The removal of Godfrey Bloom’s whip this week, in the wake of his comments to the annual conference, reminds me that the role of MEPs in UKIP has long been an unhappy one.
In the party’s earlier days, it was the MEPs who held a lot of the financial and human resources, to the point that they constituted a second pole to the official party hierarchy. While this gap has been closed to a considerable degree, the kudos attached to being an MEP still counts for much (ironically).
At the same time, each of the three cohorts of UKIP MEPs since 1999 has also been a source of trouble. The archetype here is Kilroy-Silk – he of the tan and the failed bid for power – although Ashley Mote is probably more typical.
With all this in mind, it might be helpful to survey the 2009 cohort and their various fates, especially since the lists for 2014 are about to be published. So here they are, in no particular order.
- Paul Nuttall (North West) is now Deputy Leader of the party and is probably the next most consistently visible member of the party after Farage.
- Godfrey Bloom (Yorkshire & Humber) has already been mentioned, losing/withdrawing from the whip this week. It’s worth noting that this is only in place until the elections, so what future he can have in the party remains unclear.
- Derek Clark (East Midlands) is still in position.
- Mike Nattrass (West Midlands) left UKIP in September 2013, following his deselection for 2014: he currently sits as an NI.
- Nikki Sinclaire (West Midlands) left UKIP in January 2010, because of the composition of the EFD group, successfully taking UKIP to a tribunal. She set up her own party – We Demand a Referendum party – in 2012.
- David Campbell Bannerman (East) challenged Farage for the party leadership in 2010, lost, and then went back to the Tories in May 2011, the party he had originally left in 2004
- John Stuart Agnew (East) is still in position.
- Gerard Batten (London), like Campbell Bannerman, also contested the 2010 leadership election, but has focused on his role as energy spokesman.
- Nigel Farage (South East) is Nigel Farage.
- Marta Andreasen (South East) had been one of the most active UKIP MEPs in the Parliament. However, she left UKIP in February 2013, following a series of run-ins with Farage and others. She currently sits with the Tories in the ECR group.
- Trevor Colman (South West) left the EFD group to become an NI in March 2011 over financial issues, while keeping the party whip.
- William, Earl of Dartmouth (South West) is still in position.
- John Bufton (Wales) is still in position, although will stand down next year.
We should also note that the traffic hasn’t all been one way. Roger Helmer (East Midlands) defected from the Conservatives in March 2012.
In summary, 6 of the original 13 no longer sit with UKIP in the EFD group, including all (i.e. both) the women.
What conclusions we might draw from this are hard to say. All parties have seen changes in their composition during the 2009-14 cycle, but none to the extent of UKIP. Some of the individual cases were relatively predictable, but others have blown up out of nowhere, although it is interesting that Bloom is probably the first case where the party has been publicly pressured into removing the whip, possibly a reflection of its increased interest to the media.
However, the main lesson that I take from it is the one that I have returned to on several occasions, namely the relatively thin organisational structure and resource base, which pushes individuals of limited experience into senior posts, while simultaneously not providing for strong management to keep them on track. This is the case despite Farage’s growing reputation as a controlling leader; even his personality cannot keep a party together, especially when it is undergoing a phase of rapid expansion.
The proof in the pudding is likely to come in the next year. Once the candidate list is produced, it will be interesting to see how it is received, especially since the leadership has decided it will ‘review’ the voting of the membership of that list. Likewise, once the new cohort begins, will it be able to work together to coalesce a new EP grouping that is acceptable to both its MEPs and its desire to raise its profile?
Whatever happens, it will doubtless provide much to discuss.
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