Rarely for the Ukip of late, it has been some time since they last had a leadership election. But with Gerard Batten indicating his tenure is at an end, the party may be entering its terminal phase.
Writing on Twitter, the former MEP said: “My term as UKIP Leader ends today. A big thank you to all who have supported my leadership & UKIP over the last 15 months, morally, materially & financially., The NEC will now begin a leadership election process, which will see the next leader elected within the next 90 days.”
Infamously, Nigel Farage’s exit from the role led to a breakdown in Kipper leadership. Batten is the sixth leader since Farage’s resignation after Britain’s referendum on EU membership, if one includes Farage’s brief return after Diane James quit before taking office.
Following Farage was always going to be tough. I think it’s often overstated how much of a one man band Ukip was, but there’s no doubt that Farage loomed larger over his party than any significant British party leader.
Theresa May’s decision to pander to hard Brexiteers, and indeed the referendum result itself, brought into question what the point of Ukip was – especially since May’s own socially conservative instincts on security and egalitarian rhetoric on fairness might well have drawn in elements of Ukip’s base.
Batten’s decision to move the party further right and into the online right, including by bringing in the likes of Carl Benjamin – known on YouTube as Sargon of Akkad, and friend of the podcast – made sense in this light, but made Ukip more toxic. Even Farage, hardly averse to unsettling the progs, could no longer stomach it.
One suspects that Farage had already sensed an opening at this point, given the formation of the Brexit Party around the same time. “This was Catherine’s idea entirely – but she has done this with my full knowledge and my full support,” he said in January, referring to Catherine Blaiklock, a former Kipper who set up the Brexit Party, registering it at Companies House in November. Given what’s happened since, I suspect the idea was more his than he claimed.
Farage gathered a wide base of MEP candidates with different reasons for voting leave, some of whom would have been uncomfortable serving under Ukip, and the party was widely if begrudgingly praised for its campaigning in the European parliamentary elections. This left Ukip with 3.3% of the vote, and no seats.
So what future for Ukip? Benjamin is urging people to join the party despite their electoral drubbing, so they can vote for the next leader who will eagerly take “the fight to the radical left”. “The communists are multiplying – they’re not receding,” he said on YouTube. “The Islamists are multiplying – they are not receding. We need to have a voice in politics and so we can’t go away.”
I doubt that the public shares Benjamin’s fears about rising communism, though political correctness and Islam are unpopular enough. But even if Ukip and the public were perfectly aligned in their views, the party’s inability to hold office and choose a compelling leader are serious enough problems that it is safer to wager Alan Sked’s party is done.
Image based on Gerard Batten, September 2017 by Derek Bennett