After the momentous decision by nearly two thirds of the activist members present at the EGM on February 17th in Birmingham to support the NEC’s motion of no confidence, here are some reflections which didn’t find their way into yesterday’s Live Blog.
In the run-up to the EGM there were rumours that Bolton’s supporters had organised themselves and that we swamp critters were in for a nasty surprise.
Outside the venue they made their presence felt: leaflet distributors abounded and apparently some even threatened violence against anti-Boltonians like Luke Nash-Jones of MBGA. Inside the venue they were vociferous. Many members I spoke to during the lull between the doors having been opened and the start of the proceedings told me that they felt the outcome was on a knife’s edge.
That was my feeling as well: it was too close to call.
The speeches for and against the motion (to support or not the NEC’s vote of no confidence) showed clearly that Bolton was bent on turning this vote into one against the NEC as such. We were meant to see him as the victim of a cabal between ‘The Swamp’, i.e. the NEC as he saw it, and ‘divisive elements’ in the Party. We were meant to vote for him so that he could drain that swamp along the lines he proposed in his ‘reformed constitution’. And we were meant to vote for him so that these ‘elements’ amongst the members who, he alleged, had instigated this campaign against him ‘from the beginning’, could be removed from the Party.
We only needed to vote for him to give him the power and the means he proposed in his constitutional reforms – we’ve published articles about that here and here and here … and welcome to a new Party run along totalitarian lines under his leadership.
We all know that there need to be reforms to the Constitution and the NEC. NEC members said so openly. This is not news.
In the audience, members agreed. Thus there was always applause when Bolton spoke about NEC reforms. This ‘clapometer’ seemed to indicate that yes, he and his supporters could swing the vote his way.
But then came three crucial speeches.
The first was the refutation of Bolton’s presentation, given by Paul Oakley for the NEC. That was the first time we heard that Bolton had threatened legal action and a judicial injunction to stop the EGM if the NEC did not remove a certain member by 4pm on Friday February 16th! Oakley, to thunderous applause, said the NEC stood firm.
Next came the closing speech for the NEC given by Paula Walters, speaking softly. She said that the NEC is made up of people like her, representing the grassroots, and that ‘a leader’ who calls these grassroots representatives “a swamp” and who threatens to sue the Party is not a leader.
But it was the concluding speech by Bolton himself which convinced those who were still undecided. When he threatened the Party with legal action yet again, saying that he can assure us about a follow-up action after the EGM, the hall erupted with boos and whistles so that Paul Oakden had to intervene. When Bolton repeated more old slogans culled from his hustings speeches there were more shouts from the floor while Bolton shouted back: there were boos, there was whistling drowning him out. He had finally lost the members.
I believe that Bolton’s repeated threats of legal action against the Party was the final straw. We knew he had done so in the case of removing Anne Marie Waters from the leadership ballot, backing down in the face of the NEC standing firm. We knew of his threats made against the editors of Kipper Central and UKIP Daily, in private emails and comments. At the EGM we heard of his last-minute attempt to stop this EGM. In his final speech he threatened the Party again. That, in the old saying, cooked his goose – and he did that himself.
I won’t waste words on attempting to explain the inexplicable: why someone wants to lead a Party which he believes needs to be ‘drained’ – after all, we grassroots, through our elected representatives on the NEC, are the swamp, in his opinion.
I will mention one point which occurred to me on the way back home, and why I thought Paula Walters’ speech was significant. This vote, this EGM was about us, the grassroots. We wrote to the NEC members, some of whom were not convinced that a vote of no confidence was needed when they convened on January 8th. That was the meeting where the NEC decided to give Bolton time to prepare his case and present it in the crucial meeting on January 21st, which ended in the unanimous vote (except Bolton’s) for the no-confidence motion and the subsequent EGM.
So: the grassroots asked the NEC – the NEC delivered – and I thought it was only right and proper that we, the grassroots, supported the NEC’s vote.
Going forward under the new interim leader Gerard Batten we now hope that the openness can be maintained, the openness we experienced in the weeks between January 21st and yesterday, for example in the way NEC members interacted with us grassroots in our publications.
As Gerard Batten said in his acceptance speech: he wants UKIP to be a populist Party. That, to me, means the increased involvement of us grassroots in making policies. It means greater and better communications between those who we’ve elected to run the Party and us. We won’t and we cannot go home now: grassroot support for the leaders and representatives is a two-way street!
Finally, to paraphrase and support Paul Oakden’s thanks to the always unsung heroes of the Party, the workers at Lexdrum House: without them and their work, even unto counting yesterday’s ballots, this EGM would not have been the success it was. Without their work behind the scenes – registering over 1,600 attendees! – we, the grassroots, would not have been able to make our voices heard and count yesterday.
Let me finish with this question: will we now have seen the end of Nigel Farage’s attempts to run the Party according to his personal views even after he stepped down so disastrously after the Referendum?
And: were Welsh attendees guilty of causing that earthquake yesterday by travelling to Birmingham to the EGM? You might very well think so …
Now it’s onwards and upwards again – thanks to grassroots power!