On 23rd March, a few days after his appointment as treasurer, Sebastian Fairweather incorporated “UKIP Patrons Ltd” of which he has been sole director for over five months. The company is completely independent of UKIP unlike the Sovereign Draw Ltd in which UKIP is the majority shareholder. UKIP Patrons Ltd – nothing turns on the company name as it could be called “Me and my friends Ltd” for all the difference it makes – is not just independent of UKIP’s control but also independent in objectives. The company’s objects, as set out in its certification of incorporation, make no mention of UKIP at all. By article 2.1 the company exists to “support …political parties and organisations actively campaigning to secure and maintain the full independence of the United Kingdom.” That can include UKIP, obviously, but could also include the Labour and Conservative parties as each committed to Brexit in last year’s manifestos. It would be lawful for Fairweather to write a cheque to Labour Leave and there would be nothing UKIP could do about it. When Gerard Batten said (letter, 12 April) the Patrons Club was now “completely independent” of UKIP he was not kidding.
Fairweather was busy on 23rd March because he also set up the UK Sovereign Party Ltd, an avowedly political party according to its articles, of which he is also sole director. This political party is for campaigning to leave the EU. There are many such organisations – Labour Leave is one as is, of course, UKIP itself. It is not known why Fairweather thought another political party is needed. UKIP’s rules preclude membership of another political party and that includes, surely, incorporating one. It would be entirely lawful for Fairweather to transfer patrons’ money to his new political party given both companies’ objects. I am not suggesting that is his devious plan. I merely point out that the new arrangements allow for it. Both companies have registered offices in Cardiff.
If Fairweather had become incapacitated, then UKIP had no title to or mechanism for retrieving donations that patrons may mistakenly think had been to support UKIP itself. By article 10, control would pass to Fairweather’s personal representative. At no point have patrons been advised that their money has been at such a completely unnecessary and negligent risk. Indeed, until the new website appeared in July, UKIP was soliciting patron donations to UKIP without informing them that the money was going into a completely independent company outside of NEC control. (The party might like to peruse section 15 of the Fraud Act 2006 on obtaining money by deception.)
Patrons have been converted into single-issue supporters without their knowledge or consent. Getting out of the EU was merely a necessary step in pursuit of UKIP’s wider mission as set out in its constitution at article 2.5. Now, for those patrons who have allowed their money to go into the new company, they support leaving the EU only. This reduction in the scope of their support has been imposed without consultation or consent.
The letter of 12 April that first announced these changes went out under a UKIP Patrons Ltd office address. It was sent to patrons and former patrons using data from UKIP Ltd. The problem is that the Data Protection Act (now GDPR 2018) forbids passing member details to a “completely independent company” for use without their consent.
UKIP Patrons Ltd is merely a corporate veil over a bank account. It does not need several directors – Batten’s letter said four people had agreed to be directors – as there is nothing to manage beyond taking deposits and writing cheques. Incorporation is to limit liability but there is none unless UKIP Patrons Ltd incurs debts. How is that envisaged exactly? Incorporation looks more like the wasted cost of a status symbol for cronies.
One of the proposed directors, Liz Phillips, was a determined opponent of Anne Marie Waters and an ardent supporter of Henry Bolton (organising some patrons to that end), If the membership democratically elect a leader she and other directors dislike then under the new club it is entirely possible for them to withhold funds from the party and subvert the membership’s democratic choices. I am not saying they definitely will so act but I do say it is possible when it should not be. The new club can also defy the NEC and refuse funds, funds that patrons will have thought were going to support the party.
The new patrons’ club will spend its money on “political activities as decided by its directors” and not on UKIP as decided by the NEC. It is said that during the year meetings will enable Patrons to make spending suggestions and a right to present motions to the NEC.
Why should patrons have special rights over spending decisions and be able to force issues before the NEC? One patron’s membership equates to 33 ordinary member fees. Can ordinary members band together in groups of 33 or more and have the same rights as a patron? Why is there now this two-tier class system? I gave a talk to my branch about the patrons club in which I was at pains to emphasise that no patron bought influence or could expect to buy influence. Evidently, the talk needs updating because patrons now have a new influence over spending and the NEC’s agenda.
In his Leader’s Update of 29th August Gerard Batten claimed the Patron’s Club had been “rescued from oblivion”. This is pure propaganda. The Patrons’ Club had over four hundred members in its heyday before the general election of 2015. After the referendum the number dropped to around 220 as many were former Tories who went back to the Conservative Party believing the referendum result meant job done. By the time of the Torquay conference the number of patrons left was around 150. Failures to renew continued so that there was just over a hundred patrons at the start of this year. It has increased slightly to 120 after a recent appeal to lapsed patrons. Adding fifteen or so late renewals is not rescue from “oblivion”. In fact, the invitation to the inaugural meeting said “I am so pleased that so many of you have remained with the Party and the Club”. The club had not fallen into oblivion so much as be available still for hijacking.
The Patrons Club was never really a club at all. For £1000 minimum you got a tie and a free coffee at conferences. From time to time patrons would be invited to lunches with the party leader accompanied usually by the treasurer and chairman. Often there would be a charge of £1000 a plate. Essentially the club was just a way of donating to the party by way of expensive lunches. A patron donates more than his or her membership fee.
The flannel, bad faith, and lies by omission about the new club is now of Orwellian newspeak proportions with words like protection, transparency and spending decisions being used to as cover for profound change to the scope of what patrons support and to wresting control away from the NEC. The latest update email says UKIP is the party where “members matter.” What they mean is “members’ money matters and under the new class system it matters more to the extent of buying influence if you can afford it – and too bad to all the foot soldiers upon whom the party really depends.” Perhaps, in the interests of `transparency’ ordinary members’ cards could have “second-class” written on them. The old club was never elitist. The new one is.
I could say a lot more (and may yet) but I am up against UKIP Daily’s word count. I hope I have said enough to indicate how deeply flawed and fundamentally unconstitutional UKIP Patrons Ltd is and enough to warn patrons and potential patrons. Fairweather should not have been allowed to hijack the club, almost his first act as Treasurer, and it is weak of Batten and the NEC to allow this flawed arrangement to continue. I want nothing to do with the new degraded Patrons Club. So, I am now a lapsed patron and I will stay that way as will at least three others I have spoken to, two of them donating around £15K a year. The alleged gains to the new club are offset by losses, therefore. But that will not stop those seeking to be company directors wanting to get their hands on patron money. Not a penny more from me for the party.
Four final points for now. Joining the old club conferred membership of the party (if wanted) and assigning to a branch. That cannot be done by a “completely independent” company. If it does happen nonetheless then there are two types of member. Those who have paid a fee to UKIP and those who have not. The 120 patrons now said to exist will not all have paid into the new company, but many will have paid into UKIP Ltd. If their money has been transferred to the new “completely independent company” that will almost certainly have been a breach of the Trustee Act. And finally, in 2010, Fairweather produced a campaign video complaining about being ruled by the unelected. How ironic that one of his first acts as an unelected appointee is to destroy UKIP’s Patrons Club and wrest it away from the party. The NEC have been asleep at the wheel. Maybe they are `not fit for purpose’ after all.