It is clear that the internal organisation of the party has consistently frustrated UKIP members. Nigel Farage was hugely successful at articulating the increasing discontent of the British public with the EU. The extent this resonated with the electorate was the only reason that the UK had a referendum. But as brilliant as Farage was on stage he was no party organiser. In his book “The Purple Revolution” he readily admits that he felt he had to do everything himself. This may have worked in a small brokerage office in the City; it is a disastrous recipe for running an organisation of 40,000 plus.
It seems that under Farage appointments were not subject to any professional selection process other than being part of the social inner circle that surrounded the Leader. If UKIP is to grow out of this “family firm” mentality it needs to restructure to reflect the changing demands and become more professional. Organisations that don’t make this leap fail to grow or perish.
UKIP’s failure to meet this challenge was cruelly exposed in a book called “UKIP” by Matthew Goodwin. He observed UKIP at close quarters in the run up to the 2015 General Election. He described in detail how individuals were parachuted into the national campaign at short notice while at the same time those established in key positions deserted them to go and stand as candidates out in the country. Not clever.
UKIP proved in 2015 and again in the Stoke-on-Trent by-election that it does not have an election winning machine. Its membership has stagnated since 2010, rising before elections and falling dramatically after as many activists deserted what they come to see as on organisation that was not worthy of their spare time. However good the platform speeches and policy statements elections have to be won – and they are a battleground. Battles are won by trained, competent and motivated front line troops who believe in their mission. That is not UKIP today.
The other real key issue is this. With Teresa May committed to Brexit what political role should UKIP now play? Those of us actively involve in the post referendum Stoke-on-Trent by-election observed at first hand the lack of a coherent and relevant strategy that made sense post Brexit. That UKIP needs a new direction is implicate in its own constitution that states the Party’s key objective as “ the United Kingdom should be governed by her own citizens. ______ To that end it shall be the policy of the Party that the United Kingdom shall cease to be a member of the European Union.” Mission accomplished but where to now?
The lack of a clear new direction was cruelly exposed the morning after the Stoke by-election defeat when the UKIP Chairman, Paul Oakden, was asked on the BBC Victoria Derbyshire show
“The Tories are pushing forward with Brexit which was previously the raison entendre for UKIP; what is the future for UKIP now? Where does it go as a Party?”
The response? A blank stare and then a rambling statement about the 2015 general election. To this key and fair question answer there was none. If the Chairman of the Party cannot articulate a clear strategy for the future that resonates with the electorate it is game over. In the intervening months nothing appears to have changed.
So is UKIP doomed to fail? Is there now a role for the Party in British politics?
Some of us would say yes. Judging by the increasing numbers who do not vote and the general disenchantment with elitist and self serving politicians there is scope to refocus the UKIP brand. One famous USA entrepreneur started a small construction company in the mid-west that became a global conglomerate on the company mission statement “Find a need – and fill it” There is a need in British politics for a radical and truly democratic party that is fit for the 21st century. Britain now has an educated electorate desperate to have a better say in their future. UKIP can fill that need at some future general election – but not this one. Paul Nuttall needs time to sort the Party out. The leadership needs to develop a new core mission and also build an effective election winning organisation. These are not processes that can be rushed.
Regardless of the election result UKIP needs to gear up to adopt the role of an activist pressure group that ensures Brexit is delivered on the best possible terms. Properly organised pressure groups can have enormous political power. Think of the success of Greenpeace and radical feminist organisations.
So were does that leave UKIP in this coming election? In 2015 the policy was to put candidates up in every constituency in order to get media time and increase the overall vote share. This naturally dissipated precious human resources over the country regardless of what gains could be realistically achieved.
This election is effectively EU Referendum Part 2. Teresa May has made it clear that the key reason for calling it was to obtain a clear mandate from the British people to make a real Brexit happen. Why should UKIP be fighting in constituencies where all they will do is to undermine a Conservative candidate who is prepared to back UKIP’s key objective? The real opposition are those who want to water down Brexit so that it becomes meaningless. That of course includes the Labour Party. UKIP has until Thursday 11th May to stand or withdraw candidates. Let us hope that at constituency level the good sense of UKIP members prevails.
There is a wonderful Arab proverb that says “My enemies’ enemy is my friend”. Here and now Teresa May and the Conservatives who back her Brexit stance are our friends and we must unite to fight the Remainer enemy. When this battle is won we can then return to the political fray with new vigour and purpose.
David Howell was the Campaign Manager in the 2015 General election in the traditional Labour stronghold of Stoke-on-Trent Central. The UKIP candidate achieved second place and came within 5,200 votes of Tristram Hunt.