Thursday 18 June 2015

Can Ukip survive?

Ukip has been a master-class in how not to run a political party. It's easy to see why. The last thing any party needs is egotism. An effective movement needs real leadership. Real leadership seeks out, nurtures and motivates talent and feels strengthened by it, not threatened by it. That isn't Farage. That is why the top team of Ukip is so lamentably weak.

Ukip is lacking expertise in policy and in how to effectively manage a campaign. Nobody in the top team possesses the mental architecture. That's why Ukip's downfall has been so readily predictable for some time. Now we're seeing Kippers playing catch up seeing Farage for the paranoid tyrant he is. All the clues have been there but now is the time they're beginning to connect the dots.

A fair few on Twitter have called for Farage's resignation tonight and through back channels a lot of kippers are concerned we're going to lose a referendum and lose it badly. This is what I spent a year writing about. The question is whether Ukip can survive or will it go the way of the BNP.

The first question is whether we want it to survive? After all, we do have that referendum. I would say that we do need a Ukip or something of its ilk, but it has to keep a low profile and rebuild from scratch after the referendum. With Ukip being a badly tainted brand it can only damage the no campaign. Were it a business, a complete change of management and image would be a matter of urgency. Ukip soon stands to lose all that it has gained - and trends in local by-elections indicate that Ukip is in for a pasting at the next major polls. It's unavoidable.

There will be hard times ahead for kippers. If it can change, it will have to shed a lot of blood to do it. What it needs is leadership but also a coherent message. Clearly it won't be Suzanne Evans who can achieve this. She may well serve as a healer to help the party tread water until 2020, but she lacks any real expertise on EU matters to be any use during a referendum, so should keep shtum for the time being.

As far as the referendum goes, the no campaign is going to have to reach people who would never in a million years vote for Ukip, so the less we see of Ukip the better. Farage especially. He needs to shut up and ship out. Then there's the kipper problem. They are as bad as he is.

The first thing you notice about a people's resistance army in an occupied country is they tend not to wear uniforms and insignia. Kippers are going to have to ditch the twibbons and the Ukip logos and put the cause before the party. They must travel incognito and get behind a unified message that isn't preoccupied with immigration. They might actually be best keeping their heads down. Carswell will be a prominent figure inside the parliamentary no campaign, and he is at least respected. Ukip will just have to get used to the idea that he's the one speaking for them on all EU matters. Whether they like it or not, that's a good thing.

Whether Ukip survives the referendum entirely depends on their conduct and whether they manage to cleanse the rot by 2020. All of Farage's stooges have to go, the NEC needs to step down, the MEP's need to be gagged and the entire communications team, if there is such a thing, should be sacked. That in effect means the clear majority of the inner circle must go.

This will cost Ukip. It will have a long road to rebuild and may even lose most of its meagre gains. That is the price for exchanging sustainable growth for media attention. A new leader without the guts to purge Ukip will kill it stone dead. It must decide upon what it really stands for, structure a message, centre all of its activities on that message, co-ordinate all communications and statements within those parameters and stay the course.

It cannot afford any Faragesque tangents. It must learn to master message discipline, topical relevance and stay away from immigration. It didn't work for the BNP, it didn't work for Ukip, and it won't work a second time either. There are smarter ways to broach the immigration questions and it must be tackled with skill and shrewdness. Preaching to the choir isn't going to cut it nor are populist dogwhistles.

Ukip must have a set of coherent aims which interlink and it must run campaigns on those themes. It must act as a campaign machine, teaching and directing branch leaders. Up to now, Ukip's central organisation has left branches blowing in the wind with no direction and no resource, with everything centred around the electoral ambitions of Farage. If the party is just about getting the leader elected then failure is the only outcome.

Of course, this is all hypothetical because in reality Ukip hasn't got the stones or the wit to do what is necessary. It means slaying a few sacred cows, clearing out the rot and parting ways with certain donors. It's going to need expertise, self-awareness and humility. Not something Ukip is presently capable of.

Ukip is also on the back foot. We have our EU referendum now, we have a sort of conservative government and the left are struggling for relevance. In many respects a great many battles have been won. It will struggle to regain what it has lost and rebuild credibility.

I will say to Ukip's credit that it was Ukip that budged the Tories away from windmills and husky hugging, but that doesn't answer the fundamental sickness at the heart of British politics. The need for a Ukip has not gone away. Local democracy is as anaemic as ever it was, our police and social services are in a total mess, and if we think we have immigration problems now, we're in for a shock. We're making a huge mistake escalating a new cold war, the housing "market" is a mess, rents are too high, taxes are too high and energy costs too much. Councils are greedy and wasteful, quangos still rule the roost and the establishment's idea of devolution is bordering on the comical. These problems are why Ukip exists and they are also why the establishment is still on borrowed time.

The potential for a counter-establishment movement won't be going away because I don't see any of the establishment parties solving any of them. Such radicalism is beyond their paradigm. Eventually, something like the SNP will start in the North of England and meet up with the South East, but it is unlikely to be Ukip. It will have a strong contingent of Ukippers in it and will have a strong whiff of Ukip, but think any counter-establishment movement will have to go back to the drawing broad, learn the lessons and develop a strong constitution to stop another Farage co-optng the party and once again turning it into personality cult.

Had Farage been a leader and a skilful politician, Ukip would not be facing self-destruction. It wouldn't have had it's moment in the spotlight either, but it would still be a gradually growing party and would still be a threat. It will take several years to present any kind of credible threat again. The main job now is to ensure the ground remains fertile for such a movement. In all probability we will lose the EU referendum, but we have to lose it well and by a narrow margin to keep our hopes alive. That means the less we see of Farage and co, the better.

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