Listening to Henry Bolton’s press conference yesterday, I felt compelled to try to set the record straight on the subject of the UKIP National Executive Committee (NEC). Mr Bolton has sought to blame the NEC for the current problems in the party, and says that he will ‘reform’ it, should he remain as Leader.
Mr Bolton said:
“The NEC, as presently constituted, is unfit for purpose and has severely handicapped the Party’s progress and political delivery for some years, as all recent UKIP leaders will attest.”
Well, I won’t!
I don’t know Paul Nuttall’s position, but he was my predecessor as Chairman of the Committee. Diane James blamed the NEC for her early bath, despite not even having turned up to meet it. Steven Woolfe didn’t like the fact that it wouldn’t cheat him onto the ballot when he failed to file his papers on time.
Certainly Nigel Farage wants rid of it. Quite understandably, after 25 years of campaigning, he finds it an irritating impediment to doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants. But Nigel himself created the NEC, to remove power from a previous rogue leader and put it in the hands of the party’s members.
In the six years I served Nigel as his Chairman and chaired the NEC, it was an enthusiastic and loyal supporter of his outstanding leadership, a thoughtful and conscientious guardian of the party’s principles, and a dogged defender of the rights of the members and the unheard pleas of the people of this country.
For six months of this time, the NEC was used as a battle-ground, to try and disable Nigel and keep him out of the Referendum campaign, as those who have read Douglas Carswell’s valedictory interviews can attest. It was a tough time, but the NEC majority held firm, and we managed to prevent Nigel’s team being stripped away, leaving him vulnerable to those who wanted him taken out of the game.
It is true that some members brought sandwiches to meetings. That was because they wanted to save the party money. In fact, in 2013 Nigel complained about us buying a sandwich lunch for the NEC, at meetings lasting from mid-day to 6pm, to which members had travelled at their own expense from all parts of the country.
Let’s be absolutely clear. When the party leadership spends more than it raises, it is the NEC that has to pick up the pieces. When someone wants to do something that goes against our party’s core philosophy, or political sense, it is the NEC which reins them in. When people disgrace the party, it is the NEC that kicks them out.
The 15 members of the NEC comprise twelve who are directly elected from among the membership, two who have won election to legislatures in our name, and the Party Leader.
Every year, NEC members are elected promising to ‘drain the swamp’ and ‘sort out the hierarchy’. Then they arrive and discover that the Committee is comprised of fine, committed, well-intentioned members, like themselves, who are trying to keep this ramshackle, anarchic, glorious party in some sort of order.
The narrative that the NEC is not fit for purpose has been built inexorably over a period, but I would ask members to consider what they would see it replaced with. Today, Nigel writes that he wanted a more ‘5-Star’ style organisation. Which one, though? The one in which all decisions are made collectively, over the Internet, by people who cannot have been involved in any political party previously? Or the one which has only one member, Mr Grillo, who decides whether those decisions fit with his preferred agenda?
Nigel has written in today’s Daily Telegraph that, to paraphrase, he thought Henry was a pretty poor leader until the NEC said so. Now, he thinks he is a splendid chap, and will help him get rid of the bee in his bonnet that is the accursed NEC. The fact that Nigel still has this bee buzzing, after all he has achieved and having gone on to a whole new career outside the party, is really rather sad.
The current NEC is not a bunch of numpties. It consists of three retired entrepreneurs (successful ones), two practising London barristers and a London solicitor, a former international film industry executive, three health professionals (two still working in the NHS), a chartered accountant, a young marketing professional, a member of the European Parliament and a member of the Welsh Assembly.
And Henry Bolton’s attempt to make the NEC responsible for the current fiasco, rather than his own lack of political acumen, is nothing short of breathtaking. Now we find that he and Nigel intend to use this opportunity to remove the mechanism by which the members exercise control over their party (and the Leader).
Henry Bolton has said that
“it is now time to put an end to the factional infighting within the Party and to remove those who have been a part of that.”
That is absolutely correct!