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Are the Kippers floundering, or will their racist party survive?

This article is over 5 years, 6 months old
Leading figures are leaving Ukip over its links with Nazis. But the racist party can’t be written off yet, argues Sadie Robinson
Issue 2634
Batten down the hatches?
Batten down the hatches? (Pic: Flickr/Derek Bennett)

Will Ukip collapse after the departure of former leader Nigel Farage? Isabel Oakeshott, right wing journalist and author of The Bad Boys of Brexit, tweeted, “I think Ukip can now be declared dead.”

Farage left last week after Ukip leader Gerard Batten appointed Nazi Tommy Robinson as his “adviser” last month. Batten has embraced the far right since taking over as leader in February.

Farage said, “The party of elections is becoming a party of street activism, with our members urged to attend marches rather than taking the fight to the ballot box.

“Mr Batten’s obsession with Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (to use Tommy Robinson’s real name) and fixation with Islam makes Ukip unrecognisable to many of us.”

Farage, now a media celebrity, may fear that being associated with Robinson will harm his reputation. But there is also a longstanding argument about what strategy can help Ukip grow.

So far former Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, David Coburn, its leader in Scotland, and MEPs Nathan Gill, William Dartmouth, Bill Etheridge and Patrick O’Flynn have all resigned over Batten’s links with Robinson.

Former deputy chair Suzanne Evans also resigned, saying Ukip was becoming a “successor to the BNP”.

None of this means that Ukip wasn’t racist before Batten took over. And Farage hasn’t always objected to hanging out with Nazis.

In 1999 the Times published a photograph of Farage meeting with British National Party members Mark Deavin and convicted bomb maker Tony Lecomber in 1997.

But in recent years Ukip has not openly organised with fascists in Britain. It has focused on Europe and immigration, not Islam. It prioritised elections, not street protests.

This model worked. In 2015 Ukip came third in the general election with 12.6 percent of the vote. Some 3.8 million people voted for it.

The vote to leave the European Union in 2016 plunged it into crisis as it was left looking for a purpose.

In the 2017 general election, Ukip won just 1.8 percent of the vote.

Farage’s departure will lead to more Ukip members leaving the party, risking further destabilisation. The party also has financial problems.


But there’s also a danger that Ukip could be reinvigorated.

In July nearly 3,200 new members joined the party—a 15 percent rise. It was the first time membership had risen since 2015. Ukip’s poll ratings also rose from 2 to 5 percent.

The gains followed Batten’s appearances at far right protests and a Tory crisis over Brexit.

Ukip was formed by Tories who wanted to pressure the government to oppose Europe.

Its crisis has seen supporters swing back to the Tories—but Theresa May’s disastrous handling of Brexit could see more move back.

Mike Hookem, Ukip MEP for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, celebrated Farage’s departure as an opportunity.

“Ukip is now free of the shackles of the past and can build for the future,” he said.

As mainstream politicians ramp up Islamophobia, parties based on attacking Muslims can prosper. Far right parties, such as the AfD in Germany, are making gains across Europe and beyond.

The bosses’ Financial Times newspaper said Batten’s association with Robinson puts the party “beyond the pale”.

But it added, “Ukip might only be at 6 percent in opinion polls, but in the Midlands and north of England it is polling higher than the Liberal Democrats.”

Ukip is at a crossroads. Its national executive committee voted overwhelmingly against a no confidence motion in Batten this month. Yet a party statement also said it “does not endorse the appointment of Tommy Robinson”.

One member said Ukip could become “two parties in one”—those who back Batten and those who focus on Brexit.

Ukip is unstable and in crisis. But it may not be finished.

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