After three months of campaigning and bitter infighting, the UKIP leadership election has finally concluded. Yet the result it produced has only raised more questions about its future. Henry Bolton might have emerged victor to the thunderous applause of hundreds of supporters, but everywhere else people found themselves scratching their heads in bemusement, wondering who just came to be at the helm of HMS UKIP. I was no different. So it was only several hours later (after reading Bolton’s manifesto and watching his speeches) that I realised he is no saviour, but neither will he cause our downfall.
One thing is certain – we dodged a bullet with Anne Marie Waters. Ever since Brexit, UKIP’s greatest problem has been its inability to transform itself into a multi-issue party – one that could attract support from across the entirety of the political spectrum. AMW may have had an admirable backbone when it came to combating Islamic terrorism and the ideology held by its perpetrators, but that’s where her appeal ended. She was unable to go beyond the pale of Islam-related politics and unwilling to express passion for any other issues. Her tenure as leader would have defined UKIP solely as an anti-Islam party; thereby limiting our electoral appeal to one concrete idea.
To know with certainty that we have avoided all the possible repercussions that could have resulted in the event of her victory – ranging from the disintegration of UKIP to the formation of an alternative eurosceptic party – is a huge relief.
But with the election of Henry Bolton, UKIP is once again retreating to the past hoping it will save them from the future.
I say this because Bolton adheres to the unexcitable orthodoxy of ideas that have stalled UKIP’s progress for the past year. Echoing Paul Nuttall, he plans to present himself on the home front as a figure of unity. Bolton wants to ‘professionalise’ the various structures of UKIP through the implementation of programmes that will better pick, train and prepare candidates and staff for elections. Further changes to the party will see it improve its financial management and internal communications, as well as involve all of its levels in policy development.
Assuming that a former Liberal Democrat is able to enforce compliance across party lines, the question then arises: what prestige does he have to attract support from the outside?
That is when we unmask the unfortunate truth: Bolton strongly believes that Brexit is still UKIP’s ‘core task’.
And with that statement he lost my support.
The electorate has long made it clear that it considers UKIP obsolete in a post-Brexit world, rightly believing that its purpose has expired. For us to dispel this consensus, the UKIP name must be thrown back into the cauldron of politics as a totally new entity, contemporary in its beliefs and guided by a charismatic voice. A well-meant connection with the common man is needed to reenergise the base of the party and get voters to come out in droves. If Bolton insists on remaining firmly rooted in a cause that clearly brings disillusionment to the party, then UKIP will descend deeper and deeper into the darkness of the political abyss. How can UKIP begin to rebrand itself and raise awareness of its new existence if it persists in a lifelong commitment to Brexit?
In addition to this, Bolton doesn’t exactly inspire excitement. He is a very staid individual and has an imperative manner of speaking that lacks charisma. He exposes an authoritative public facade (a trait that likely stems from his time in the armed forces) but lacks Farage’s ability to connect with people. To bring the party back to ‘relevance’, empathy must become a weapon used to reach out to the British populous. HB will find it hard to establish this bond, if he is the personification of reticence.
Despite all his faults, there is still hope that Bolton may push through projects that’ll change UKIP for the better. On the campaign trail, he called for UKIP not be “constrained by a left, centre or right agenda” and to pursuit the most effective policies “regardless of where they lie on the traditional political spectrum”.
This breathes some life back into the corpse UKIP is becoming.
If Bolton is serious about these endeavours, then we can all retain the hope that sometime in the near future, UKIP will finally begin the process of growing into a broader and fully-formed party. Any serious political force is built primarily by responding to people’s desires and implementing their wishes as policies. The fact that Bolton indicates an understanding of the big tent approach is enough to convince me that, despite many let-downs, not all is lost.
Which is what makes the party’s fate so uncertain. Should Bolton disappoint us all and keep UKIP a single issue movement, we can expect its dismantling very soon. But should he read the political winds correctly and steer the crew towards them, there is no limit to the amount of success we can achieve.