On The Daily Politics (21st July 2016) Matthew Elliott claimed that Vote Leave which, to remind everyone, included Douglas Carswell and Suzanne Evans, won the referendum by fighting UKIP as well as the establishment. He even claimed credit for “Take Back Control” despite the phrase having been first used by Nigel in a speech he gave in Sheffield in April 2014.
Vote Leave also, eventually and after its poll ratings were lagging Remain, began to emphasise immigration whereupon its ratings rose. Carswell is in denial about that and no more so than on 4th July 2016 when, in a debate on ‘After Brexit’, hosted by Jonathan Freeland of The Guardian, he continued his sneers about UKIP’s “nativist” members and sought to distance himself from his own party. Vote Leave won, he claimed, precisely because it was not UKIP. Indeed, at UKIP’s spring conference (Llandudno 2016) Suzanne Evans, at a fringe event, insisted that the leave campaign must never mention Nigel or immigration!
We know this is all nonsense and independent polling has since shown that immigration was a significant factor in the referendum result. It is to UKIP’s credit that the UK could at last discuss this previously unmentionable subject and that we got to vote on it. Indeed, 17.4 million people voted with UKIP. They knew what we stood for and they agreed with us on the EU.
So how come membership numbers did not soar after the referendum result? Our recruitment drive emphasising that UKIP was needed to protect the result failed, did it? Alas, there was no recruitment drive to fail! Instead, Nigel, Crowther and Nuttall all resigned sending a different sort of recruitment message, one that perhaps was re-enforced by Nigel calling the NEC the “lowest grade people”. The media were all too willing to publicise UKIP’s splits. The cartoon about UKIP that sums it all up was by Matt in The Telegraph: “The party is divided. The loonies may split from the fruitcakes”.
At Bournemouth, while Diane was welcoming Carswell on stage with “absolute pleasure”, Nigel was using his LBC radio show to attack Carswell, who responded with an attack on Nigel on Sky News the following day, as The Mail happily picked up on. Meanwhile, Arron Banks re-iterated his intention to form a “Momentum” style party of the right. Banks wants Nigel as figurehead – he’d have to leave UKIP under its ‘one party only’ rule – but Nigel said he would not do that on BBC News Hardtalk. He did say though that he would support the new movement. We’ll wait to see how!
Banks, of course, detests Carswell as much as Nigel does, so it remains to be seen how Diane’s warm embrace of Carswell plays with him and Nigel. At the very least, one can suppose, there will be no more money for UKIP from Banks. Perhaps Diane hopes for the Short Money that Carswell denied Nigel and so risked going off script with Nigel and Banks. I hope that is the reason, for no other can justify embracing someone who repeatedly insults the members. Diane had a meeting with the Party Treasurer on Tuesday 20th Sept. and I doubt they will be opening champagne after looking in the coffers.
Members seeking to abolish the NEC have not given up – ironically, they prefer an appointed board like the EU – and some are still trying to nullify the leadership election so that Steven Woolfe can stand. A membership drive to a united party is still some way off then, for few people, if any at all, will join a party in disarray and few donors will give money to a divided and potentially imploding party.
The only pressure Theresa May will take notice of is electoral pressure. It was fear of UKIP that led Cameron to agree to a referendum and it is fear of UKIP that will maintain pressure for a true Brexit. That pressure has to come from UKIP winning by-elections, both local and parliamentary, over the next two years. Nothing else matters. Every faction in UKIP needs to grasp that basic fact, feign unity for the greater good, and work still for Brexit. A motion to regionalise the NEC was defeated at conference and so, I repeat, nothing else matters except winning elections. Pet ideas about the NEC have had their time.
To win elections a party needs active members and money. The opportunity, squandered so far following the referendum, needs to be made up. We need members to provide a minimal level of secure funding and to work at ground level. The air war on television and radio does not win elections, merely lose them when a leader or spokesperson puts his or her foot in it. Elections are won by the ground war of activists leafletting, manning street stalls and above all by canvassing to get the vote out on election day. That means organisation by branch and ward. Money is needed to adequately train candidates in how to present policy and withstand media scrutiny.
On BBC News Hardtalk Nigel no longer called the NEC “lowest grade people” but said that the problem with the NEC was that volunteers were too easily lobbied by career politicians. But it is too late to backtrack. Many members rallied to his call to abolish the NEC, and the internal forces unleashed show no sign of abating.
For this foot soldier, the 3.88 million who voted UKIP in the general election, and the many who campaigned with us in the referendum, are being betrayed. The luminaries owe it to them to behave better. It was mainly UKIP members who were on the streets, on stalls, leafletting and canvassing for either Leave.eu or Vote Leave. A million may have signed up to Leave.eu for emails but UKIP provided the bulk of the foot soldiers. The various egos need to remember that, and need to realise their own petty concerns are squandering our legacy. In a year’s time, if there is no UKIP putting electoral pressure on the Prime Minister, we may well get Brexit light.
Winning the referendum was the end of the beginning only. Nigel speaks of the need to win the peace after winning the war. Well, thanks for lobbing a grenade into the party on the way out! Such leadership!
Peace we do not have and the longer that continues the less likely are we to win by-elections. The interregnum may yet prove fatal. I hope that it does not.