On returning home this New Year from the festive holiday season and going through the collection of post accumulated on my doormat which had arrived just a little too late to reach me before Christmas, I came upon the latest edition of ‘Independence Magazine’. As I made my progress through the magazine, I swallowed hard, held my nose and braced myself to read the address by our erstwhile “Interim” Party Chairman.
He couldn’t resist making a triumphalist sideswipe against the significant proportion of party members who had voted for Anne Marie Waters in the leadership election. I didn’t vote for Anne Marie Waters but still felt alienated by his remarks. That wasn’t the major issue though. The major issue is:
Why is he still there?
In the last issue of Independence in August, prior to the leadership election, Oakden stated:
“Before the end of the year UKIP will have a different Chairman – and it will do so with my absolute blessing. Contrary to popular belief, being Chairman was never an ambition of mine, and having now done the job for a year I can tell you it’s even less of an ambition to keep it!”
Let’s remember, Paul Oakden was only ever supposed to be an Interim Chairman. He was appointed following Steve Crowther and Nigel Farage’s resignations after the referendum, on the understanding he would stand down on the announcement of the new party leader – that would have been the election of Diane James. He was insistent back then that he didn’t want or relish the job. 18 months later he’s still there!
Readers may remember – this is the man who used the Independence Magazine to brand contributions to this site as
“the ill-informed rantings of rather lonely doom-sayers, sitting at home in their underpants, frantically tapping away at their laptops.”
It was a stunningly unprofessional outburst. What a media frenzy there would be if the Chairman of the Conservative Party made comments like about his internal party critics or contributors to the Conservative Home website! The Chairman is effectively the party’s Chief Operating Officer. Can you imagine a senior executive of a big company using such unbefitting language?
He particularly targeted his ire at those spreading rumours that he earned over £100K. Following this, a contributor to this site calculated, based on the limited amount of information publicly available, that Oakden had earned somewhat closer to £200K in the previous 12 months from his various party-related incomes. Indeed, it was Oakden’s employment by Roger Helmer while at the same time being a party officer, contrary to EU law, that forced Helmer’s resignation as an MEP. Oakden appears to have been very handsomely remunerated while the party was in a dire financial situation and staff in Newton Abbott were losing their jobs or being forced to take pay cuts!
I have only had the briefest personal encounter with Paul Oakden. At the 2016 second leadership hustings in Newport, I noticed him chatting with a female member of the Bridgend branch, so walked over and introduced myself. He responded with a sniffy “We’ve met”, (which was peculiar because we never had) and immediately turned his back and high-tailed it across the room. I was left quite speechless and sad that it seemed to confirm the suspicions that I had about the kind of a personality he was.
I wouldn’t be so bad if he were talented, energetic and highly effective in the role. Oakden has done nothing to professionalise the party. He has only sent us glib emails telling us the party is in great shape and nothing’s wrong – even though it’s blatantly obviously not the case – or used his position to have a sneering dig at critics of the leadership. The organisational work which Henry Bolton is doing now is that which a good party Chairman should have a done a long time ago.
Oakden’s tenure has coincided with a catastrophic collapse of the party and its fortunes – though the blame for that cannot entirely be placed at his door. He was left effectively in charge of the party following the simultaneous resignations of the Leader, Deputy Leader and previous Chairman, with all the gravitas of the office tea-boy and commanding about as much respect. Witness him at conference and at conference and hustings, trying to raise his voice to declare, “That’s not how we do things in UKIP”, while the assembled members chatted among themselves, moved around and headed to the bar.
So why has a new Chairman not yet been appointed? It can’t be that we’re waiting for the NEC to meet. It’s been over 3 months since Bolton was elected. Are they wrangling over Oakden’s golden handshake? Can Bolton not find anyone willing to do the job? How’s about Ben Walker, who proclaimed his desire to sack the Chairman to loud hustings cheers and told us he didn’t need to draw a salary from the party?
This may seem like an obsessive rant about just one man, but to me Paul Oakden is a symbol of the malaise – a representative of the small cabal at the top of UKIP, appointed by patronage and cronyism, doggedly hanging on to control, while the party sinks into irrelevance and dies a slow death; looking down their noses at those pesky little members who want to actually have some input in how the party is run rather than just cheering at conference; who regard any criticism as back-stabbing and do everything in their power to see off the threat of any challenger or ideas from outside their group – because it’s their party.
When Henry Bolton got elected, I wrote to my Branch Chairman listing the things I would need to see change in UKIP for me to renew my membership when it comes up in April. One of those things was a new Chairman. At this rate, I won’t be renewing.
Kind regards, Comrade K