There has been much opinion expressed on the future of our party, I add my opinion to the mix. If it helps to establish my credibility, I mention that I have had a good career, now retired, at a senior level in a leading global corporation and have sat on my share of boards, both corporate and charitable, as executive and non-executive. My area of specialism was corporate strategy but I have a degree in Economics and a Masters in Business Administration. Based on the above, I can be considered a professional manager.
We have roughly a four year timeframe before the likely next general election. Nigel as our leader has done an outstanding job and against all odds achieved influence (but not power); through that influence, Cameron committed to a referendum he never thought he would be in a position to hold and through that influence, we won it. We now need to take the next steps and build on the foundations Nigel laid. Our next target should be actual power, in the form of seats, most importantly in the UK parliament, so we can really improve this country for its citizens.
We know the First Past the Post system is rigged against new / smaller parties to favour the establishment. We know that a party needs about 40% of the vote in a parliamentary constituency to get elected. We also know that our support is spread relatively evenly in England and Wales and lightly in Northern Ireland and Scotland so we are a long way off gaining more than a handful of seats. Polling data tells us that we have made a limited impression in the minds of the public as a well-rounded party; we are seen as a party of immigration control and regaining economic / political sovereignty, more of a pressure group than a political party. We certainly need to continue to hold the government’s feet to the fire over Brexit, but surely that cannot be all. If, as I believe, members want more than this, we need to link our democratic libertarian values to a broader range of issues in the minds of the public (At this point, can I suggest that any member that hasn’t got round to it, reads the party constitution, if you download it, it will be about 15 pages, that’s about one hour of reading time). The 2015 general election manifesto was professionally written and may well have achieved its aim, as long as that aim was not to position UKIP as a party with a broad inspiring agenda.
There is a widespread distrust in the UK of the LibLabCon, an establishment elite that serve their own interests and those of their friends whilst pretending they care about the 99%. We know that the mainstream media is generally part of the establishment and therefore hostile to UKIP; we know that we do not have the resources or experience of the establishment parties but we have truth and integrity on our side and they are powerful weapons. We should aim to inspire not just disaffected Labour voters who feel ignored but the vast bulk of the population who know that the 1% don’t feel the pain of a collapsing health service, unaffordable house prices, crumbling infrastructure, and a struggling education system, because they can buy their way out of these problems.
We have a couple of years to get ourselves established with maybe 20-25% popular support and then a couple of years to target where that general support can be expanded and translated into winnable seats. There is work to be done to resource and professionalise our election machine; if the book, “UKIP – Inside the Campaign to Redraw the Map of British Politics” is reasonably accurate, we were completely under-resourced at head office during the last general election and it is remarkable that we managed such a high vote share even if it was not translated into seats. We need to start getting broad structures, key people and data in place, soon. We need to target issues that fit with our values and also at the same time, resonate with the broad public.
In order to do all this, we need an effective management structure and an effective management team. There are differing views on the effectiveness of the NEC today, but I think we could all agree that if the NEC were a government department we would ask it’s supporters to demonstrate its necessity rather than ask others to prove it is unnecessary. Furthermore, I believe that there is a consensus that the Constitution and Rule Book require improvement.
My first suggestion is a complete re-write of the Constitution and Rule Book, but retaining our principles in new documents; it really wouldn’t be that big a job, one person, two weeks, for an initial draft. I would imagine that when they were written, we tried to replicate existing parties; we now have an opportunity to start from scratch with a twenty-first century approach that also reflects our party’s democratic and small government values. The first point is that using postal ballots or EGMs to get member endorsement of decisions is expensive and slow; if we embrace the internet with telephone voting as a backup, using our membership PIN numbers (already provided for in the Rule Book) we can be quick and cost effective. With this technology, we can transform the way that the leadership interacts with the grassroots; many issues including individual policy endorsement, constitutional change and choice of leader can be put to the membership easily and directly. The party leader should be able to appoint and manage his / her own team and have more freedom to operate, e.g. to change the Rule Book but not the Constitution. With this simple cost effective system to ballot members it becomes practical to allow a leader to be challenged during a four year term (at most annually) if there is real and broad dissatisfaction with the leader’s decisions. So the leader has a little more power but will be constrained by the need to retain the support of the membership.
Turning now to the NEC, the issue of the NEC as necessary directors of a company is a red herring; by the government size definitions, UKIP would be a “small business” (in terms of revenue and staff numbers), we don’t legally or practically require a large team of directors, simply the Leader, the Party Secretary covering legal matters and the Treasurer managing the accounts. The Directors retain responsibilities under the law, whatever our own rules may dictate and I am sure they would fulfil them.
Some matters should be decided regionally, e.g. discipline of members within a region or agreeing candidates for positions within a region (above branch level), but perhaps allowing the leader, to add to or veto names on a candidate shortlist.
For exceptional matters, such as review of quarterly / annual accounts, leadership challenges a representative of each region, can meet either in person or virtually. My conclusion therefore is that there is no activity that the NEC undertakes that cannot be more effectively and democratically be undertaken elsewhere and that therefore we do not need an NEC; without judging the current NEC members, the body is an unnecessary bureaucratic structure in what could be a democratic streamlined organisation. As a party, we believe in small government, let us practice what we preach.