If a week is a long time in politics, then the last three months is an aeon. Back in October, with a brand new leader, the Surrey Committee (Surrey’s branch chairmen) invited Henry Bolton to Surrey, to meet members and talk about his vision for the party. An informal and friendly meeting, no need for a PA system or video record. Then the storm broke, the clouds opened, rain poured through the leaking roof.
With the NEC no confidence vote on January 21st the meeting’s fate hung in the balance. Cancel and lose the deposit? A replacement speaker if Henry resigns? (worth mentioning here is that, by popular request, we asked Gerard Batten, who would have stepped in if required, had he not been celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary). The event was held after our morning committee meeting, during which Surrey branch chairmen reported their feedback over the leadership crisis. Only one branch, which does not have local elections this May, was broadly supportive of the current leader remaining, although other chairmen were aware of a few members with similar views. Chairman after chairman spoke of the difficulty recruiting candidates if the leader remains and the increasing derision they faced from the general public.
We had opened the meeting to all members, Henry’s Kent supporters were campaigning in the bar before the meeting started and he brought someone to video the event. Two NEC members were present. Henry is apparently on a 2 week tour. For those who have the roadshow coming down their way, here’s what you can expect and what to watch out for.
Henry is both on the attack and taking a defensive stand, he’s upped his game and much of it is good, whether you support him or not you will applaud – and why not. Members who have not made up their mind may be swayed, as may those ordinary folk, appalled at recent events, who do not know what to watch for. Supporters will be bolstered, unless some very calm and intelligent questions expose weakness. Direct attack will reinforce his support – he is a military man, like it or not he is trained in strategy, skilled chess players are what’s needed, not pit bulls.
For an idea of the end result, Luke Nash-Jones of MBGA conducted interviews with some of the 60-70 members present published here.
Henry vs the NEC
Under the current constitution the NEC members must stand down if the members at the EGM do not support their unanimous vote of no confidence. This has allowed Henry (and Nigel and Diane James) to turn the EGM into Leader vs the NEC.
Only days before January 21st it was by no means likely that the NEC response to the motion “The NEC have confidence in Henry Bolton as leader” would be a majority for no, let alone unanimous. This was in direct response to members’ requests.
Steve Crowther has published an Open Letter on the NEC position.
If you do invite a NEC member ensure they can respond to Henry’s accusations but avoid attack tactics. At Frimley the NEC’s ‘still, small voice of calm’ quietly and efficiently refuted claims made against them over the Jane Collins libel case, money paid to Henry and their relationship with him. Unfortunately, with no microphone, many of those present didn’t fully hear what was said.
The Unanswered Questions
Several members, including despairing branch chairmen and Luke Nash-Jones, asked how, if he continued as leader, Henry would restore our appeal to voters who valued family life, or for whom we were now risible. Listening to an audio transcript confirmed my impression that not once did he offer any ideas, if he understood the question – merely waffling about his ‘regrettable private life’ until he finally snapped (or delivered a deliberately aggressive response) at Luke Nash-Jones (described here). Others may like to explore this further.
In his opening address Henry persistently claimed he had to do everything himself. Yes, most know the administration was a shambles but the tasks he mentioned are the chairman’s job. So why didn’t he instruct the chairman, concentrating on providing the leadership and vision the party and a number of questioners cried out for?
One member asked Henry baldly if he was a plant, which he denied (well, he would wouldn’t he!), however, on the day the Mail published claims of a Banks/Farage plot to destroy UKIP, when accused of attracting no new funding, he claimed Arron Banks was waiting in the wings.
No one asked why he missed out a marriage, they did ask about his military CV – anomalies which Michael Crick subsequently revealed.
I will write elsewhere of the myths around ‘reform’ but recommend, before condemning the NEC, all readers watch Gerard Batten’s video (e.g. here).