It’s not often I agree with Nigel Farage but his assessment of UKIP’s drift under Gerard Batten is more-or-less spot on. Batten has made the critical mistake of confusing social media with political reality, an error perfectly encapsulated by his attempts to bring Tommy Robinson on board. See, amidst the current political crisis, UKIP could have made history yet again. Instead, it’s fading into irrelevance.
Only once in its history has the Conservative Party split, and it was back in the 1840s. If anything can succeed in making that happen again though, it’s Europe. It’s the spectre that has haunted the Tories constantly in recent history. Ted Heath struggled through a hostile party in 1972 to win by a narrow margin, creating further tensions in his party. These bubbled over again in 1993 when John Major narrowly lost a vote on the Maastricht Treaty and had to rerun it as a confidence vote. The only way for Major to command the loyalty of his party over Europe was to make them choose between it and a general election.
As we saw in last night’s no-confidence vote, the Tories’ Europe problem continues to rear its ugly head. They are currently balancing a leader that they don’t really want with an infinitesimal majority leaves them as likely to split as they ever could be. One of the biggest barriers to a split, though, is that Brexiteer Tory MPs have nowhere to go. They know how difficult it is to win a seat as an independent so without a viable alternative, they’ll simply hold their nose.
This is the space that UKIP could have occupied. Indeed, at one point they did. I’m sure we all remember the summer of 2014 when Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless both defected from the Tories to join UKIP. Last night as Jacob Rees-Mogg told every journalist he could find he thought Theresa May needed to step down, UKIP could have picked up some disgruntled Tories and recapture some of the momentum that they used to have. This would be particularly devastating in light of May’s Remainer credentials. Better yet, the enormous People’s Vote campaign would be only too happy to help UKIP shift the terms of the public debate back to the EU instead of the domestic direction Corbyn has dragged it in.
Unfortunately for UKIP, Gerard Batten is an idiot with the political nous of an adolescent. It’s easy enough to understand his thinking. He has seen the popularity of Tommy Robinson on social media, remaining unaware much of it is American and decided that he can appropriate it for UKIP. Either that or its an admiration for Robinson’s role as a kind of public figure.
Regardless, the end result remains the same. He has toxified the UKIP brand and now its bosses are quitting in spates, as has Nigel Farage. One has even criticised its ‘nazi direction’. London Assembly members have even formed their own splinter group, the Brexit Alliance. Batten could have seen UKIP make history again if it had remained as the spiritual party of Rees-Mogg by splitting the Tories. Instead, he’s only managed to split his own party. Well done, Batten.
Main Image Credit: Associated Press