(22/02/18) By our branch blogger, Little Englander
I was there. At the EGM. An historic occasion when we, UKIP, voted to be rid of our turbulent priest, Henry Bolton OBE. Don't forget the OBE. But it wasn't that easy. Until the vote, the sentiment in the ICC in Birmingham was that it was close. As it was, over 37% of the members attending voted to retain Bolton - which given the case against him was an astonishing share of the 1,500 or so members who had made the effort to come to the city from all over the UK.
There's no need to re-visit how we got to this situation - the tawdry story has been played out in the media since Christmas, and indeed continues to be played out
. But I think it's important that Kippers realise how important the EGM decision was.
For me, it was the day we got our future back. It was clear to the 63% at least, what would happen to UKIP under the continued stewardship of Bolton. A new constitution would have been foisted on us which would have destroyed our very essence as a party. Steve Crowther had previously eloquently reviewed
Bolton's draft. Views not in line with that of the party leader would not have been tolerated. Activity ‘liable to undermine the cohesion and unity of the Party’ would become a disciplinary offence. The leader, rather than the NEC, would have been in full charge of the organisation of the party and its structures. And so on. As Gerard Batten said in advance, UKIP would not survive if this North Korean-style constitution was adopted.
The EGM was very well organised by the outgoing chairman, Paul Oakden and his team. Each 'side' was allowed three official speakers and six random members had been selected to speak for 2 minutes, to give the grassroots a 'say'. But during the debate, at least until the end, the outcome was not certain. As many people stood up and clapped after Henry Bolton had spoken for his first of two times, as did for Steve Crowther who gave an excellent speech summarising why Bolton had to go. Bolton came out fighting, attacking the NEC, knowing that there is historical dissatisfaction with it within the party's grassroots. Paul Oakley, the Party General Secretary, didn't speak particularly well as the second speaker against Bolton. But he did reveal that Bolton had threatened legal action and an injunction to prevent the EGM if the NEC didn't suspend an unnamed member by 4pm on Friday 16th February (this was actually Ben Walker).
I don't recall the person who seconded Bolton, and the three grassroots members from each side who spoke provided some light entertainment, proving the chairman totally correct in his decision to ban the media and ALL filming. Yes, there were at least two 'swivel-eyed loons' on the stage.
The closing speech for the NEC was made by Paula Walters. It wasn't very impressive as her delivery was poor, leading me to worry that Bolton might just swing it with a rousing second address. However, in his closing speech Bolton came out in too uncompromising a manner and, amazingly, threatened the party with legal action again. Towards the end, the room, which had hitherto obeyed the chair's law laid down to not be disruptive under pain of ejection, got a little vociferous. As a result, Bolton was allowed to repeat his last two sentences after the chair calmed the room down. It put him on the back foot.
By the end then, I thought we might just swing it. And we did by a 3:1 margin. I think those undecided before the meeting (and I was sitting next to one) were probably swung by the realisation that Bolton's leadership style is autocratic and they didn't like his arrogance and hubris. To resort to actual and threatened legal action is not the way any party leader should behave.
In another room immediately after, Batten was hastily appointed Interim Chair by the NEC and then spoke to the members in the main hall. Relief all round. I had argued for Batten to be appointed in advance of the EGM. His view on Islam matches many in the party, he's a confident and impressive media performer and has got gravitas. His 12 point Way Forward for UKIP
plan is good and shows that he knows where he wants to take the party. Perhaps as importantly, he was a founder member of UKIP. Where has he been all this time? I guess under Nigel Farage's shadow, of which there was nothing to be seen at the ICC, thankfully. Nigel has been a great leader of the party but it is time to look forwards and not back.
So that's how UKIP got its future back, folks. Of course, we do need to reform the NEC but sensibly and by consultation, not by diktat. The media coverage since has tried to focus on Batten's 'death cult' comments but he has successfully argued his case and they haven't laid a glove on him. I do hope that he stands for leader in the forthcoming leadership election which must be held within 90 days. Forwards!