UKIP’s Ollyshambles has serious consequences

Posted on January 09, 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.

Competition: How to define Libertarianism?

Posted on February 01, 2011

A good friend over in Brussels has sent me news of a competition that some readers may be interested in.

The Mises Circle, a libertarian group that meets in the European Parliament, is running a competition to find the best new definition of Libertarianism. Here are the details….

The Challenge

  • Write a definition of what you consider “Libertarianism” to be in a maximum of 100 words
  • The language must be English
  • It must be in grammatically coherent sentences
  • It must be mostly or entirely a positive definition. That is, it must not be a statement of what libertarianism is not or is against, eg “Government is evil”
  • It should not contain unexplained neologisms or acronyms
  • It should not reference extant political parties, eg “Socialism is what Labour does”

The competition is to be judged by Nigel Farage, and the prize is – and I quite – “€50 cash (tax free)”.

To enter, send your definition, name and contact details to michael.jose@europarl.europa.eu by midnight on the 13th February 2011.

There is one catch – if you win, you have to collect your prize in person in Brussels, so maybe it would be better to view this as €50 towards the cost of a trip to the heart of darkness our beloved European capital.

UKIP’s big decision – guide to the candidates

Posted on October 25, 2010

It’s easy to be sniffy about the UKIP leadership election. After all, they have been happening quite regularly, and the party performed worse than expected in the General Election.

However, those who would dismiss them entirely are making a mistake. For a start, they represent what is now a plurality or even outright majority view among the public on the EU. In electoral terms, they have had an inexorable rise in the European Elections – often despite the best efforts of infighters and cranks to make the party unattractive.

Their main political importance is one of as yet unfulfilled potential. In a time of Coalition there is a clear potential for UKIP to sweep up voters on the right who become disillusioned with the Conservatives.

Depending on your views and party loyalty the ideal outcome of the UKIP leadership election for you may be them selecting either the best or the worst leader. I’m not a UKIP member or supporter but for those of you who are, this is my advisory run-down of the four candidates:

David Campbell-Bannerman: One of the two credible candidates, “DCB” as he’s known is a decent operator. He can get a message across in the media, and his views are broadly in step with large chunks of the Conservative Party. His campaign is pitched as offering strong managerial leadership and a high target at the next election (which he presumes will be under AV) of 20 Westminster MPs.

His weaknesses are two-fold. First, he’s a decent performer – not a star. Nigel Farage’s thinly veiled attack implying Campbell Bannerman is a manager not a leader may have some kernel of truth to it. Second, he’s chosen ex-Boxing Promoter Frank Maloney as his running mate. This may be a canny move targeted at the party membership, as many still unwisely go for any hint of celebrity regardless of nous or potential embarrassment. However, it would be damaging if DCB was to win – his outrageous comments about gay people, and his experience speaking at the highly dodgy Springbok Club, when he was UKIP’s London Mayor candidate, are not going to be forgotten and are utterly out of step with most voters.

Tim Congdon: A successful businessman and hyperintelligent economist, I’m afraid Tim Congdon is on the “not credible” side of my list. The problem is that he is if anything too clever, too highbrow and thus unable to communicate with the general public. Take a look at the slightly stilted, intermittently patronising personal statement on his website for an example of his customary tone.

I feel a bit bad saying things that sound so personal – particularly since having met Tim a few times I’ve always found him pleasant and interesting company. These things must be said, though, because personality does matter in politics.

There is, in fact, a much more serious and fundamental political reason why Tim Congdon is not a credible candidate – his strong belief in injecting vast amounts more money into the economy. UKIP has trouble communicating its wider views already, and urging the government to either print or borrow “£25 billion – £50 billion” extra in the next six months would be apocalyptic to the party’s message and positioning.

Winston McKenzie: To describe McKenzie as “not credible” would be like describing Shane MacGowan as “tipsy”. One glance at his website, still less any footage of him talking politics, is enough to communicate the point. Well intentioned though he may be, he’s frankly a loon. I can’t imagine (many) UKIP members voting for him for the simple reason that he is more obviously a disaster waiting to happen than a drunkard in chard of a buzz-saw.

This brings us to the final candidate – Nigel Farage. Nigel is the other credible candidate, along with Campbell Bannerman, and should be the obvious choice for UKIP members. He is UKIP’s best media performer and a well-known figure who achieves cut-through to those who sympathise with UKIP’s aims. He’s good at what he does, but really it is a sad reflection on the Party that it has failed to produce anyone who has the ability to give him a real run for his money.

Speaking to UKIP friends over the weekend about this problem, they are in two minds. Even Farage’s traditional supporters confess privately to having concerns about his decision to step down before the General Election and about previous run-ins with factions in the party.

Ultimately, it was Nigel that left them stuck with Lord Pearson – a decent guy but, by his own admission, not an effective politician. They don’t want to be left in the lurch again, and I doubt they would forgive him if he repeated the mistake. With the current line-up, though, he is still their best option. I suspect the majority will vote for him, even if they do it with a little voice of doubt in the back of their mind.