The title of this article is certainly not original. This question has been asked before many times. Notably, it was addressed at length by Dr. Tomaz Slivnik in his comprehensive and informative resignation statement following his leaving of the National Executive Committee in September 2016.
Dr. Slivnik’s analysis is detailed and should, in my opinion, be read and digested in full to do it justice.
I was particularly struck however by part of another sentence that he wrote:
“The reasons I resigned from the NEC will be clear at the end of this letter, but in summary, it was because we as company directors carried all the liability and responsibility for decisions which were taken out of our hands by persons who wielded all the authority but carried no liability….”
A similar complaint appears in the letter of Adrianne Smythe who resigned at about the same time.
“The NEC appears to be little more than a cover behind which other people are ‘running’ the company without the liability that our directorships place upon us.”
Now the party is entering a period of stewardship under a new leader. But just how much real power and control over the party and its policies will that new leader of UKIP actually command?
Will the new leader be the Captain of the ship, master of a willing crew, or a mere figurehead; a subordinate mouthpiece communicating decisions made elsewhere?
One of the factors that prompted the asking of these questions was an incident I’ve commented on before. However, it is indicative of the powers, or lack of them, of the leader.
On the 28th March of this year, members received an email from the party chairman headed:
‘Leadership to work with John Rees-Evans on building our direct democracy credentials’ and including the following words:-
“….This morning Paul (Nuttall) and I met with John to discuss his proposals. I’m delighted to confirm that John will be working with us to deliver a solid, reliable and considered platform through which you can voice your thoughts moving forward.”
JRE acted on Paul Nuttall’s request. However, following the resignation of Paul Nuttall after the General Election the following conversation took place in July 2017:-
‘In spite of John having designed and overseen the implementation of the system without cost to the party, and John’s then being willing to sign over the intellectual property rights for the programme to the party, John was subsequently informed by the party treasurer that, in effect, the former leader had been functioning ultra vires in placing this request with John, and that the project did not actually have the backing of the NEC and could therefore not be funded.’
Ultra vires translates from the Latin as ‘beyond the powers’. So when, the Party Leader, Paul Nuttall, ordered the development of UKIP Direct he apparently exceeded his authority.
In the light of the above, I was curious to browse the UKIP Constitution to see which powers were solely and independently ‘intra vires’ for the Party Leader. The answer, as the constitution is currently interpreted, seems to me to be precious few.
Indeed, considering it relates to the position that most members might think of as being the most important in the party, it’s remarkably limited. Some examples are given below:
7.1 …..The Party Leader shall give political direction to the party and shall be responsible for the development of the party’s policies – with the agreement of the NEC.
7.2 The Party Leader may at his discretion form such advisory groups as he deems appropriate to advise him………and will inform the NEC of the membership of such groups.
7.3.1 The Party Leader:
- b) shall — subject to the approval of the NEC — appoint a Party Chairman…….
- d) make such appointments as he thinks fit – with the agreement of the NEC.
I think you might see a pattern emerging here. The measures, designed originally to protect against the unlikely, but possible, excesses of a ‘rogue leader’, can ironically, be used by a ‘rogue faction’ not only to shackle the Leader but also to undermine the very democratic control they were intended to protect.
As the UKIP Constitution is currently interpreted, and I have to stress that condition, I think most people would conclude that the power of leadership within UKIP lies within and around the NEC, and not with the party leader.
The Constitution States:
6.1 ‘….’the NEC’ shall function as the principal management and administrative authority of the Party, in particular for the purposes of company law.’
Perhaps some party officials and some NEC members have misinterpreted that section along with several other paragraphs in the constitution. Perhaps they think ‘management’ means ‘controlling’ and ‘instructing’ instead of ‘organising’ and co-ordinating’. Perhaps they think ‘administrative’ means ‘commanding’ as opposed to ‘supervising’ or ‘overseeing’.
After all, it seems to me that even the Interim Leader of recent weeks has struggled somewhat with the meaning of the word ‘interim’. Synonyms like caretaker, acting, provisional, stopgap and temporary appear to have entirely passed him by.
Perhaps that is why, in their joint resignation letter, NEC members Victoria Ayling, Raymond Finch and Michael McGough wrote:
“It has now reached the stage where the party’s national executive has essentially usurped full governance of the party and is collectively in pursuit of oligarchy, self-promotion and cronyism.”
And “It must not be right that that a handful of individuals entrusted with the oversight of good governance and accountability on behalf of the membership can accord themselves absolute power over the running of the UK’s third largest political party.”
These were NEC members protesting against the problem; not part of it.
I think this difficult situation will need to be fully investigated and forcefully addressed by the new leader as a matter of urgency in order to determine an honest and satisfactory answer to the question: “Who runs UKIP?”