UKIP civil war could be a missed opportunity for the EU referendum

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May 20, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith

The civil war in UKIP rumbles on, with senior generals on one side of the fence stepping down. You may think this is an internal issue, but given UKIP got four million votes and have influenced our ruling parties enough that we have an IN/OUT referendum on the EU it matters to all of us. Nigel Farage may be an outstanding political leader, but in recent years the party was being dragged to respectability by the efforts of people like Patrick O’Flynn, a former Express journalist who became Communications Director then Economics spokeman, and Suzanne Evans, who had been in charge of policy and had led the writing of what was generally regarded as a very strong manifesto. Now they have stepped down it may be that UKIP return back to being a far more negative influence on our politics than they have begun.

O’Flynn had commented that Farage had become ‘snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive’ during the election campaign, which had not helped UKIP. He, along with Douglas Carswell, the party’s only MP it should be noted, had felt that Farage as well as the party would have benefited from standing down, having a summer rest, then coming back for a leadership election which would have given him a fresh mandate to lead the party during what will be a vital time for them. O’Flynn had mentioned also his distaste for some of the ‘shock and awful’ tactics used by Farage in the televised debates, particularly his use of HIV patients coming to the UK to claim treatment on the NHS.

Evans is still Deputy Chair of the party but will not be its Policy Chief – for which she only had a short-term contract anyway. That position, it is suggested, is being offered to Mark Reckless, who defected to UKIP from the Conservatives then lost his seat two weeks’ ago. Evans was commonly acknowledged to have performed very well during the campaign, so this is again not necessarily in the best interests of the party. However, as with O’Flynn, Farage is asserting his primacy in a way that leaves no doubt to others what will happen should they challenge him.

Which leaves us with the situation of Douglas Carswell. As long as Carswell has the UKIP whip in Parliament, the party receives the “Short Money” that comes to him to fund opposition work. If he decides to leave UKIP, they have no representation at all in Parliament. So he is not someone Farage can be so ruthless with. Carswell has written an article telling of his concerns about the EU referendum, and specifically the problems the OUT campaign will have if Farage is seen to be leading it. UKIP got four million votes, but there were twenty seven million they didn’t get and many of those will need to be recruited to the cause. Carswell envisages a coalition of UKIP, Conservatives and even some Labour voters who will vote OUT if they run the right campaign. Farage, despite his ability to communicate clearly, would be a problem for the campaign if people believe a vote for it is a vote for him. UKIP have done incredibly well to go from a pressure group to a single issue political party to a mainstream political party on Farage’s shoulders, but it’s those same shoulders that could nudge people away from voting with them on the issue that is most important.

Carswell is most concerned about a narrow focus on immigration, which will drive away many voters. He is clear how the campaign could work. “The case is there to be made: a global Britain, adding with friends and allies on every continent including Europe. A democratic Britain, able to hire and fire its lawmakers. A free Britain, living under its own institutions.”

Whether the past week has been a missed opportunity for UKIP to escape from the problems Nigel Farage may have caused that campaign, we will see.

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