There is no doubting the success that Arron Banks has had with his Leave.EU organisation. It very nearly secured the official leave campaign designation against an establishment machine with a number of big guns behind it, including Ukip’s only MP Douglas Carswell. The past year has seen his name rise to prominence and his group is now poised, with its massive online presence and following, to become a serious political player. Unfortunately his decision to ‘offer’ himself forward as the Ukip chairman, with the constant threat of withdrawing funding and starting up his own political movement, has put Paul Nuttall in an impossible position.
The result of the Stoke Central by-election was a huge disappointment for Ukip. The city voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union and the Labour candidate, now MP, Gareth Snell, clearly wasn’t on the side of the majority on this issue, referring to Brexit in a tweet as “A pile of sh**”.
Ukip should have won and there are many reasons floating around the Ukipsphere as to why they didn’t. Some say it was a lack of a local candidate, some say it was because of Paul Nuttall’s constant gaffes which harmed his campaign. Both of these have an element of truth, however it is clear to me that the biggest difficulty was Ukip’s failure to attract Conservative voters to lend them their votes to oust Labour.
The Ukip vote collapsed in Copeland as Ukip voters saw that the Conservatives were poised to take the seat and were prepared to lend their votes. The big question of the by-election should be why Ukip found it impossible to attract barely any Conservative votes. The Ukip strategy of targetting Labour voters may well seem plausible, but if the party is merely resigning its traditionally right-wing voters and replacing them with traditionally left-wing voters, the party isn’t really in any better a position.
Currently it will be difficult to attract such a large number of Conservative voters to Ukip because of Theresa May’s current stance on leaving the European Union. She is largely saying the right things and seems to be set on minimising Ukips impact as best she can. That cannot be the whole reason however, and Ukip needs to figure out how to reach out once more to those Conservative voters sympathetic to the Ukip cause.
This event has led Arron Banks, the insurance tycoon and Ukip donor, to ‘offer’ himself forward as Party Chairman to ‘sort the party out’. To be frank, it isn’t an offer, it’s blackmail. Regardless of the pros and cons that having him as chairman would entail, his method is nothing short of appalling. The knowledge that he will be more than prepared to pull his funding and set-up his own movement will be sitting at the front of Paul Nuttall’s mind.
If Paul Nuttall accepts, Ukip will be uniformly condemned as a party that sells-out to big money, and rightly so. Arron Banks would have effectively been allowed to buy influence, big influence, in a party that strives not to be like all the others. It’s a distasteful look and one that Ukip members should consider far more seriously. Should he refuse, Ukip lose a big donor and Arron Banks starts his rival movement, splitting the right-wing vote between three parties and effectively destroying any hope of a serious Westminster breakthrough.
It’s a shame. I have much sympathy with what Arron Banks is talking about doing with Ukip. It is clear that it needs better organisation, ground tactics and a more proffesionalised look and appeal. Arron Banks’ tactics however have seriously undermined his attempt at becoming chairman. I simply don’t see how a political leader who wants to keep control can be so publicly whipped without serious consequences to his leadership, authority and to the wider image of Ukip.