Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What is happening at UKIP?

The UK Independence Party was seen as a revolutionary anti EU movement taking the UK political environment by storm. In 2004 it had 12 MEPs and almost 30,000 members gaining 16% of the national vote (above that of the Liberal Democrats - the UK's 3rd largest political party).

But today, it is a mere shadow of its former self. With only 9 MEPs (and others retiring prior to the next election), less than 10,000 active members and only £45,000 in the Bank (with potential liabilities in excess of £500,000 subject to various court case verdicts/appeals) one has to ask - where did it all go wrong?

Without doubt the rot set in when Kilroy Silk was led to believe that he was going to become UKIP's new Leader after the election, and when Roger Knapman, (an unimpressive ex Tory MP) remained in office, RKS left in disgust and formed his own Party - Veritas - which failed to get off the ground.

Roger Knapman, though probably a decent bloke was not up to the job of curbing the excesses of the true leader behind the scenes - Nigel Farage, or handling the media. The Party gradually declined through: a lack of vision; a lack of training; a lack of structure and no clear leadership.

Roger Knapman was replaced by Nigel Farage in 2006 after a bitterly contested leadership battle by the little known Welsh Chairman - Richard Suchorzewski - who appeared to have harnessed the votes from a majority of activists within the Party. It was felt by many, that the massive spending to launch Nigel Farage's campaign for leader in Bromley and dirty tricks from those who hoped to be rewarded, played a disillusioning part in the outcome.

Nigel Farage was a practiced public speaker and media performer but once his 'traditional 3 party pieces and cigarette papers are spent, there was, and is, very little substance underneath. His metiere is the 60 second soundbite. During his 2 years as Leader, the Party has significantly declined and 'underhand in-fighting' amongst the residual activists has demoralised the Party further.

UKIP is now gaining less than 5% of the vote in most elections recently, and has notoriously sunk to 0.3% of the vote last week. This, despite the increased media attention (little of it good) in which Nigel Farage has featured.

In the last 8 weeks a severely bitter Euro Candidate selection process has taken place with certain candidates having their deposits returned because of alledged lack of due process. Even the Returning Officer has recommended that selections be re-run. This has been ignored by the Leader and the NEC which Nigel Farage clearly dominates and controls.

A number of members have threatened, and taken the first steps towards, legal actions against the Party, which is already involved in a Judicial Review process (instigated by the Electoral Commission) and individuals (including the Leader) subject to OLAF enquiries/investigations. One MEP has been arrested and is currently subject to 'Bail' conditions.

On-going internal criticisms against monies collected by 'Call Centres' at Ashford and Ramsgate have caused further dissent within the Party as has the lack of transparency and trust of the members, exascerbated by the foolhardy appointment of a Non-UK Treasurer.

In the last few days UKIP has hit the headlines in connection with an offer from the BNP to agree a joint electoral strategy. Whilst the Leadership has publicly condemned this approach, it has not gone unnoticed by the media and others that some of the trusted members of the Party were former 'National Front' members and supporters and some of the current MEPs were candidates and supporters of extreme right wing politics. The Leader himself has used advisers with previous associations with such organisations.

Whilst there is no formal evidence of UKIP being in sympathy with the BNP, the outrage by NEC members at the BNP approach does appear, to the objective onlooker, as a little immature and over the top, unless it was 'stage managed' to satisfy the NEC decision to expel 2 of its elected bretheren who opposed the current leadership. This has been identified by some, as Nigel Farage's 'Reichstag Moment.' It is believed there will now be a set-a-side of disciplinary procedures and suspension of the Party's Constitutional justice, with its own 'Kristall Nacht' event.

The UK certainly needs a strong Party representing the popular desire to leave the European Union as reflected in poll after poll. (This, in spite of 40 years of pro-EU propaganda from a political elite and a largly subservient media).

The sad ending to this saga is that UKIP had its chance and appears to have 'blown it'. With charges of the MEPs having 'gone native' and only interested in their expense claims; the shambles of the party organisation and the numerous potential legal threats against senior members, this anti EU movement is failing. There are mutterings of a 'revival organisation' within the Party but it appears to lack any discernible and charismatic leader. It's doubtful it will be allowed to get past the 'starting blocks'.

An alternative is to wait for UKIP to fail at the Euro - Elections (which it most certainly will - with unofficial odds being placed on UKIP achieving 2 seats at best) and either a new Leader to emerge or a New Party to fill the vacuum.

Many feel this will be the stage at which the present Leadership will jump ship for 'greener pastures'. Time will tell.

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