Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Woolfe was at the Door ...

Oh what a lovely war! I speak not of the Labour Party on this occasion, but of the crisis engulfing our friends in the United Kingdom Independence Party. As I'm sure readers know by now, Steven Woolfe has been excluded from the leadership race by the party's NEC. This is a big deal because a) he was the front runner, and b) an apparently talented politician in a field of blockheaded mediocrity. In his not-at-all-bitter reply to the NEC, he attacks the body as "not fit for purpose" and believes it was unprofessional. Three of its members agree and have quit the committee. A few ordinary members have taken to social media and declared their resignation from the party, and there's a petition circulating calling for Douglas Carswell's head. And to rub it in Diane James has plundered Woolfe's campaign pages, nicking his slogan and logos. Hold on while I get the door, my tanker full of popcorn has just arrived.

From the point of view of UKIP officialdom, it is quite right Woolf be excluded from the leadership race. He didn't get the application in on time because reasons. Then there is the awkward revelation he let his membership lapse for a year, meaning he doesn't cross the continuous membership threshold. And lastly, he forgot to declare a prior conviction for drink driving when he stood as a Police and Crime Commissioner candidate. Tut, tut, Steven. If you can't figure out your nuts and your bolts, why would anyone trust you to put flat back furniture together, let alone run a political party with four million votes to its name?

To be honest, I was utterly indifferent to the prospect of a Woolfe leadership. He is a competent performer on Question Time and has something more about him than other well known UKIP figures. Not being entirely odious chief among them. But the figure he cuts is of a mainstream politician who wouldn't look out of place in the Tories or on the right of Labour. The purples, however, are a populist force built on inchoate anger and alienation from the world. There's nothing to suggest Woolfe has the kind of personality or charisma to sustain a party built around Farage's personage. He is an entirely forgettable grey blur who, as far as the party's base are concerned, has risen without a trace and would have a hard time making an impression in a sand pit, let alone the political imagination of the "people's army". Not the kind of leader you need when UKIP is entering choppy waters.

The problem with UKIP is it came to prominence by hiving a chunk off the Tories who, historically, in terms of values, support, and natural constituency are in long-term decline. Perhaps May's Milibandism can turn it around, perhaps not. Anyway, generationally speaking, confirmed Tory voters are not being replaced like for like. As UKIP splashed big with middle-aged and elderly white men, and made virtually no headway among the under-40s, at its core the party was made as a declining force. Despite all the talk of UKIP coming in and doing an SNP in Labour's heartlands, it picked up little over two dozen councillors in this year's locals, which were concentrated in those self-same core areas. And that was while its core issue - Brexit - was salient and they still had Farage at the helm. The core task for UKIP, as it is for any new(ish) party wanting a long-term future is to find and articulate the demands of a particular constituency. UKIP's problem is the most backward sections of capital, of small business and the shire middle classes, the retired manual workers and the lumpens aren't what you would call rising political forces, unlike the new working class powering the Corbynist moment. Nor are they particularly stable, which helps explain why the kippers are faction ridden and chaotic, if not shambolic.

The field judged competent to stand by the NEC are nowhere near qualified to address the existential problems UKIP are facing. Bigoted and ignorant, you have to wonder whether this shower is enough to prompt one of Farage's famous unresignations. Assuming that doesn't happen, Diane James has to be the favourite. At least the activists have heard of her, though the other parties will have fun with her Putinist fangirling. The other thing in her favour is she is entirely vacuous. Believe me, when the most appalling bigots are also standing this gives her candidacy an edge. Nevertheless, all are woefully out of their depth dealing with the crisis waiting to call time on their party. Woolfe, to his credit, seemed to recognise UKIP's multiple weaknesses, hence his talk about social justice was more than just rhetoric: it was to be his way out of the angry man/small r racist ghetto. Alas, the Woolfe was at the door but the NEC shut it to him. And by doing so, they have rendered a service to those who can't wait to see the back end of this poisonous little party.


Metatone said...

Very interesting!

This is a violation of Hanlon's razor, but it seems to me that the drumbeat of criticism of the UKIP NEC from Farage over recent months and Woolfe's "accident" all point to Banks (already stated a number of time) desire to move on from UKIP and found a new party.

I'm unsure whether Farage will stick with his media career (LBC and I hear C5 are trying to recruit him) or join the new party. If not, then Woolfe has already outlined the kind of platform Banks is looking for. (Although of course, word is Banks is eyeing himself for a public leading role too.)

The interesting bit of course is that any new 5* party is unlikely to be in good shape for a snap election.

(Of course, 2020 is a long way away and if Banks spends a lot of money, some of it wisely, the new 5* could develop a meaningful presence.)

Phil said...

One thing worth remembering - Banks is a Woolfe supporter!