey’ dance, but with most people ‘having shaken it all about’, several have dropped out.
I would hope that the reduction in the field is a reflection, not of the 20% deposit threshold but of a desire ONLY to support another candidate. I fear the former and UKIP is the poorer for it.
Current Position at Leadership Day 16
At the beginning of the hustings run we still had six candidates to listen to; by the start of the hustings that had already shrunk to four with Kurten dropping out and endorsing Kassam, then Kassam dropping out and endorsing no one.
The first run was on LBC which was, by agreement with all but the most biased, a win for Suzanne Evans. She showed that she may possess the ability to sell the UKIP vision (assuming we have one) to the British public.
It is clear that this election race has become somewhat inward looking and almost narcissistic in nature. The candidates need to focus on the real job of selling UKIP to the public, not just to UKIP members. Endorsements by the great and good of UKIP look and sound great and what the candidate endorsed thinks they need. But do they? Being liked by your MEP peers will not win UKIP an election and in the final week before voting we need to hear what all the candidates will do to re brand UKIP and then decide if they have what it takes to sell that vision to the public.
As an aside after the public LBC hustings a public rebuke was issued by the acting chairman to one candidate telling him ‘not to rock the boat’. This should never have been done. If a rebuke was needed it should have been administered in private as it shows that the chairman may be guilty of bias towards or against one candidate. This suggestion carries more weight as there has been a complaint about the misuse of data bases by certain MEPs, a complaint made by one or two of the candidates was dismissed without even a second thought. This is not UKIP, this is not the People’s Party and the final result could be called into question.
Moving on to the Emanuel hustings with about 200 members present, yet again no candidate was prepared to put forward their vision of UKIP. UKIP made Brexit its own issue regardless of the machinations of ‘The know’, Leave EU, Vote Leave and Grassroots. The public see UKIP as the prime mover behind the win. That said many people are asking “What is the point of UKIP?”, some with UKIP’s best interests at heart; many who are not our friends. The new leader now from a field of three owes it to the members to at least outline some thoughts on where UKIP is going. We shall see. The London hustings was a win for Nuttall in the audience but was not well received by those commenting upon his performance.
So Newport and just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, it was clear that John Rees-Evans, who has been gaining support since surprising everyone by throwing his hat into the ring, still has something to prove.
The few polls being run have shown the early front runner Paul Nuttall’s lead fall and his percentage of the vote had dipped below 50% on five of the six polls running. We do await the new polls which may show a substantial change when the members committed to Peter Whittle AM decide who to vote for. It is no foregone conclusion that they will back Nuttall as Whittle has personally done.
John Rees-Evans has to date given three very good and polished performances but on Thursday night suffered a very public meltdown and stormed out of the hall after being told by the acting chairman ‘not to rock the boat’. What does this mean? The chairman should have said nothing in such a public manner and given other complaints I hear that some members of the NEC are expressing concerns about his ability and clear partiality.
Rees-Evans has vowed to keep fighting by travelling around the country and speaking to members directly instead of speaking at the final two hustings.
Is this sensible? Well, its not the way I would run a campaign as it leaves members with just two people to listen to and now resembles the last set of hustings with the Purple Pimpernel Diane James being elusive and very private.
Lets be honest your couldn’t make this up could you ?? Well this is UKIP !!