Yesterday, newspapers reported Arron Banks’s latest contretemps with UKIP and the party was a joke once again. For once, this was unfair.
Banks’ latest attention seeking contribution had been to claim that he has been `kicked out of UKIP’ for saying that Paul Nuttall “couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding”, that his membership had been suspended, or, as Andy Wigmore (Banks’ spokesman) is quoted as saying “they chucked him out for bringing the party into disrepute”. A UKIP spokesperson was quoted as saying that Banks’ membership had simply lapsed.
So much, so farcical. And so much fake news because Paul Nuttall released his reply to Banks’ letter of 26th February (previously on the website Westmonster but now withdrawn) , the one in which he had demanded to be Chairman of the party. You’ve probably seen Nuttall’s email by now but for those of you who have not, it agrees to work with Banks to improve the party, except for Paul Oakden having to give up his post in favour of Banks. We also learn that there is an invitation for Banks to address an NEC meeting later this month on 27th March (he’s not going) and that Banks recently applied to renew his lapsed membership. Nuttall tells him that this will not be processed until he has met with the NEC.
Banks may have reservations about Nuttall and Oakden – who doesn’t? – but if the party agreed to his reforms then surely those reservations would be dealt with. Nuttall’s letter indicated that the party was open to discussing Banks’ reforms. The reforms were potentially achievable, and so worth fighting for. There was just one `reform’ out of reach, Banks as Chairman, and it seems the only reform that really interested Banks. One can see why. In America, he can only hang onto Nigel’s coat tails for so long at the Trump party. He wanted a high-profile position in the Brexit party, a vantage point to go after Carswell. Serving ordinary kippers, serving the party, doesn’t come into it.
The truth, I submit, is that Banks wanted to take over UKIP, rather than start the long threatened alternative `UKIP 2.0’, because he discovered that no matter how many people signed up to receive Leave.eu emails the reality on the ground was predominantly UKIP activists from branches. He knows that without branches and ground troops his alternative risks falling flat.
He also needs Nigel and did not start the alternative party before because Nigel had always said no. But the recent spat between Carswell and Nigel, Nigel’s evident disappointment at Nuttall’s misguided campaign in Stoke, may mean Banks believes, even knows perhaps, that Nigel’s attachment is not without its limits. Like Sturgeon and the SNP, he also knows that his window to do something is diminishing. The Stoke debacle, the spat between Nigel and Carswell, is as much confusion and discontent as he is likely to find on which to make his bid for a new party. In a year’s time no-one will care (especially about him). He has to move soon and to that end he put out fake news, lapped up by the media, and engineered a grievance on which to announce his new party.
All those who use the media to pursue private agendas and indulge personal antipathies commit a contempt of the membership when they actively damage the party’s reputation. Banks is not concerned about ordinary members. He has in various ways sneered at the party, adding to the party’s poor reputation he allegedly laments. I believe even Nigel, who was guilty himself of damaging the party by publicly denouncing the NEC, regrets that now (and not least for creating conditions that ultimately led to Suzanne Evans being head of policy). But Banks has no such feeling for decency, no residual respect for ordinary members.
There is a potential threat from any new party, a threat that at root is from UKIP’s current policy vacuum. If the party had a truly radical manifesto that spoke directly to people and their concerns, then there would be no room for Banks and another party. UKIP would have it sewn up. Nigel would then be talking up the party not merely commenting on it from time to time.
Our constitution says the party promotes and encourages the self-reliant and those who wish to improve their situation, that it wants lower taxes and a smaller state. In short, to get the state off people’s backs. People want to be in a position where they can look after themselves and their families not endure the humiliation of sucking on a teat funded by the hard work of others. People want self-respect. After stating the party’s aims the constitution says the party may formulate policies “in furtherance of these objectives” (my emphasis). High time it did.
Putting comprehensive and radical policies on a website for all to see is the only way for UKIP to secure its position in politics, to close out any opportunity for Banks, and to claim the crown that has always been there for UKIP if the leadership could but see it. My message about all this is that Banks is irrelevant. Policies are what matter. Labour voters did not like Margaret Thatcher but they voted for her when it became clear that she understood they wanted the self-respect of looking after themselves, of bettering life for their families, that dependency on the state was a humiliation. And it was policies that got Trump elected. It wasn’t just Hilary and establishment bashing that did it but following up with policies. He even survived `grabbing them by the pussy’ because he announced policies that spoke to millions of Americans.
It won’t be Banks or Carswell that destroys the party. It will be the policy vacuum, created by the weak and the vacillating in the party, that does it. The leadership and its team of spokespeople and advisors have not got long. Forget about elections for now – we are going to be creamed in May – and concentrate on a radical, transformative manifesto for the country. And put it on a website for all to see.
The most telling omission in all of Banks’ attacks on UKIP – not a single mention of policy. Don’t be fooled by Banks, therefore, his party is nothing to do with policies and everything to do with his ego. But the future of UKIP depends utterly on policies. I fear for what Evans, O’Flynn and Nuttall will come up with for it will decide whether we thrive or whither