Can the Anti-Islamic Policies of Anne Marie Waters Win the Leadership of UKIP?
UKIP has been deeply fractious throughout its short history in some way or another. Whether it be on the decision of whether or not to stand against Eurosceptic tories in the early new millennia or even whether its only MP, Douglas Carswell, was in fact an imposter working for the tories. Perhaps this is why Paul Nuttall won the leadership of the party with over 60% of the vote on a unity platform.
But why is UKIP so divided? This is a question that is key to predicting Waters’ chances of success because it is this very division which she thrives upon. Is the division because of the nature of who runs the party, the nature of the membership or just the media portraying a lie? I would argue it’s a mixture of the three.
Firstly, there is a big disconnect between the party leadership and its membership. As much as Nuttall loved and insisted upon UKIP being the “guard dogs” of Brexit, it didn’t click with the members who wanted radical policies on the economy, education, health, immigration and yes – Islam. Nobody in the leadership of UKIP was able to really connect with the membership of UKIP and that is a feeling that is commonplace all across the country.
Secondly, the members of UKIP are, by definition, anti-establishment populists. As UKIP has most interestingly proved, this is as much a general mindset as it is a political view based on facts and experience. Much of the membership joined UKIP because of the perceived (and very real) establishment attitude that the EU was some holy creation that cannot be criticised and that the electorate can be taken for granted. However, especially since the referendum, we have seen an increasingly populist Labour party (albeit with dreadful policies) and a Conservative party that at least appears to be pro-Brexit, pro-controlled immigration and in many ways pro-UKIP. Of course, in my view and the view of many other kippers, this was a crafty mask to kill off UKIP, but to many members this was a real and permanent shift in the Conservative party’s ideology. While most kippers stayed in UKIP, many felt that the establishment was becoming less establishment and Nuttall’s UKIP was trying to take its place with our ‘Party of the NHS’ strategy in Stoke, standing down for the tories in many seats and, of course, barring Waters from standing. Again, this recurring theme of the party leadership being the “new establishment” pops up.
Thirdly, the whole division in UKIP is perceived to be a lot more serious than it really is because of the media’s insistence on lying about us and exaggerating all negative stories. If a Lib Dem councillor resigns, there might be a 15 second mention of it on the local BBC news program and a short story in the local paper. However, if it’s a UKIP councillor, there’s national coverage on all the TV stations and coverage in all of the national papers. Put this together with the anti-UKIP, anti-Brexit narrative and any ordinary bloke who watches the news each night would think we are about as united as Korea in the 1950s! However, as is often the case, if you believe something feasible but false to be true then it often becomes so and as such many members began to hate others within the party more than was necessarily reasonable. On top of this, the media was in some ways given reign over the factions of UKIP and was able to place certain people in factions with others who they themselves might not wish to align so closely with.
But where does Waters come in to all of this? She wasn’t a particularly well-known figure until well after the referendum and never really put herself into a clearly defined faction and I would argue that she never really fitted into the broad factions of 2015 and 2016. However, Paul Nuttall did do an excellent job of uniting the party to begin with (at least in public), and these factions seemed to fade away in a matter of months. But as I’ve already discussed, UKIP is naturally pre-set to be divided and although this is preventable, it isn’t an easy task. The new divisions began not long after the election was called when two things became very clear to the membership: the party was going very soft on the tories and was censoring the anti-Islam individuals in every way it could. The party fairly quickly united against Nuttall on the matter of the tories but Islam proved to be a very divisive issue indeed, with Anne Marie Waters the clear figurehead of the anti-Islam group. It would later be this issue that propelled her into the leadership bid and whatever lies ahead for her now.
I would say that the majority (and probably the vast majority) of UKIP members are at the very least critical of Islam as an ideology and virtually all are vocally opposed to Islamism, although there is some confusion about the distinction between the two. However, the majority of these members will not even consider voting for Anne because she is perceived as taking the issue too far and not really understanding or caring about other issues like the economy or democratic reform. By my (unscientific) estimations, this leaves Waters with around 30% of the membership who would consider voting for her. Of that 30%, I would think that between 15% and 20% will be planning to vote for her already and the other 10% to 15% are yet to be persuaded. ‘But surely those figures are way too low with all the new members signing up?’ you might be thinking. Well, it is certainly true that the majority of the new members will be supporting Anne but in reality, only members who joined before the date the election was called (June 23rd) will be given the vote so where I have referred to the membership above, I really should have spoken of the voting members.
The key question at this point and indeed the reason you are reading this article is not simply how much support Waters can get, but whether she’ll have enough to win. At present, there are 9 declared candidates so in theory a minimum of around 11% of the vote is required to win. Of course, in reality this number will be far higher because some candidates will surely drop out and many will get a largely insignificant amount of votes. I would imagine that the winner of the election will have around 30% of the vote, which means a Waters win is not beyond imagination. However, a win with 20% is far less likely and probably impossible so she will need to gain support from wavering voters in significant numbers if she wants a chance of winning. So long as the other candidates address Islam as a serious issue and take a tough stance on it, I think Waters stands no chance of winning. However, if they go soft on Islam to distance themselves from her then they might just give her enough support to narrowly gain a victory.
So far, the other candidates have all taken a somewhat introverted yet fair approach to Islam. By that I mean that when pressed they have offered hard-line and practical solutions to the issue of Islamism and terror but appear to be very reluctant to do so. Whittle appears to be the most willing to speak about it and Etheridge the least, which is very interesting because they both agree with Waters in many ways but don’t want to be seen to be agreeing with her in any way. I personally think that this will cease to be the case fairly quickly as the election goes on, which will rapidly cut out the perceived momentum of Waters.
Partially as a consequence of this and partially just out of common sense, I believe many of Anne’s supporters will in fact move to other candidates more than vice versa because her momentum will very quickly die down. For this reason, which is comprised of all of my other thoughts previously discussed, I would conclude that it is highly improbable that Waters can win but she does have a small window of opportunity if she plays her cards her cards right and her opponents fail to do so. That said, I was adamant Woolfe would lead us in 2016 and that UKIP would win 2 seats in the election, so don’t take what I say too seriously!