The impact of Brexit on the political makeup of this country made its mark in remarkably swift time, with the body count including the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and over half of the Shadow Cabinet. Yet, the one party that should have been on top of the world in the wake of British politics’ most seismic shift in over 30 years, the one that should have benefitted from it more than any other, the one for which Brexit was its entire raison d’être, appears to have imploded. While the media’s attention has largely been focused on the civil war within the Labour Party since June 23, the party that actually got the result it wanted has undergone an arguably greater period of turmoil post-Brexit. Yes, I’m naturally talking about our old friends in UKIP. This was the party formed for the sole reason of getting Britain out of the European Union; against all the expected odds, it finally succeeded in achieving its aim, and since then the whole enterprise has gone…well…tits up – an expression I’m sure they wouldn’t object to in UKIP circles.
Nigel Farage, the smoking, gurning, boozing boomerang of British politics who swore his second resignation as UKIP leader really was the end of his stint at the head of the party, is back in charge yet again, though this time he assures us it’s merely an interim post. This has been thrust upon him following the aborted 18-day reign of his successor Diane James. If Jeremy Corbyn was a virtually unknown entity to the average voter when he was elected Labour leader for the first time last year, Diane James was the invisible woman.
The strange – okay one strange – thing about UKIP is that its most familiar members weren’t actually running for control of the party when Nige stepped down for the last time. Ade Edmondson lookalike Paul Nuttall is a regular on ‘Question Time’, ‘The Daily Politics’ and ‘This Week’, as is Suzanne Evans; neither ran. Douglas Carswell is the party’s solitary MP, yet he wasn’t a contender either. Neil Hamilton, the former Tory MP who now leads UKIP in the Welsh Assembly (and a man who seems to live up to every UKIP stereotype with his air of a confused colonial colonel who refuses to accept the loss of the Empire), never got a leadership look in either.
Instead, we had a group of local councillor-types who, one suspected, even their mothers would struggle to recognise. Diane James won it and then quit less than three weeks later. Being kissed by Farage on the podium within seconds of her election victory probably wasn’t to blame, but few would envy her that honour.
A fresh leadership contest has now been thrown into disarray yet again following an ‘incident’ in the European Parliament yesterday, whereby bookies’ favourite Steven Woolfe had an altercation with a fellow UKIP MEP during a meeting of the party’s Euro-sceptic Euro boys (and girls) in Strasbourg. To be fair, all are facing a testing time; their ultimate aim would inevitably render them redundant. An MEP is fairly low down the political pecking order as it is, but actively campaigning for the UK to exit the EU naturally means no more British MEPs. Anyway, from what can be gathered from the somewhat unsavoury headlines, punches were exchanged between Mr Woolfe and – allegedly – Mike Hookem (ironically, UKIP’s Spokesman on Defence), during which the leadership hopeful banged his head; collapsing a couple of hours later, Woolfe was rushed to hospital and had a brain-scan. He is reportedly not in as serious a condition as initially thought.
Amidst this bout of playground politics, one of UKIP’s major donors Arron Banks has claimed the party to be at breaking point and let rip into Neil Hamilton, who supposedly had a few digs at Steven Woolfe on television before his condition after the scrap was fully known. Banks threatens to leave the party if both Hamilton and Douglas Carswell stay in it. The vitriolic antipathy between the various known names in UKIP makes some of Labour’s personality clashes seem no more unpleasant than the good-humoured piss-taking of Nicholas Parsons by Paul Merton on ‘Just a Minute’, and that UKIP seems to be bordering on the brink of complete collapse is remarkable considering no current political party in the country has laid out such a specific ambition and actually achieved it. Like a sportsman who has spent his entire career desperate for an Olympic gold medal, it almost feels as though reaching the pinnacle was a point at which there was only one way left to go – down.
Disgruntled Tories, disillusioned Labour voters, and – most probably – former BNP supporters who no doubt don’t like to talk about it, all flocked to UKIP during the long lead-up to the long-anticipated EU Referendum, won over by Farage’s Donald Trump-like outsider status, something perhaps enhanced by his persistent failure to be elected to Westminster. But now it would appear many that put their cross next to ‘Leave’ on the Referendum paper, chiming with UKIP sentiments, are already looking elsewhere for the next issue, whether drifting back to a Conservative Party now stripped of the Cameroons or even giving Jezza a chance. The old adage about being careful what you wish for appeared highly apt following the Brexit vote. For UKIP, it was a case of job done – so what now? Judging by recent events, oblivion.
The iniquities of Britain’s first-past-the-post system, giving the SNP 56 seats and UKIP just one at the 2015 General Election, has already made the party’s attempts to make inroads into the Commons hard work; but it seems now that UKIP are destined to retreat back to the fringes of British politics, side-by-side on the eternal periphery alongside their ideological enemies, the Greens. Be careful what you wish for indeed.
© The Editor