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Ukip: a gift that keeps on giving [to Nigel]

2014-12-03 22:43:27

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A writer claiming to be Peter Evans, a former UK news editor of The Times, writes in the comments section of the latest story on Ukip, complaining of the paper's campaign to undermine Ukip in a way which it does not do to the Tory Party.

Whether he is genuine we have no means of knowing, although he does not seem to have a web footprint. And it seems hardly likely that a man of the stature of a former news editor would be reduced to making his views known in the comments section of his erstwhile employer.

The piece is of note, however, in that it represents a split between those who applaud The Times for opening up Ukip to scrutiny and those who complain that it is being criticised. Of the latter, many certainly do tend to harbour the view that the party should get a free pass from the media, no matter how crass its behaviour.

Nevertheless, it should not be necessary to say that political parties should undergo the most rigorous of scrutiny, and that must include Ukip. It is in receipt of substantial funds from the taxpayer – it is in a position to affect the outcome of the general election, and it is upon this party that many rest their hopes of leaving the EU.

This blog, of course, has a special interest in Ukip – aside from the personal. Whatever its many detractors might aver, it would be absurd for a blog of this nature not to take a keen interest in a party which claims as its main objective our withdrawal from the EU.

So it is that for the second day running that The Times is running hostile coverage of Ukip, and we find ourselves mirroring that coverage.

The essence of the first of two stories is that, despite its high profile and the support of some wealthy donors, the party is "very, very short of money" and has failed to build up a war chest for the general election. Yet, we are told, it has still granted Nigel Farage a £60,000 annual chauffeur allowance.

It might also have added that this matches the annual chauffeur allowance awarded to Farage by the European Parliament, in recognition of his position as group leader, complete with a top-of-the-range Mercedes limousine, for his personal use. Man of the people, Farage may present himself as, but he has no intention of being one of them.

This story also gets some coverage in the Financial Times, which also notes that Ukip also pays for a six-man security detail to protect The Great Leader, despite the party having received less than £100,000 in donations for the third quarter of this year.

Such matters, of course, pale into insignificance compared with the news that departing Council President Van Rompuy is to be paid £133,723 a year - 55 per cent of his basic salary - until December 2017, on top of his annual Brussels pension of £52,000, plus a £21,000 one-off payment, taking his earnings to £578,000 over the next three years.

Nonetheless, like most human beings, we are able to process details on more than one issue at a time. That one is important doesn't mean that the other isn't.

The detail of the Ukip stories indicate that the party is having a far harder time building the funds needed to fight an effective general election campaign, for which it estimates it needs six or seven million. But of as great an interest is the second story in The Times, headed "Inside Nigel's house of cards".

This starts with the legend that "Nigel Farage is trying to create a professional party from a ragtag group more accustomed to setting the world to rights over pints of real ale", thereby demonstrating that, for all resource expenditure on tracking Ukip and Mr Farage, it doesn't even begin to understand the subject on which it is reporting.

At the heart of the party's failure to professionalise is, in fact, none other than Mr Farage, the Lord of Misrule. He personally has gone out of his way to undermine any part of the party that could constitute an alternative power base, which might provide a platform to challenge his grip on the party.

That, in the past, has included the party's head office. Thus, it comes as no surprise to learn from the Times's story that after Ukip had moved into a new Mayfair office, a Ukip "director" had drafted a less than favourable report on it, writing of being "embarrassed" at "the lack of cleanliness, silliness and lack of organisation and lack of people in offices".

This came a few days after another attempt to professionalise the party had ended in disaster, when Will Gilpin, a former RAF pilot, had begun work in the £72,000-a-year post of chief executive in December 2012 but had been sacked in August 2013.

He subsequently wrote to one member of the executive: "I'm afraid I came to the role in the belief it was actually a chief executive they were after, rather than chairman's assistant", exactly mirroring my experience when, after leaving, I complained of being treated as a "bag carrier". Neither Farage nor the party have any idea of how to use professional staff.

But then of special interest is the tale of Tim Aker, a "political campaigner and former researcher", who was put forward for the £62,000 post of head of policy. William Dartmouth, a Ukip MEP and wind farms supporter, apparently wrote to members of the NEC complaining that Mr Aker was being offered as the sole candidate, despite having been "directly concerned [with] and therefore partly responsible for the embarrassment of the 2010 Ukip general election manifesto".

That Aker survived and has gone on to become an MEP is seen as entirely due to the personal support of Mr Farage, even though he has disowned the 2010 manifesto as "drivel" and claimed he had never read it.

Dartmouth had dismissed the manifesto as "electorally toxic" and avers that Mr Aker's involvement with it should be a "total disqualification" for the post of head of policy. That, though, is to misunderstand the way Mr Farage thinks.

When Andrew Moncreiff, a member of Ukip's national executive committee, wrote that Mr Aker was "harmless enough but thoroughly lightweight and has done virtually nothing for the party", he was perhaps unwittingly setting out the perfect qualification for someone occupying high office in Ukip – thereby ensuring that they will never mount an effective challenge to The Great Leader.

This, of course, is what the supporters of the cult-like Ukip are wilfully failing to see. Ukip is a multi-million-pound operation, with several hundred staff – paid and volunteers – yet it consistently underperforms.

At the heart of its failure is one man, a charismatic figure who can attract the support of weak people looking for leadership, but is unable to organise or deliver an effective party machine and who devotes much of his energy to preventing anyone else achieving that which he cannot do.

As to the possibility of rescuing the party from the grip of this man, many hopes are pinned on Douglas Carswell. Popcorn has been purchased in industrial quantities in anticipation of the coming joust between two "titans" as they struggle for the leadership of the party.

It seems likely that, if Carswell regains his seat at the general election while Farage fails to score – which also seems likely – then the MP will be in pole position to displace the current leader. Small wonder, therefore, that we are already hearing rumours that relations between the two men are "frosty", with communications having completely broken down.

Despite having gone full Ukip, Carswell does at least have some pretensions to intellectual rigour, with the publication of The Plan. He also worked for the Conservative Party's Policy Unit, helping prepare the manifesto for the 2005 general election – which the Conservative Party failed to win.

However, Mr Carswell's work has less coherence than his skill at self-promotion might suggest, and his current idea for an EU exit plan remains seeking "a Swiss-style bilateral free-trade agreement".

Those hoping that Mr Carswell might provide us with an intellectually invigorated Ukip, therefore, might be disappointed, although it comes clearer by the day that Farage's failure to embrace policy is causing the party considerable damage. Something, as the say, must be done – but it is unlikely to happen before the general election.