Saturday

2nd Mar 2024

Analysis

Knives out for Farage in Ukip civil war

  • 'Nigel Farage sent a letter to Nigel Farage saying 'I resign', and Nigel Farage responded to Nigel Farage saying 'I refuse'' (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Ukip’s Nigel Farage was the first UK party leader to fall on his sword after this month’s general election.

Or so it seemed.

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Having kept his promise - apparently - to stand down “within 10 minutes” if he failed to secure a seat in the UK parliament - he performed a volte face a few hours later.

The rationale behind his staying on is that Ukip will almost certainly get the ‘in/out’ referendum it has long craved in the next 18 months, and that a leadership contest can wait.

“The level of support for me in the party is phenomenal and, frankly, to go through a leadership contest at a time when [UK leader] Cameron says he’s renegotiating our relationship with the European Union would be a massive, massive mistake,” said Farage during a BBC panel show, Question Time, last week.

The non-resignation is an open goal to Ukip’s opponents.

"Nigel Farage has sent a letter to Nigel Farage saying 'I resign', and Nigel Farage has responded to Nigel Farage saying 'I refuse’,” Liberal MEP leader Guy Verhofstadt joked at a European Parliament debate on Tuesday (19 May).

Farage has been Ukip’s front-man since 2010, having previously been leader between 2006 and 2009.

The widely held view is that he deserves a bit of time off for good behaviour.

Leading the party as a one-man band for the past decade has taken its toll, while injuries sustained from a plane-crash on election day in May 2010 have left his health in a less than robust shape. But Farage is clearly finding it hard to let go.

Meanwhile, the belief that he is still the eurosceptics’ best chance is not universal.

The party’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, wants Farage to stand down. After disagreeing with Farage over whether Ukip should accept £650,000 (€900,000) in public money, the quip in Westminster was that Ukip had just become the first party with one MP to have a backbench rebellion.

Also in the pro-resignation camp are Stuart Wheeler, Ukip’s biggest donor, and Hugh Williams, a party co-treasurer.

Patrick O’Flynn, a former journalist, resigned as Ukip’s economics spokesman on Tuesday after accusing Farage in a newspaper article of becoming “snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive”, and of treating the party like an “absolute monarchy”.

Policy chief Suzanne Evans will also step down.

It is quite an impressive purge.

Cross-roads

Farage's defeat in South Thanet, a seat which Ukip had long expected to take, was the most bitter moment in a disappointing election night for the party.

Despite gathering more than 3.8 million votes and 13 percent of the poll UK-wide, putting them in a clear third place ahead of the Liberal Democrats, the eurosceptic party won only one seat in the Westminster parliament.

Ukip will be anxious that any civil war should wait until after the UK referendum, but the outbreak of dissent was prompted by a sense the party may have gone as far as it can under Farage’s leadership.

It has more than 200 local councillors and has increased membership from 30,000 to 47,000.

But it’s at a political cross-roads. Most of its support used to come at the expense of the Conservative Party but that is no longer the case. The party came second to Labour in a swathe of constituencies in northern England, attracting working-class voters concerned about immigration.

The last couple of years have seen Paul Nuttall emerge as a capable deputy, along with Stephen Woolfe, Ukip’s immigration spokesman.

Both are MEPs from the north of England who have had success in positioning Ukip to pick up traditional Labour voters.

But Farage, and his close aides, have modelled Ukip on the US' Tea Party - an offshoot from the right of the Republicans.

The mood music in the Conservative Party has also has changed since the election.

Most MPs and ministers are hinting that they will back a Yes vote on the EU. With Labour and Liberal Democrat parties almost certain to support continued UK membership of the EU, Ukip will probably be the only significant party in the No camp, guaranteeing them plenty of exposure.

On Wednesday, Farage insisted that Ukip is “100 percent united” ahead of the referendum, a claim that is difficult to take seriously.

Instead of a dignified resignation, Ukip has become embroiled in a civil war at the worst possible time.

Has the Ukip surge fizzled out?

“All bets are off, the whole thing’s up in the air.” So said Ukip leader Nigel Farage last November after his party won its second by-election in successive months.

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