Further into farce
How much longer can Ukip limp on, wonders Paul Demarty?
So farewell then, Henry Bolton, the latest individual to be cursed with the job of steering the UK Independence Party down the gentle slope of terminal decline.
The ostensible reason for his downfall is the negative publicity surrounding his relationship with Jo Marney - a model who it turned out was possessed of a number of racist opinions. The one which has caused the most hoo-ha is her belief that Meghan Markle will pollute the royal bloodline, although one look at the cretinous, gurning visages of the extant Saxe-Cobourgs ought to encourage the opinion that a little ‘pollution’ might do future generations the world of good.
Bolton clung on for as long as he possibly could: having suffered a unanimous vote of no confidence from the Ukip executive - except his own vote, of course - he insisted on staying on, on the grounds that holding yet another leadership election risks bankrupting the party. A recent court decision has made things worse: after it was found that MEP Jane Collins had defamed three Labour MPs, the court ordered Ukip to pay £200,000 of the costs. There are no more full-timers. It is just possible that Bolton is right about a potential bankruptcy.
For the time being, anyway, he is replaced by acting leader Gerard Batten, who stands by the view that Islam is a “death cult” and that Muslims should be required to sign a statement disowning his least favourite bits of the Quran. This is to be contrasted with a good British religion like Christianity, which venerates the tortured corpse of a first-century Judaean dissident by symbolically eating his flesh and drinking his blood; reads from a book that begins with 300 pages of Bronze Age civilisations being put under Yahweh’s “curse of destruction”, usually to their great misfortune; and ends with John the Evangelist eagerly looking forward to the extermination of a third of the world’s population at the End of Days. Frankly, were Batten’s standards for Britishness in religion applied rigorously across the board, then we would be left basically with the Sermon on the Mount and the few scraps of Buddhism that look good printed onto the packaging of scented candles.
What comes next is anyone’s guess, barring the racing certainty that whoever replaces Bolton full time will not last long in the job either. He is the fourth leader to have governed this increasingly strained organisation in the last 18 months. The post-referendum era has demanded of Ukip an answer to the question, ‘What’s next?’; but from the moment Nigel Farage’s anointed successor, Steven Woolfe, farcically failed to submit his nomination in time for the contest to replace the great grinning one, the question has increasingly become ‘whatever next?’ First there was Diane James, who was elected leader in September 2016, but went sour on the idea almost immediately: she resigned before taking up the post and left the party before the year was out. Nigel was back in until stalwart deputy Paul Nuttall stepped up to have a go; he lasted until last June’s disastrous electoral showing.
Bolton was elected over more rightwing candidates - two of whom have since split to form their own groupuscules. Anne Marie Waters, the second-placed candidate, is a fanatical counter-jihadist who helped set up a British branch of the German group, Pegida, and has now set up a similarly-inclined organisation called For Britain. Likewise, John Rees-Evans, who came fourth (and once raised eyebrows by claiming that his horse had been raped by a “homosexual donkey”), has bubbled up again as leader of the Democrats and Veterans party, which has as its logo ... a flag-waving donkey. As Kipper favourite Richard Littlejohn likes to say, you couldn’t make it up.
On the other, more ‘liberal’, Faragist wing of Ukip, things are hardly rosier. MEPs are dropping like flies, finally coming to terms with the end of their gluttonous sinecures - or, if they are to continue, at least to the reality that they will have to find another party list to stand on. Half the Ukip group on Thanet council (the only one it ever controlled) has resigned the whip, forming an ‘independent’ bloc. Many are the statements of these ‘moderates’ decrying the increasingly far-rightist outlook of the Ukip faithful - Jonathan Arnott, a long-standing Faragist, left with the complaint that Ukip “has, over the last year, significantly shifted its position on cultural and religious issues”. This “placed it at considerable variance” with his own views.
The dilemma is exactly here. Ukip got to the point of its extraordinary triumph - the vote for Brexit - by constantly needling at the point where reactionary anxiety about immigration met the widespread hatred of the European Union. It is a balancing act - it meant, as Farage often did, clamping down on people where their reaction strayed publicly out of that narrow range, as (to pick merely one example) the then Ukip councillor David Silvester did when he blamed the flooding of early 2014 on the Cameron government’s legalisation of gay marriage.
But for the grace of Mogg
But now Ukip has won on the issue that gave it its name. It got its referendum, it won its referendum. Now it is divided between, as it were, its Eurosceptic and Eurocentric wings: the former wants to keep fire aimed at the EU and its friends, while the latter proposes in effect to do what Anne Marie Waters has been doing, and become a more ‘typical’ Islam-obsessed, scaremongering, far-right outfit of a sort popping up from one end of Europe to the other (Pegida, Geert Wilders, Le Pen, and whoever else you like).
The appeal of switching focus should be obvious, but we should also stress that, as it happens, there are tempting reasons for Ukip to continue to focus on the EU: it seems that winning a referendum is not enough to actually get what you want, and ‘simple’ questions are never quite what they look. As soon as Theresa May agreed on the Irish border, divorce bill and the rest, it was clear that the government in its current form - in spite of all its divisions - is not prepared to walk away without a deal. The government may yet, of course, collapse; and that, in this view, is Ukip’s job.
The trouble with the Eurosceptic approach is that it is all too well served within the Tory Party. Why advocate a heroically stupid, hard Brexit outside its ranks, when Jacob Rees-Mogg is cock of the walk within? And the trouble with the counter-jihadist, conspiratorial alternative is that there is no particular reason for Ukip to succeed with it. It is merely one of many far-right organisations to take up the issue; it was well placed to exploit such fears, but now, on the brink of bankruptcy and riddled with the sort of infighting all too familiar from the decline and fall of the British National Party years ago? Not so much.
When some far-rightist, perhaps a Kipper, is caught giving vent to outrageous prejudice, it is common to hear from some establishment worthy or another - almost as if they are reading from a script - that such opinions have no place in a modern, democratic society such as ours. This is obviously foolish - if there is ‘no place’ for such stuff, why is it so reliably present? Why is it currently in charge of the White House, for heaven’s sake? Yet the role of far-right ideology - reconciling the plebeian experience of capitalist society with the latter’s continuing existence, for enough people, enough of the time - does not demand the permanent, stable presence of a separate far-right party. The need is met ad hoc, by wings of ‘mainstream’ conservatism or by separate organisations - populist, fascist, and whatever else - according to the needs of the hour. Ironically for such a self-consciously conservative phenomenon, the only constant is change.
In Ukip’s case, it must surely be concluded that the change in question is from ‘alive’ to ‘dead’.