Electing its fourth leader this year, UKIP is a busted flush, with splits likely ahead and Nigel Farage waiting in the wings with a new party.
With the election of former police officer Henry Bolton as its fourth leader in just 12 months, UKIP looks to have consigned itself to political irrelevancy.
Anti-Muslim extremist Anne Marie Waters came a close second, with 21.3% of the vote, and with Bolton previously warning of the dangers of UKIP becoming a “UK Nazi party”, splits look likely.
Bolton, who ran on a relatively moderate platform, secured 29.9% of the vote and was congratulated by Nigel Farage.
I am delighted @_HenryBolton has won the UKIP leadership election. He is a man of real substance.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) 29 September 2017
The likely split is testament to the party’s deep divisions over its increasingly Islamophobic bent, which has appalled many key party officials and alienated the electorate.
UKIP is exhausted. The current leadership contest – UKIP’s third in a year – was called after the party secured just two percent of the vote at June’s general election, leading to former leader Paul Nuttall’s resignation.
While Henry Bolton may have won, he is hardly a popular candidate: it is telling that only 46.6% of the party membership voted in the election, and of those, less than a third voted for Bolton.
The party is haemorrhaging money, members and morale, and seems doomed to the fringes as Nigel Farage waits in the wings to launch a new radical-right, ‘Trump-esque’ party with Leave.EU financial backer, Arron Banks.
UKIP’s anti-Islam direction entered a new phase with the “integration agenda” bought in by Nuttall, which included a burka ban and mandatory female genital mutilation (FGM) checks for selected girls. These policies, which bore the fingerprints of leadership contestant Peter Whittle, have proved hugely controversial within the party.
These divisions have only deepened during the leadership race, has been characterised by bitter quarrelling over the candidacy of leading British anti-Muslim activist Anne Marie Waters.
Waters has worked with English Defence League (EDL) founder Stephen Lennon in the anti-Muslim movement, Pegida UK, and with him tried to create a ‘Muhammad cartoons’ exhibition. She runs an organisation called ‘Sharia Watch’. During the leadership race she became a lightning rod for the most bigoted elements within UKIP.
A large majority of the party’s MEPs said they would resign should she win and Bolton claimed UKIP could “easily slip towards ideals of National Socialism” if it selected the wrong candidate, a comment seemingly aimed at Waters. One MEP told the BBC that infighting was “more intense, vicious and dirtier than its ever been”.
There have been rumours Waters has been planning to launch her own anti-Islam party with her close aide and former British National Party (BNP) and Liberty GB ‘star’ Jack Buckby, should she lose the election.
If this is the case, she would be well-placed to take the a chunk of the Islamophobic elements, dismayed at Bolton’s moderate platform and lack of charisma, with her.
Farage in the wings
We will still campaign against UKIP, and expose the far-right leanings of the party, but we must also be prepared to look at the new contenders in the wings – namely the return of Nigel Farage and his backer Arron Banks, who are imminently planning to launch a new political party.
Any hope that Farage would return to the UKIP helm and provide the moribund party with a new lease of life was dashed when he ruled out standing.
Farage remains hugely popular among the UKIP membership and he and Arron banks are well-placed to attract a sizeable chunk of UKIP’s support to their new venture.
Their new party (putatively titled the Patriotic Alliance, but likely with another name) will combine the direct democracy tactics of the Italian Five Star Movement (M5S) with the ugly xenophobia of his Leave.EU campaign. Donald Trump’s former chief strategist and head of far-right site Breitbart, Steve Bannon, is understood to be a key influence on these plans.
This would effectively scuttle UKIP and clear the ground for a new enterprise that seeks to capitalise cynically on the inevitable compromise that will accompany Brexit.
We must be prepared to campaign hard against this new party – and we will.