The 2015 general election may well have been the last hurrah of the United Kingdom Independence Party, at least if the behaviour of their most senior figures is anything to go by.
First we have the un-resignation of Nigel Farage. He had long pledged that if his bid to become MP of South Thanet was unsuccessful, he would step down as party leader. In fact, what he did was write a letter of resignation to the National Executive Committee. They rejected his resignation, and Farage went from planning his summer fishing trip to announcing he had been ‘persuaded’ to resume the role of party leader. UKIP’s most trenchant supporters see this as a sign of strength and popularity of leadership, pointing out that Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg received no such groundswell of support. My take is that Farage made a half-hearted attempt to keep his promise and then went back on it: though whether this was a pre-planned sequence of events or the result of getting cold feet when looking at the potential alternatives and hastily backtracking is anybody’s guess.
Secondly, we have an extraordinary row erupting between sole UKIP MP Douglas Carswell and the main party. This tweet sums it up perfectly:
Yet this is what has happened, and it was started by what should have been a welcome windfall. UKIP are entitled to £650,000 funding known as ‘Short money’, given to opposition parties to help with their running costs (the amount is calculated through the formula £16,689.13 for every seat won + £33.33 for every 200 votes gained). On Monday, UKIP’s party secretary suggested to Douglas Carswell that he should use all of the money and employ 15 staff. The MP rejected this proposal, believing it to be against UKIP’s principles to use taxpayers’ money unless it is absolutely necessary.
So we potentially have a situation where UKIP’s sole MP, in defending the principles of UKIP, has become disillusioned with UKIP. A further indication that Carswell is not overly in love with his party is that his Twitter description makes no mention of UKIP at all:
The BBC have quoted a senior UKIP party staffer as saying “This is him throwing his toys out of the pram because he thought Nigel wouldn’t be leader any more.” This paints Carswell as an opportunist who left the Conservatives for UKIP in a big-fish-small-pond scenario, thought he could make an easy bid for party leadership from his current position, and found himself thwarted, turning petulant as a result. It’s a picture that wouldn’t be painted by a happy, united party.
Just as UKIP’s leader can un-resign, their MP could re-defect. It is far from impossible that Douglas Carswell could go back to the Conservative party, assuming the people of Clacton could put up with a third election in the space of a year. There have been suggestions on Twitter, only half in jest, that if Carswell stood under the Conservative banner in a Clacton by-election, Farage could put himself forward as the UKIP candidate, with winner becoming both sole UKIP MP and party leader.
UKIP have a further problem, which is that the Conservatives are going to hold an in/out referendum on EU membership, most likely in 2016. Farage’s trick of turning every question around to Europe in the leadership debates may have helped them win 4 million votes, but it also flagged them as a single-issue party. Now that we’ve got a referendum, do we need UKIP? They are in danger of being seen as not so much a political party as a pressure group that has achieved its aim and therefore had its day.
The combination of all of these factors spells massive trouble for UKIP. They are imploding in a very public way, and Farage has his work cut out for him if he is to restore stability and confidence within the party.