Like something from a seventies British comedy show, the rise and now apparent fall of the United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP as it is more commonly known as, looks as if it is heading to a decisive moment as it stumbles from one incredible crisis to another. It’s amazing that only three months ago the party was sunning itself in victory in the UK’s European Membership referendum and yet in a somewhat unbelievable fashion, it has not only dropped the ball, but it continues to score own goals on an almost daily basis. But can we use these internal struggles as a weapon against the far right?
How did it all come to this? Is UKIP really just a bunch of disgruntled individuals, held together by its defiant leader, Nigel Farage? And now that he has got over the wall, as he liked to put it, are the rivalries and clashing tensions now reaching boiling point? Or is this simply a speed bump on the road to becoming the largest right-wing party in British politics? If their history is to be looked at, it seems that their moral motives might be the cause of its current lack of solidarity.
UKIP was founded in 1993 by Alan Sked along with other members of the cross-party Anti-Federalist League which was originally founded to oppose the Maastricht Treaty in 1991. Sked quit as leader in 1997 claiming that the party was “racist and had been infected by the far-right” and was “doomed to remain on the political fringes”. Millionaire businessman Michael Holmes took over as leader and the party managed to gain three seats in Europe in 1997. One of those elected was future leader, Nigel Farage. UKIP then spent a period of time in its first political internal spat when Holmes was ousted by the party members and replaced by fellow MEP, Jeffrey Titford. After failing to win any representation at Westminster, the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments in the 2001 general election, Titford resigned as party leader and was replaced by yet another leader, Roger Knapman.
UKIP began its first real period of success when it came third with 12 MEPs being elected in the 2004 European elections. However, despite this result, the party yet again entered a period of turmoil when the leadership clashed with the TV chat-show host Robert Kilroy-Silk, who was party whip at the time. A public spat between him and the leadership of the party ensued with Kilroy-Silk resigning in January 2005, calling it a “joke” and taking some UKIP members and local councillors with him to form his own party, Veritas. This was another internal power struggle being played out in public, but UKIP finally began to enter its second era of stability when in September 2006 Nigel Farage was elected as leader. Under Farage’s control the party gained steady progress across the UK. Highly controversial and yet somewhat more charismatic than any previous leaders, Farage had managed to capture a large section of the electorate that had felt left out or side-lined by either the conservative elite or the Labour left which under Blair had almost morphed into a centre party. Making a series of appearances on British television, Farage played the ‘honest lad’ in each of his performances, shouting down the crop of opponents, so used to a certain decorum of mutual respect, and supposedly speaking his mind and fighting his rivals with a bluster of a local councillor rather than an esteemed politician. And all this as just an MEP; he would be invited to give the extreme view and generally treated as a source of controversy initially, but as his popularity grew in just the same way as Donald Trump’s did, Farage began to be the main attraction on every debate, with opponents selected to offer the exact challenge that increased viewing figures. For the next decade Farage brought UKIP out of the shadows and into the breaking news highlights of modern television. But his popularity grew to the point where it was difficult to imagine anybody else as leader of the party; something that probably suited their ideology more than they would like to admit. Even after UKIP’s poor performance in the 2015 British General Election, in which he announced his retirement from politics, it was impossible for him to go as his so-called resignation was ‘refused’ during a vote at the party’s NEC. There are many who believe that his decision was a cynical move to recover support and garner sympathy for UKIP.
So as we reach that momentous moment of the 26th of June 2016, when UKIP declared victory in taking Britain back, it seemed that there was bright future ahead of the once little group of disgruntled anti-EU people. Talk of replacing the Conservatives as the real right in British politics along with calls for Farage to be the main spokesperson in the Brexit negotiations seemed to be a certain outcome, yet, only days later, the cracks were beginning to show. First we had Farage once again declaring that he was retiring with that famous quote: “During the referendum I said I wanted my country back … now I want my life back and I won’t be changing my mind again, I can promise you.” Then we had his showcase speech in the European Parliament being completely overshadowed by the brilliant words of Scottish National Party’s MEP, Alyn Smith, and then finally the decision by the British government to only use their own representatives in any Brexit negotiations was a deathblow to their Brexit celebrations. We then saw a leadership battle, which could only be described as strange, where those whom you would consider as top candidates for UKIP leader had been side-tracked by the electoral commission, possibly under the orders of Farage in favour of Diane James MEP. As if this wasn’t crazy enough, James quit as UKIP chief citing “personal and professional” reasons and claiming that she did not receive the full support of her fellow MEPs or party officers in order to make the changes she promised during her leadership campaign. Now today, on the 6th of October, we hear of an actual physical fight for the leadership between UKIP rivals with one of them, Steven Woolfe, in a Brussels hospital this evening after collapsing in the European Parliament only minutes after the altercation.
So tomorrow is new day for UKIP and whether it will be a good one or bad one is as good a guess as any, but there is no doubt that the seeds of its destruction were sown many years ago. Like many right wing parties, UKIP has evolved with the method of a single dominant leader that even when officially gone, still has vast influence. The right simply cannot function successfully without this driving force. By their very nature, the right thrive on conflict, unnecessary competition, suspicion and downright envy. We see it in their political philosophy, so why should it not exist in their internal party structure? What is it that it cannot allow itself to be a team? You see it in the French Far Right party, Front National, where Le Pen is a daughter of the original founder. Another example is PiS (Law & Justice) in Poland, where despite the fact that they have what is now seen as a modern female leader in Beata Szydło, she is nothing more than a puppet for Jarosław Kaczyński who has stepped down, but has no doubt continued to pull the strings. It’s my belief that Farage attempted a similar move when he tried to install James as leader of UKIP, but it backfired when James decided not to play ball. As long as the right continue to use this idea of organising themselves, we have an advantage in that we can be assured that as long as they have a leader like Farage or Kaczyński, they don’t have a long term future. If we can sow seeds of doubt in their gangs, we can help to undermine their structures and bring them down from within by using long term fifth column tactics with the sole intent of destroying them. Does it seem outlandish and over reactive? Maybe to some, but look around Europe and see the rise of the right and ask yourself if you are happy with racial discrimination, anti-abortion policies, forced religion or subjugation of the people becoming normal practices and laws. It’s better to use this method than the one which involves thousands of lives when like rabid dogs, the individual far right states of Europe, having exhausted all the so-called traitors of their own states, will turn on each other in an effort to maintain power. They do it within their own parties, so why shouldn’t they do it elsewhere?