The vote of no confidence by the NEC in Henry Bolton was simply the latest and most public demonstration of the war going on in UKIP.
The party has become so divided that even the pretence that Henry Bolton has done anything wrong is no longer needed as unfounded allegations are being made by the minute in a desperate attempt to portray him as incompetent, lazy and untruthful because, for the first time in the history of the party, someone is beginning to reform the party and to create a truly functional balance between power, authority and responsibility. Those in power, who have been in power and are directly responsible for UKIPs decline, want to hang on and appear to be willing to bend any rule to get their way. One wonders why we don’t sack the failures instead of the new guy making a difference?
The NEC lies at the heart of this problem, not necessarily because of the people on it, though in this instance that is certainly and partly the case, but because of the relationship it has with the effectiveness of the party and the authority vested in it.
Quite simply, the NEC has all the authority and no responsibility, whilst the party leader has all the responsibility and very little authority. This simply cannot work.
In my last two years leading that party I was unable to do any of the things I wanted. I was outvoted by a group of volunteers who, frankly, had no political experience at all. – Nigel Farage
In such a structure, it is impossible to hold these people to account or to know if any of them are any good. We don’t know who they are, what they do, what they discuss, or how they vote. The deliberate secrecy is designed to maintain an anonymity and detach themselves from the fortunes of the party. The leader takes all that flak.
There are two reasons for this situation:
- The party is structured as a company limited by guarantee and, therefore, has a board of directors. That, in itself, need not be a major issue because many organisations that were formerly ‘members’ clubs’, i.e. unincorporated associations, have moved to this legal structure but, in all those cases, the directors are responsible for the outcomes of their decisions. It becomes a problem when all the responsibility for outcomes rests with the political wing yet the authority that controls those outcomes is discharged by the non-political element.
- In such a structure, it is important to have the right people on board and that means a robust and forensic mechanism to choose those who will wield the authority. We do not have that. NEC positions are made through an election process that:
- Does not vet candidates sufficiently and restricts the amount of information that candidates can present to the electorate.
- Does not allow candidates to contact their electorate
- Allows unlimited entry lists
The net effect of this is to perpetuate the existing clique. This happens because members, not very interested in NEC elections at the best of times, tend to select a name they have heard of or to re-elect an existing member on the assumption that they are already on the committee so that can’t be a ‘wrong choice’. Members aren’t allowed to know who the other candidates are, in any depth, or be subject to normal political campaigning.
UKIP gobbles up leaders on a regular basis, so why would anyone think that a new leader would be any different? Of course, people often harbour an inflated opinion of their own abilities and we’ve seen a great deal of that coming to the surface recently, but the conflict is inbuilt and will always be an obstacle to any leader. If it got to someone as formidable as Nigel it will see anyone off.
One of the reasons behind the unprecedented attack on Henry Bolton is his intention to change all that and to change the way the party functions. Many simply want to keep their positions of power regardless of the party’s fortunes.
The reason is this.
Henry Bolton isn’t Nigel Farage; nobody is, or could be. There is no charismatic media magnet around the corner who could, once again, overcome a pitifully primitive organisation with such structural faults, as Nigel did for many years.
The party must become much more professional in the way it organises its internal matters and how it creates policy. Quite simply, leaving it all to one person is no longer an option. Without a Nigel, the spokespeople must become much more visible, functioning as a well-coordinated group speaking confidently about our program and the new and radical ideas being developed (though it appears that none of them actually have any radical or new ideas).
You will now see allegations that Henry Bolton is inept, a poor leader lacking in vision, somehow not doing enough when he’s spent every day (before this NEC debacle) putting processes in place, visiting constituencies and plugging financial leaks. Because of our silent spokespeople, the radical agendas and policies for the future are noticeable by their absence.
That’s the reason for the policy development groups that Henry Bolton has instigated and, in my case, have already begun work, though not everyone is so keen to involve the membership and some haven’t even started. Henry Bolton wants to create a party that can function well without a Nigel and not collapse when new leadership takes over. The effective two months he’s had to do this isn’t enough. By that measure, no leader would last any longer.
This is no longer about Henry Bolton’s unfortunate relationship issues, though they were the catalyst for this unprecedented witch-hunt, but about the future of the party.
The irony is that the actions of our NEC have created a wonderful opportunity to move the party forward. Who really thinks that we’ll regain support without a full policy platform, organised campaigns, candidate training, or membership involvement? The EGM is a real opportunity to remove the NEC on bloc, to restructure the power base, and return to the job of re-building the party, regaining support and winning elections. That’s what we are really about.
We have a choice: disappear off the scene for four months whilst we have another meaningless leadership contest (the fourth in under two years) and keep the old regime in place, or allow Henry Bolton to get on with the job. Judge leaders, by all means, but if a few months is all anyone gets we’d better pencil in the fifth leadership election for the end of the year.