Ukip has become its own worst enemy, but we must battle on for Brexit.
The UK Independence Party has been the source of some controversy lately. Indeed, I doubt the whole Bolton-Marney fiasco has escaped anyone’s notice, whether you’re a party member or just a member of the general public. This scandal, which came as a shock to those of us who saw Henry Bolton as a safe pair of hands to steer the Ukip ship in the right direction after previous upheaval, has shaken the faith of even the most die-hard of Kippers.
In all honesty, I’m beginning to wonder what will become of the party myself.
I joined Ukip officially in 2013, and after a relatively short stint as secretary for the Congleton branch (I moved around the North West a lot during the early months of my career as a teacher), I became active within Ukip’s Youth Wing. It was at the July 2015 Young Independence Conference in Nottingham where I first met my fellow young Brexiteers, and I was amazed by how many of us there actually were. I was delighted and emboldened to find myself ensconced in a well organised, passionate, patriotic bunch of youngsters full of hope, unwavering determination and total commitment to the Eurosceptic cause. After initial suspicions that I might be a journalist, (I was later told it was chiefly because of my haircut; apparently my fringe just screamed Guardian columnist), I was welcomed into the fold with open arms.
I made more friends that year than I have ever done in my entire life, and pretty soon I was making myself useful by offering my house in Warrington as YI accommodation during elections in the North West, and driving people around to various places for canvassing and leafleting sessions. And of course the social aspect of YI membership was fantastic; there was nothing I loved more than hitting the local pub after a day of canvassing, and late nights culminating in every so slightly slurred choruses of God Save the Queen and Jerusalem. I often paid for it the next day though; being 27 and therefore in the upper age bracket of YI, I found myself increasingly unable to deal with the by-election all nighters and subsequent hangovers that the younger members seemed to shake off so easily. But sticking it out ’til the bitter end really did pay off, as it was at one such social gathering that I met the man who would later become my husband.
I really do have a lot to thank the party for!
I began meeting figures from the upper echelons of the party in 2015. After a few fleeting conversations with then leader Nigel Farage (which seemed very surreal to me after having watched him on YouTube for years) I met more of the party’s incredible talent: the likes of down to earth Steven Woolfe, the unflappable Nathan Gill and of course the rambunctious David Coburn, to name a few. By 2016 I truly felt part of something big, something amazing. There was a real feeling of unity, of fighting for a common cause. There was focus, and there was passion. Before long I was being offered media opportunities; apparently young Welsh-speaking Kippers are hard to come by. Debating other politicians on live TV in my second language was a terribly daunting prospect but, people’s faith in me wasn’t misplaced and I managed to do the party justice during several appearances over the following months. No matter how scared I was or how much time I had to spend preparing and practicing, it was all worth it, because it was part of the fight for independence.
And then of course, it happened.
I woke up the morning of the 24th of June to find that the United Kingdom had voted to leave the corrupt dictatorship that is the European Union. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my entire life (I was five weeks pregnant at the time so the hormones may well have played their part but still…!)
I was absolutely ecstatic, and after a 6am sob-filled phone call to my father, a staunch Brexiteer who had in fact been the one to introduce me to Ukip in the first place, I found myself literally skipping across the playground at school, grinning like a Cheshire Cat and humming Rule Britannia. I couldn’t have cared less about the dark looks I was receiving from pretty much the rest of the entire teaching staff. Nothing could dampen my mood, because we had done it. We had achieved the impossible.
We dared to dream.
Many fellow Kippers, including my husband, will state quite matter-of-factly that it was never going to get any better than that day. I tend to agree; after all, Ukip achieved its ultimate goal: Brexit. And yet, I can’t say I ever saw us ending up where we are now. And where are we now? In a mess, that’s where. We’ve had 5 leaders in 12 months, internal squabbles, scandalous affairs and not to mention the fact that virtually half our members have defected to the Tories. Where did it all go wrong?
One might say it was when Nigel Farage stepped down.
Don’t get me wrong, I have bucket loads of respect for the man and what he has done for our country. He isn’t a career politician and the fact is that he worked his backside off to secure and then win a referendum on our membership of the EU, and so by all accounts for him it was job done. But part of me wonders why he didn’t hang on just that little bit longer to snap at the heels of the Tories, knowing full well that there would inevitably be a degree of backsliding from the party who had for the most part campaigned to remain. To be fair to him, he is still banging the drum for Brexit and remains, in my humble opinion, the most prolific force in the Eurosceptic effort. But my problem is this:
The public can no longer vote for him.
Let’s face it: to many people, Nigel is Ukip. During the run up to the snap 2017 General Election I sorrowfully watched a Northern lady in her fifties telling a news reporter how she’d ‘Voted for him last election, and in the referendum, but because he wasn’t available this time, I went back to Labour.’ It’s all well and good Nigel bouncing back and forth to Brussels, but we needed him to stay on as leader and give the 52% a voice in 2017. It saddens me to think that people have gone back to voting for the Tories in the hope that they will deliver a clean Brexit, or Labour, who, despite having a militant Brexiteer as their leader, will no doubt push for a second referendum and then throw everything they’ve got at keeping us at the very least in the customs union.
After Nigel resigned, there was of course a glimmer of hope in the form of North West MEP Steven Woolfe. Many of us, myself included, believed that he was the only viable alternative to Nigel; the only man to whom the torch could have been passed. Charismatic, well spoken and from humble beginnings in Mosside in Manchester, many of us knew that Labour would be quaking in their boots. He had a broad support base; indeed the majority of Young Independence were backing him. But soon it all came to nothing, and before we knew it Steven was blocked from standing and from then on it was one disaster after another. Diane James was bullied out after 18 days at the helm, and during his 7 months as leader, Paul Nuttall went against the wishes of a large proportion of the party by prioritising his ‘Integration Agenda’ over Brexit, before getting himself into hot water over some inaccurate statements about Hillsborough on his webpage.
It was a real fall from grace, from being the party that achieved Brexit to a party who just couldn’t get its sh*t together.
When Bolton breezed into first place in the 2017 leadership election, most of us were cautiously optimistic. This relative unknown appeared with not only an OBE and unblemished record as a soldier and policeman, but also with an apparent lack of closet-dwelling skeletons. Indeed, despite Daily Mail trying their best to make something of the fact that he was on his second marriage (shock horror!) he came across as a trustworthy, loving, family man. His media appearances, though fairly unremarkable, furthered the view that he was a stoic, sensible figure; a man who wasn’t another Nigel but perhaps one who would quietly get things back on track in other ways. The party could finally breathe a sigh of relief as they were in the hands of a responsible, cautious and all-round good egg Henry Bolton.
It was just shy of four months before it all came crashing down.
Bolton left his wife and two young children for 25 year old ‘model’ Jo Marney, a woman who I, after reading various snippets from her leaked texts and messages on social media, have very little time or respect for. It’s a free country, and people are entitled to leave spouses with whom they are not happy. But Henry letting Marney plaster their new relationship all over social media was a catastrophic error of judgement on his behalf.
Was Henry surprised at the members’ disgust? Was he shocked to see mass resignations of branch members and party spokesmen? I should think he would have been prepared for that. Whatever the real timescale of the supposed breakup of his marriage, the fact is that it doesn’t look at all good when the leader of a political party appears to have left his wife and family for a woman half his age. Things went from bad to worse as more and more of Marney’s shocking views were revealed via various news outlets, including a racist rant about Meghan Markle.
Just at a time where things were beginning to settle down and the focus was back on Brexit, the party found itself trying to defend the indefensible once again. Bolton claims to be fit to continue on as leader, despite a chorus of calls for his resignation. The NEC is yet to pass judgement on the matter.
When it comes to Ukip’s catalogue of failures, there are a couple of theories floating around. The first is that we as a party are totally incompetent. We can’t seem to run elections properly; choose a suitable leader; organise candidates for council elections; retain decent, hardworking MEPs and spokesmen; keep private lives private or even keep an up to date mailing list…
I could go on.
The second theory, and you’ll need to hold on to your tinfoil hats for this one folks, is that it’s all a conspiracy to wind Ukip down and finish it for good. After all, can any party really be this incompetent? Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Some people honestly believe that Ukip is being deliberately sabotaged and killed off. We’ve served our purpose, so now it’s time to go quietly in to the night.
Whatever the reason, I find myself saddened that to a great extent this is no longer the party I was proud to be a member of. Gone were the days of solidarity, direction and purpose. After this latest scandal and all the in-fighting and backstabbing that has ensued, the whole thing seems barely more than a farce. At times it feels like members spend more time attacking one another than our enemies.
It’s like we have become victims of our own success.
I hope it’s not the end for Ukip. And despite my many misgivings, I have recently renewed my membership and have no intention of leaving any time soon. Brexit has not happened yet, not really, and a lot could change between now and March 2019. I am determined to do what I can towards the cause. After all, I can’t sit back and do nothing, and I certainly have no interest in joining another party. But I can’t pretend that I’m not frustrated by the chaos that we seem to have created for ourselves.
I feel like we are well and truly floundering.
Ukip needs to get its act together, and fast. How can we, in all good conscience, leave the 52% of the electorate who voted for Brexit high and dry with their only choices at the next general election being parties who don’t really want to leave? Now is not the time to give up or have us shut down because whatever happens, we still have an incredibly important job to do.
…I just hope we’re in a fit enough state to do it.