UKIP’s Ollyshambles has serious consequences

Posted on January 1, 2013

UKIP’s internal tensions have been obvious for some time. As the main party has gathered points in the opinion polls by picking up kneejerk reactionary positions on gay marriage and the burkha, the youth wing – Young Independence (YI) – has seen its own surge on the back of libertarian activism.

As I tweeted a month ago, after witnessing a debate on gay marriage between an old guard member and Olly Neville (a leading member of YI):

All parties – and the country at large – have that growing generational difference, particularly when it comes to the understanding of individual liberty. The test of their character is how they deal with them. And that’s where UKIP are now in big trouble.

In what some have inevitably dubbed the #Ollyshambles, Neville – who recently became the popular Chairman of Young Independence – was last night sacked from his post by the party’s leadership. His crime? He dared to disagree with them over gay marriage and on the idea that European Elections were more important than Westminster – both perfectly sensible positions for a libertarian eurosceptic to take.

So why should anyone care? After all, I hear you say, he was just the youth leader of a political party which has no Parliamentary representation. That’s true, of course, but the Neville affair does have some important ramifications for UKIP and for our wider politics.

Consider the context: UKIP are at 16% in the polls, widely touted as headed for first place in the 2014 European Elections and according to the Mail on Sunday set to deny David Cameron any chance of a General Election victory, all at a time when the EU is an increasingly important issue. Whether they convert their current polling into votes, and how they campaign matters a great deal.

The implications are numerous.

First, there’s the impact on UKIP’s effectiveness. The party’s youth wing had been signing up activist after activist from Conservative Future, based on its message of good humour and libertarian politics. That is now shattered, as the leading proponent of both is roundly duffed up. UKIP have already had resignations over the scandal, meaning they are losing energetic young activists as well as the gloss which an active youth organisation gives to a brand.

Then there’s the damage this does to UKIP’s message that it is a different kind of party, one that rejects top-down control and the enforcement of toeing the line. They have made great hay with this – look, for example, at the comments given by former CF Deputy Chair Alexandra Swann on her much-publicised defection to UKIP:

“As a member of Conservative Future, with no real power, I was monitored and forced to stick rigidly to the party line. The Tories stifle debate, and no one gets along, whereas UKIP encourage debate and they all get along fine.”

That sounded great for them at the time, but now rings extremely hollow. Small wonder Alexandra was looking rather uncomfortable on Twitter last night in the face of the news.

Given that the Conservatives allow MPs to break ranks on leaving the EU or opposing green taxes, while Labour keep Frank Field, Lord Adonis and plenty other outspoken rebels in their ranks, UKIP risk their anti-politics reputation by sacking people for simple disagreement.

Perhaps most serious for Nigel Farage is the impact this has on his own core messages about what UKIP believes. Time and again we’re told it is a libertarian party, and yet it seems that speaking your mind in favour of libertarian positions is a sackable offence.

The same goes for the question of who their leader backs or sacks. When Winston Mackenzie, the UKIP candidate in the Croydon North by-election, became the latest official representative of the party to say something horrendously bonkers by announcing that gay adoption was a form of “child abuse”, we were told that UKIP is a party that lets its people hold their own opinions.

As recently as Monday, Farage was on the Today Programme defending his troops from the Prime Minister’s allegations of oddness on the grounds that:

“…we’re eccentrics, and we tolerate eccentricity.”

So either it’s acceptable “eccentricity” to insult gay people, but unacceptable to suggest they should be allowed to marry, or this is an overnight change of position. If it’s the former, then that’s pretty horrendous. If it’s a change of position,  presumably UKIP will now sack anyone who breaks from any policy at all. That would be awkward for them, given a) the tendency of their candidates and MEPs to do so and b) the fact that Nigel Farage himself has publicly gone on record as opposing their policy on drugs.

Next time (and there will be a next time) a UKIPper says something genuinely awful, how will Farage fight off the demands to sack him or her?

All in all, this is a pretty mess: young activists alienated, a libertarian and anti-politics reputation fundamentally undermined, and a total inconsistence with their own leader’s attitude to sacking and policy cohesion. Anyone acquainted with the history of UKIP will know that they are no strangers to arbitrary purges – indeed, they are probably the only political party with far more ex-members than members. It’s fair to say a return to that bloody heritage is not the road to political success.

2012 may have been UKIP’s year to party, but the Ollyshambles suggests 2013 may be the year of the hangover.

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Categories: Opinion, Politics

18 Responses

  1. Will Gilpin:

    You do appear have the faintest grasp of the events, but only just.

    YI was established, by its constitution, to promote the views and policies of the party to young members, not to allow a clique to establish a set of counterproposals and alternative policies. Olly was asked to step down as Interim Chairman as he apparently unable to grasp this or go along with this.

    YI is a small organisation, with fewer active members and even fewer in the naive-libertarian clique. If they want to propose changes to party policy there are many ways to do it, but an appointed spokesman has to accept an amount of responsibility or not adopt the role.

    09.01.2013 10:38 Reply

    • markwallace:

      “You do appear have the faintest grasp of the events, but only just.”

      How generous of you. Any facts or correspondence available which aren’t included in the piece, or was bitchiness just a New Year’s resolution?

      “YI was established, by its constitution,”

      A constitution which grants members and officers the right to free speech on policy…

      “…to promote the views and policies of the party to young members, not to allow a clique to establish a set of counterproposals and alternative policies.”

      So policy debate isn’t allowed for the kids? What’s the qualifying age for being allowed to think for yourself in UKIP? Youth branches are exciting and interesting precisely when they are a hotbed of new ideas and radical thinking. UKIP have shot themselves in the foot.

      “Olly was asked to step down as Interim Chairman as he apparently unable to grasp this or go along with this.”

      For which read – sacked for disagreeing. As the blogpost says.

      “YI is a small organisation, with fewer active members and even fewer in the naive-libertarian clique.”

      One of whom somehow became a leader of YI with most votes in an election before it was cancelled, and was then appointed by the very NEC which has now sacked him. How could such a marginalised group succeed against the odds? Does he have magic powers, or perhaps a Ring To Rule Them All?

      “If they want to propose changes to party policy there are many ways to do it, but an appointed spokesman has to accept an amount of responsibility or not adopt the role.”

      Which brings us back to your leader opposing your party’s drugs policy, your MEPs opposing your policy of gender equality and your recent by-election candidate opposing gay people having a family life. When will they fall victim to the Executioner’s Axe?

      09.01.2013 14:12 Reply

      • HooksLaw:

        Both the point of your article and the response to it you are replying to illustrate that harsh reality that UKIP are a bunch of bigots.

        13.01.2013 15:07 Reply

  2. Joshua:

    The alienation of the digital grassroots is particularly troubling for them: they were here long before Ukip’s poll surges over the past few months, and were always talking up Ukip momentum.

    It would be foolish of leadership to dismiss social media because even the surge and votes in the shires was seemingly unrelated to YI grassroots, the political journalists writing on the subject all see the activity of the digital grassroots. If that diminishes it will have a serious knock on effect. As a friend said ‘influencer relations at its worst’

    09.01.2013 10:42 Reply

  3. Chris Gillibrand:

    Eyes on the prize. I am more worried about Cameron’s seventy broken election pledges.

    09.01.2013 11:26 Reply

    • markwallace:

      For UKIP to achieve their prize they will need both people and credibility, Chris – which is why this is a story.

      09.01.2013 14:04 Reply

  4. Andrew Ian Dodge:

    It is a story because it is an example of growing pains of a fast rising political party. Not going to stop UKIP’s rise methinks but will provide some pleasure for UKIP’s opponents for a few weeks.

    09.01.2013 15:08 Reply

  5. Tony Hand:

    Isn’t Libertarianism about not forcing people to do things they don’t want?
    If so, then how is it Libertarian to force various church organisations to perform marriage ceremonies for gay people if they don’t want to. Now I agree that state sanctioned marriage (register office weddings) should not discriminate, but private organisations??????
    Maybe some of those involved in this debate should have a good think about what it means to be Libertarian.

    09.01.2013 16:56 Reply

    • Saqib:

      Tony, churches aren’t being forced to marry gay people. Only institutions that want to perform the ceremony will do so, entirely libertarian. Maybe you should have a good hard think about actually checking the policy

      10.01.2013 04:15 Reply

      • markwallace:

        Exactly, Saqib – there have been no proposals to force anyone to take part in, attend, host or preside over any gay marriages.

        10.01.2013 12:47 Reply

  6. #Ollyshambles:

    […] is going to be a short post, because Mark Wallace has already excellently and cogently explained the tensions between the two different f… and I couldn’t agree with him […]

    10.01.2013 00:27 Reply

  7. Tony Hand:

    Tony, churches aren’t being forced to marry gay people. Only institutions that want to perform the ceremony will do so, entirely libertarian. Maybe you should have a good hard think about actually checking the policy.

    What is that supposed to mean? “only institutions that want to perform the ceremony…”
    Are you saying that churches have the choice of not performing marriages? If so then your argument is flawed in the sense that churches/religious organisations were performing marriages well before the state decided to get involved and therefore have the right to perform marriages for those people they see fit.

    10.01.2013 16:04 Reply

    • markwallace:

      “What is that supposed to mean?”

      Exactly what it says, Tony. At the moment there are churches (the quakers, for example) who want to carry out same-sex marriages, but the law forbids it. That is why libertarians support the right for gay couples to marry being legalised – the state currently makes it illegal for them to do so.

      10.01.2013 16:31 Reply

  8. Tony Hand:

    Hey, I am in favour of gay couples being able to marry in a church that wants to marry them. The problem for me is the prosecutions for discrimination that will inevitably come about when a church that has serious misgivings about gay marriage refuses to do it.
    This will probably come across badly but I believe that to a certain extent, people should be allowed to discriminate.

    10.01.2013 19:51 Reply

    • markwallace:

      I understand that concern, Tony – but it’s founded on misinformation.

      For a start, the Govt’s proposal specifically states that churches that don’t want to host a same sex marriage cannot and will not be compelled to do so. Even the normally meddlesome ECHR has said that it will not be able to force SSM on religious venues – and even if they wanted to, I’d assume as a UKIPper you’d see that Parliament has primacy and sovereignty.

      Religion is by definition a matter of conscience – that is why churches should be allowed to choose for themselves whether to host Same Sex Marriages or not. The current legal position, which UKIP supports, is one which bans those churches, like the Quakers, who do want to host SSMs from doing so – that is the big state going against religious liberty. Something I hope you’d oppose.

      11.01.2013 12:24 Reply

  9. Tony Hand:

    Just read this and it pretty much sums up my views…..

    10.01.2013 19:55 Reply

    • markwallace:

      Unfortunately that article, aside from its slightly odd lionising of Nick Griffin, is full of outright lies.

      Most notably it says:

      “Olly himself supports the idea of gay marriage, more specifically, forcing religious institutes to marry gay people”

      That idea of forcing anyone to do anything is totally untrue, for reasons explained at length here and elsewhere. It’s, ironically, a smear for them to claim otherwise.

      Then there’s:

      “If the church decided it wanted to conduct same sex marriages, UKIP would be fine with that.”

      Which is also untrue. That is precisely what the Government are proposing – and UKIP are opposing the legalisation of allowing any people and churches to choose to allow Same Sex Marriage.

      The author is either woefully underinformed or a liar.

      11.01.2013 12:30 Reply

  10. Tony Hand:

    ok just so I am clear on this subject I’ve just been to the Ukip website where it says the following…

    “The problem is that many Churches are, by reason of their religious faith, principles and conviction, deeply opposed to the concept of permitting gay couples to marry in their Church. It is thus equally inevitable that gay couples will seek the right to marry in Church and that Churches will refuse to permit them to do so.

    We are quite sure that, whatever the Government’s worthy declaration that it proposes no change to the duties of the Church in relation to the estate of marriage, there will,very soon after the introduction of gay civil marriage, be a challenge in first the domestic courts of England and Wales and then in the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the exclusion of gay people from the right to have a religious ceremony of marriage is unlawful discrimination against them on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

    We believe that, give.n the current nature of the European Court of Human Rights’ attitude to such matters, there is a very strong likelihood that the Court at Strasbourg will agree that it is an unlawful discrimination on those grounds and order the United Kingdom to introduce laws which will force Churches to marry gay people according to their rites, rituals and customs.

    This conviction is supported by the statement of the Justice Minister, Mr Blunt who is quoted in the Daily Mail of 13th June 2012 saying, “It would be hard to guarantee that clergy would not face court challenges if they refused to preside over same-sex unions.”

    As I thought, it is the unintended consequence of the law that makes Ukip sceptical of it and having seen a whole raft of bad law being passed by successive governments over the past 30 years (and probably longer) I have to agree with Ukip.

    11.01.2013 16:45 Reply

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