By our branch blogger, 'Cliff Edge'. All blogs are the work of the respective author and do not necessarily represent branch views.
So here we are. Yet another UKIP leadership decision for us members to have to make. We’re beginning to mimic a low-table Premiership club, like Sunderland, which has had about 8 managers since 2013. Since ‘Dear Leader’ Nigel Farage stepped down in 2016, we’ve gone through two leaders and are about to decide the fate of a third. There have been other problems. We’ve had fisticuffs between a pair of our MEPs in Brussels, suffered a haemorrhaging of our membership, and been knocked for six in the local elections in May 2017 (and are facing another drubbing this May). And of course failed again to land an MP in the General Election last year.
We’re a bit of a laughing stock, aren’t we? But friends I argue that it’s not the above that has made us so. For an even bigger spectacle you have only to look at the chaos of the Tory party under our invertebrate Prime Minister, and that of Labour, which has failed to capitalise on Tory divisions, largely in part due to Corbyn’s own incompetence and his party’s own internal battles. What is turning us into a joke party is the continued presence of Henry Bolton as our leader. It is his private life that has been aired as light entertainment by the mainstream broadcast press which is making UKIP look ridiculous.
However, this Saturday at our EGM in Birmingham we have a chance to put this right. My view is that we must dispose of Henry Bolton and get Gerard Batten MEP in as Interim Leader. And here are the reasons why.Bolton’s private life
Many commentators on Henry Bolton have gone out of their way to say that his private life is just that, private. I disagree. I think that what has played out in public has shown him to be unfit to lead us. I get that no one is perfect and believe that politicians are entitled to a private life… to a point. We as a public are prepared to overlook the sexual peccadillos of our politicians. Affairs happen and we mustn’t be ones to throw stones in glass houses. But there are limits. Bolton – on his third
marriage – suddenly leaves his wife, with his second child not yet one year old, at Christmas, for a glamour model over 25 years younger than him who has stated views that are extremely offensive, and yet he has maintained the relationship (despite initially promising to end it thereby misleading us). We have not only have to question his moral compass but also his judgement.
If Mr Bolton had dropped Jo Marney like a hot stone, he would probably not be where he is now. But whether it was the sins of the flesh or some misplaced sense of righteousness, he continues to stand by her and they have been seen out together. Perhaps he thinks because Keith Vaz has been allowed to survive, then so should he. Er, no. We in UKIP have values, even if the Labour party does not. This episode has been tawdry. Week after week we’ve been subjected to Bolton on TV and radio responding pathetically to toe-curling questions about his relationship. His responses have been just as cringing. Be in no doubt, this episode has damaged our party’s reputation.Bolton the man
I think we all agree that any leader must be able to inspire his or her followers. Does Henry Bolton do that for you? I find him boring and dull. Listening to him speak is like hearing the speaking clock on a loop. In fact he comes across as very reserved and seems to put up a façade of gravitas, presumably to make people think that he is a man of substance. I crave a leader that shows passion, vision, empathy and character.
The UK public is not spoilt for political leaders with a human touch at the moment. Theresa May is generally regarded as being emotionally inadequate. She wasn’t called Maybot by the press for nothing during her election campaign. Corbyn is almost as dull but he does have rock-star status. Not so much because he has character, more because he’s been elevated by a groundswell of supporters completely dissatisfied with the old Labour policies put forward by other contenders.
We won’t find another Farage - a man who can transfix a room or audience - but it's not unreasonable to demand our leader to be someone who has the political courage and imagination to dare to say what we think. I don't think Bolton is that person. He is just so uninspiring. And yet he has this arrogance which is so misplaced. Perhaps it’s because he was appointed and served as governor of some Tintin-like region with tens of thousands living under his remit in his past he thinks it qualifies him to be a political leader in the UK. I am afraid it doesn’t. He’s a civil servant, but no politician.
And something that is not mentioned nearly enough is his past as a Liberal Democrat. We in UKIP can relate to previous members of the Labour party joining us. We share many values with the working class such as concern over immigration, national identity and law and order. But the LibDems have policies diametrically opposed to ours in most areas, with the exception of proportional representation. How on earth do you become a Kipper having been a LibDem? It seems to me that Henry Bolton hasn’t had some Damascene conversion of politics. Is he a vain careerist, who has seen an opportunity to lead what is, if we’re honest, a fairly motley crue of patriotic and passionate party officers and supporters? But you can’t lead us if you don’t really believe what we believe, Mr Bolton. Just talking about border control because you specialise in it doesn’t make you one of us.
I met Bolton, briefly, at a leadership hustings. He spoke best but didn’t convince me to vote for him, especially when afterwards I asked him if he would include Anne Marie Waters in his team if he won. He intimated he would talk to her but I was unconvinced and my suspicions were confirmed when after winning he said that UKIP had narrowly avoided becoming the ‘UK Nazi Party’. As a result Waters left to form her own party, For Britain
, taking a number of angry, erstwhile loyal and hard-working UKIP members with her, something we could ill-afford. What Bolton’s critics say
As a UKIP foot-soldier with no dealings in the daily running of the party it’s hard for me to speak with inside knowledge on his performance in terms of leading the party since last year. I can only go by the media coverage and what various party officers who have been working with him are saying – and it’s nearly all negative. In his defence, he hasn’t had long and the media coverage has largely been about his private life. But I think that the NEC’s unanimous vote of no confidence in him is damning. Reading what some of them gave as their reasons for voting as they did, it really seems that they have lost confidence in him as a leader. Liz Jones of the NEC stated that as party leader, Bolton must provide direction and develop policy but has done neither, nor has he found any new donors to the party. NEC member Fiona Mills said that “the reason for the unanimous vote of no confidence (VONC) was not entirely about Henry Bolton's private life. It was also about his mishandling of events, political naivety, negligence in his role, missed opportunities, missed deadlines & political ineptitude.”
Most senior elected party members who were part of Bolton’s frontbench have now resigned, expressing no faith in him or his ability. That is another damning indictment. And Bolton has been slammed by virtually every prominent UKIP politician. It’s clear they view his private affairs as an embarrassing mess but it’s also equally clear that they’ve lost confidence in him. When that happens a leader has to go. But some who have campaigned so hard for UKIP over the years have taken his behaviour in his private life very personally. The open letter to Bolton by Ben Walker
is in my view an excoriating destruction of Bolton. Walker was a contender for the UKIP leadership election that Bolton won and is rightfully bitter. If he had spoken at the hustings I went to as well as he writes I would have voted for him (as it was I voted for Anne Marie Waters, for the record). Walker describes Bolton as “a deeply flawed individual in the throes of a mid-life crisis who refuses to accept any responsibility for his own behaviour.” It’s hard to think otherwise.
Mike Hooken MEP, another ex-serviceman like Walker, who is not afraid to tell it like it is, also wrote a post
demanding that Bolton resign. He says that he had been “begging Mr Bolton to put in place a solid plan for the local elections since he first came to power in October last year; yet here we are, months later, with nothing.” He complains of hundreds of un-responded to phone calls, cancelled meetings and missed promotional opportunities, and members demanding to know what the leader’s position is on Brexit issues.
Stuart Agnew MEP also voted for Anne Marie Waters in the UKIP leadership election. He is also calling for Bolton to go
. His view is that UKIP members voted for Bolton because he “gave the impression of having a stable family life and he had an excellent CV.” He says both are now in question and is still angry that Bolton tried to force the NEC to stop Waters from standing in the election, something that Agnew prevented by threatening legal action. He also accuses Bolton of failing to support him after a meeting of MEPs in Brussels when he failed to support Agnew who was trying to get other MEPs to donate some of their salaries and ring-fence the sum in order to pay Bolton a leader’s salary after he complained he was short of money.
The vacuum in terms of leadership and policy plus Bolton’s private life shambles is clearly a factor in UKIP councillors declaring themselves ‘Independents’ in our key local councils such as Thurrock
. For them the leadership issue has become a ‘distraction’. This open letter
by the UKIP councillor group leader at Havering Council, Lawrence Webb, accuses him of failing to prepare the party for the local elections in May 2018 as well as lacking ‘political acumen’. And in another undermining of Bolton’s position, all three of the UKIP peers in the House of Lords have written to the NEC
saying that they have “lost confidence in Henry Bolton as party leader”. They have suggested that the NEC “resolve to immediately appoint Gerard Batten MEP as Interim Leader in the event that Henry Bolton loses the vote at the EGM.”
In a further display of lack of political nous, it has been revealed by UKIP’s Treasurer
, John Bickley, that Bolton told the media that the party is losing £20-30,000 a month. Bickley says that not only is this inaccurate but that it has caused damage as it has meant that it discourages members from renewing and making donations. He continues that “unsurprisingly, some suppliers are now looking for early payment or asking for payment in advance.”Bolton’s capacity for the truth
Bolton has come under attack for making claims about his career that are false. In fairness, his rebuttal of the claims
is strong. He’s done well in his jobs in the army, the police and later as a civilian administrator working for bodies such as the EU and the UN in places like Kosovo and Afghanistan.
However, Channel 4 News found factual errors on his LinkedIn page where he claimed to have a BA gained at Sandhurst (which doesn't award BAs), and clarified that the BA he still claims from City & Guilds (which also doesn't award BAs) is really an NVQ Level 6. He has since removed the Sandhurst claim. These small ‘errors’ can be ignored in the face of the bigger issues, but it was unnecessary negative publicity for him and the party that could have been avoided.
For me, it is Bolton’s more recent claim that his marriage was over in July last year and yet during the leadership campaign he was willing to give the impression of being happily-married. Is this a man of integrity?Bolton’s plans for the party
Bolton’s activity since becoming leader has included increasing fees for young members from £2 to £20, which brought him condemnation from the Deputy Chairman of UKIP’s youth wing
, and a ‘Meet the Leader’ tour of the UK. A friend of mine went to one such event for Kippers in Great Yarmouth and was impressed by his performance. But his flagship act has been his stated plan to re-organise the party, saying that “our Party is not fit for purpose - it's reform or die”. He reacted to the NEC voting no confidence in him by saying that UKIP now needs to ‘drain the swamp’. He accuses the NEC of negligence in its management of the party and has written a draft new constitution, and announced a new ‘digital strategy’ which he says will give the party “the basic digital assets required of modern political parties for robust internal organisation and communication, and effective outbound digital campaigning.” Members have seen the first efforts of this digital strategy in the form of recent emails to members by the outgoing party chair, Paul Oakden, and Bolton himself who announced his plans for party reform and the new constitution
as well as asking for our support at the forthcoming EGM. A new website is also promised and this is welcome.
But it is the proposed new constitution which members must scrutinise. Yesterday the NEC responded to Bolton’s constitutional reform plans via a response by Steve Crowther
, NEC member and former chair of the party. He says that he finds the proposed reform quite “chilling”. Pointing out that this draft has not been discussed with or presented to the NEC, he continues, “as expected, it seeks to remove power from the NEC and give full control of the party to Mr Bolton and a Board of his appointees.” He argues that this constitution, if adopted, would give unprecedented powers to the leader (Bolton) and would “allow the Party Leader to exercise an iron discipline over anyone who dissents”. It’s a very worrying proposal and I’d urge anyone to read the NEC’s response to it.
On his personal website, Bolton says that the NEC has ‘complete control of the party and no direct responsibility for the outcomes of their decisions. The leader, on the other hand has no direct authority and is fully responsible for the party’s fortunes.’ In this he is right and Crowther admits that, “the NEC is imperfect, and in need of reform. It is, however, the only means by which ordinary members exercise control over the party, and its Leader.” My view is that the NEC powers do need to be revisited but I think it is safe to say that we members risk losing all control of our party if Bolton wins the VONC and introduces this constitution. You might wish to read this post by Elizabeth Jones
which gives a good background to the circumstances which have led to this EGM and how the NEC has been a bulwark against the leadership exercising undue political powers such as patronage. She ends saying that, “the NEC gives the grassroots a stake in the party and it is this stake that Bolton wants removed to allow the peddling of influence and favours.”Bolton’s support
Henry Bolton is not without support but you have to visit his own website to find it. On the page Overdue Reform
, Nigel Farage, Diane James and Patrick O’Flynn are quoted expressing support for his battle for reform, but I don't view this as giving Bolton unqualified support. We in UKIP admire Farage the man and wonder at his achievements but we can see that in his support for Bolton he is fighting his old battles that he had with the NEC and party hierarchy. And Nigel has past form in backing horses that have not performed, or even finished the race. He has many strengths, but judge of character is not his greatest. He endorsed both Diane James MEP and Paul Nuttall MEP. James was a joke who left the party after only 18 days as leader so is hardly a good referee for Bolton. O’Flynn’s logic is that yet another leadership election would destroy UKIP and has “a right to a private life and I do not want to see inveterate plotters from one particular faction inside the party rewarded for their deviousness with his scalp.” Again, this isn’t an expression of full confidence, rather that Bolton is the lesser of two evils. UKIP at a crossroads - again
This Saturday, at the EGM in Birmingham, we members are at crossroads again. But really this time a lot more is a stake. We are not just deciding on Henry Bolton’s future as leader but also the direction and future of our party. If Bolton wins, I suggest that the party will suffer a massive loss of members, many of whom are revolted by his personal antics and dismayed at his leadership of the party so far. He is a dullard on an ego trip, is not a true ‘Kipper’, lacks judgement and political leadership skills, and his new constitution would destroy the special nature of our party and bequeath unprecedented powers on the leader.
There is a saying that, ‘if you lie down with a dog, you get up with fleas’. Well UKIP has laid down with Bolton and we’ve got a bad case of fleas. It’s time to get rid of the fleas. At the EGM, I will be voting to remove Bolton as leader and I hope that the NEC follows our peers’ advice and appoint Gerard Batten MEP as Interim Leader. We don’t have the stomach or finance for another leadership campaign and this would give Batten a chance to show if he is a suitable permanent leader. From what I have seen and heard of him, he is a man of principle and a good media performer. He was also a founding member of UKIP in 1993. In a small leaflet he has proposed a Way Forward for UKIP
under his Interim Leadership that makes complete sense to me. It would provide a period of stability for the party, something we have not had for a year and a half. See you in Birmingham!