There are party members who think Henry Bolton should stay as leader. The reasons given, at least through UKIP Daily, do not amount to a very convincing case. The case for him staying appears to be a belief in a conspiracy by the NEC and shadowy others to frustrate Henry’s reforms, said to be essential to the party’s survival, or sympathy because the horrid media have blown things out of proportion and we should not fall for their smears.
The EGM is thus a valiant struggle by plucky little Henry against dark, reactionary forces inside and outside the party, but it looks to me more like a demagogue’s desperate romantic fairy tale, the only tactic available when rational reasons do not exist. Yet, a rational case for Bolton staying may exist and the closest I’ve seen to an actual argument, to the setting out of reasons we might dispassionately assess, is a risk analysis. In short, is it riskier to keep Bolton or get rid of him? Whichever choice one makes as to the riskier course is guesswork. Patrick O’Flynn thinks Bolton can be sold to the public as the “comeback kid”. That assumes there would be a party left if Bolton won, that the media would stop ridiculing him, and he could produce electorally appealing policies. All whopping and unlikely assumptions.
Unfortunately, no-one has set out a truly disinterested case we can evaluate. O’Flynn’s effort on Bolton’s website is riddled with self-serving attributions. Bolton’s critics are said to have “whipped up” hysteria and are “inveterate plotters from one particular faction inside the party” who must not be rewarded for their “deviousness”. The implication is that even if keeping Bolton finished off the party that is a price worth paying to thwart the faction to which O’Flynn is presumably opposed. So unworthy are people who want Bolton gone that they are not worth listening to at all. One is reminded of the remainer elite looking down on ordinary leave voters. How dare they have an opinion differing from the elites.
But there is a nub of an argument (just) in O’Flynn’s failed attempt at reasoning and it is:
“There is no guarantee that either another leadership contest or a coronation would produce a leader able to unite the party and sell its merits to the electorate. The bigger risk is that UKIP would be stuck naval-gazing for another two months or more just at the most crucial time in the Brexit negotiations – the very time when we should be directing our attention outwards.”
The essence of his case then is that we should evaluate the choice at the EGM by which is most likely to 1) unite the party and 2) avoid navel-gazing (especially at a “most crucial time”).
I must admit that I did burst out laughing at O’Flynn’s argument. Party unity is a receding chimaera (all that changes at any time is which way we are split) and Bolton’s refusal to resign was a guarantee of yet another harmful division. It may even prove to be the most harmful split so far. Bolton is clearly not someone who loves the party more than himself, who respects its history and members, and whose track record within it – answers on a postcard – is sufficiently venerable to give weight to his views.
As to navel-gazing, this one takes the biscuit. I did not vote for Bolton and one of the reasons was his navel-gazing. His manifesto, along with that of too many other candidates, was about re-arranging the deck chairs on our sinking ship, when the problem all along is that the party failed after the referendum to transition from a single-issue party to one that had radical policies for a domestic agenda. (We can be radical or we can be respectable but not both, and there is no point whatsoever to another `respectable’ party.) No amount of constitutional tinkering can make up for the lack of political vision and leadership. It is delusional to think we can now have any part at all in how Brexit pans out. The “crucial time” for UKIP was August 2016.
We need a longer-term political vision for the party and it was depressing to see how many leadership candidates were a million miles from providing that. Which carries the greater risk? A leader, albeit interim such as Gerard Batten (hopefully), with a genuine political vision, or arch deck chair arranger Bolton who will consume party resources constructing an elaborate bureaucracy? Even O’Flynn admits that appointing 30 spokespersons (larger than the real cabinet) was over the top.
The need for reform centres on the alleged unaccountability of amateurs on the NEC and the proposal is to have trustees to oversee (or is it replace) them. This guarding of the guardians is an obvious nonsense. Who guards the guards doing the guarding? It’s an infinite regress. And as with any elected official NEC members are accountable in elections. What other or better accountability can there be for and in a political party? There are many deficiencies in the way the party is run but they are due to the paucity of resources available after Nigel overspent by some £850,000. There is no money to carry out the functions members yearn for.
O’Flynn worries about navel-gazing for another two months or more. If Bolton survives and embarks on changing the constitution, a mammoth task, then the leader will be consumed by the task for more than two months. He will periodically bleat about Brexit – to no real effect as UKIP is not an electoral threat to anyone – but there will be no radical political vision from him. It will be navel-gazing and deck chair arranging on steroids all the while that the party is seen increasingly as a joke with a joke leader, its job done with no mission to replace it. What a monumental waste of time.
I understood why Nigel backed Bolton. Nigel has never given up trying to be a puppeteer or let go of his personal grudge against the NEC in pursuit of which we can all be sacrificed. But I was surprised to see O’Flynn, who once called Nigel a “thin-skinned snarling man”, support Bolton. What accounts for this? Just guessing, but I suspect that Gerard Batten frightens one or two senior people. He is no-one’s puppet and has already hinted that in his view some “senior people” should go. Those Bolton supporters motivated to see “inveterate plotters” and other self-serving “devious” people removed might consider that actually Bolton is not the man for that but Gerard Batten is.
It was ordinary members lobbying the NEC (of ordinary members that we elected) that led to the vote of no confidence. It was not “inveterate plotting” nor “deviousness” behind our doing that. On 17th February I hope the members support the NEC’s vote. The risk to the party of not doing so would be calamitous.