Well, it was a bit of a shock wasn’t it? Henry Bolton becoming UKIP leader, beating a rag-tag share of extremists and establishment party figures. Arguably the not-so-implicit endorsement of Nigel Farage was what clinched the deal, but looking into the man, he was also the most qualified of the candidates by a long way. Sure, he didn’t have the rabid rhetoric (and supporters) of Anne-Marie Waters or the establishment support of Peter Whittle, but he had credibility. He didn’t need to prove himself to the world, having worked for the UN and served in the Armed forces, unlike the career politicians that were his two perceived main rivals. He is the type of person that I would have expected to have left UKIP months ago, but I am rather glad that he won.
So will this former UKIP member be joining the ranks of the new Bolton-led, lion headed UKIP? No. For one thing I’ve enjoyed being more or less apolitical and have gradually lost interest in any kind of party politics. For another, UKIP is still likely to collapse under the weight of its own Brexit success, no matter how much Theresa May backtracks on this issue. Bolton is nowhere near as charismatic as Farage was, but at least has the benefit of knowing what he’s talking about when it comes to security and international relations. This ought to be his focus as he goes forward into the world of being a party leader. While obviously, Theresa May’s back-tracking on Brexit does give UKIP some room to breathe, they need more of a unique selling point than something people consider to be “job done”.
But we should make no mistakes:UKIP was in dire straights before the leadership contest, and is in dire straights now. Membership is now less than 15,000 and is likely to drop lower as the people who wanted to vote for Anne-Marie Waters for her shrill anti-Muslim policies are already starting to leave. UKIP doesn’t need them, and frankly I will find it highly amusing if and when they start their own party and proceed to join the long list of desperate far-righters that campaign on these issues and fail. But a fall in membership is a fall in membership. Donors are also an issue, now Arron Banks has explicitly backed Bolton there may be some chance of UKIP running a decently funded campaign, however he is just one man. For UKIP, the necessity of seeking other funding sources and donors must be obvious. There is still factional infighting, albeit less than there would have been had other leadership candidates won, and the party is still on less than 2% of the vote.
The chances of UKIP survival have gone from non-existent to small, they’ve avoided the trap of becoming a pure “UK-Nazi Party” under other leadership, but there is still much to do. Many of the leadership candidates such as John Rees Evans or David Kurten are talented and charismatic individuals, and Bolton would do well to include them in his team. He has a genuine chance to detoxify the UKIP brand that the party has never seen before: I for one hope he succeeds.