Existential Crisis of UKIP Just Tip of the Iceberg: Why Minor Parties Will Never Make It in Britain
by Evgenia Filimianova
Video: Youtube/VOTE Ukip
Rocked by the latest in the series of leadership crises, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) is facing a rather gloomy forecast of its political future. Their major aspiration - leaving the European Union - has been granted and it appears there is no item on UKIP's agenda that could fill the void and rally its members as efficiently as the party's former leader Nigel Farage had done in the past.

However, the recent troubles of one of the UK's right are just the tip of the iceberg. The deeper layers of the UK political system's weaknesses and democratic flaws become more apparent as one dives deeper into its muddy waters.

Fresh Snowfall on the Tip
The latest scandal that engulfed UKIP has been triggered by a 25-year-old Jo Marney who made controversial remarks on social media about Prince Harry's fiance Meghan Markle. At that time Marney also happened to be the girlfriend of the current UKIP leader Henry Bolton.

Bolton refused calls for resignation and split up with Marney. But that damage was done and it opened UKIP up to internal and external scrutiny over its leadership mess, organizational issues and structural dilemmas.
Newly elected leader of the UK Independence Party, Henry Bolton greets delegates on the first day of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) National Conference in Torquay, south-west England. AFP, Ben Stansall
David Coburn, a UKIP MEP, has called for the party's National Executive Committee (NEC) to be reformed. Currently, the NEC does not have the power to terminate Mr. Bolton's leadership - such action requires a vote of the wider party. However, the problem, according to Mr. Coburn, has much deeper and more entangled roots. The method of choosing the NEC members should be changed and candidates should be allowed to stand for the NEC only if they have been a chairman of a branch or a region with their financial situation and everything else checked out, he said.
"Essentially people were elected to the NEC on the basis of a hundred words and the picture that was taken when they left the navy in World War II. No one checks on these people – their background. They are lying through their teeth. That's lack of professionalism. The party shouldn't be run by amateurs. It is a stupid way to run a party. There are problems. A lot of is down to the fact that we are a very young and democratic party. We have to become professional to get our message across. We need to ensure that people are properly vetted for before they stand for office. Otherwise it is just a farce," David Coburn told Sputnik.
He suggested the one of the former UKIP heads, Diane James, didn't take on the leadership because she felt the party was not manageable.

Diane James has stepped down as UKIP leader in October 2016 - after just 18 days in the job, citing 'insufficient authority' and the lack of support from the party members. Before James, there were others. The most recent list of short-lived UKIP bosses includes: Nigel Farage (who never really leaves the party's side for too long), Paul Nuttall (who vowed to put the 'Great' back into Britain" and whom Farage called "The right man at the right time" but who had to step down after UKIP failed to win any seats in the 2017 UK general election) and Steve Crowther (who acted as the interim UKIP chief, awaiting a more permanent replacement).
Diane James speaks with journalists at the UKIP Party office in Eastleigh, southern England. AFP, Adrian Dennis
Paul Nuttall attends a policy launch in London, May 8, 2017. Reuters, Neil Hall
Nigel Farage at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, October 26, 2016. Reuters, Vincent Kessler
Commenting on the fast circulation of UKIP leaders, Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham Steven Fielding, pointed to the charisma of Nigel Farage and lack of appropriate candidates for answers to UKIP's leadership 'curse.'
"Nigel Farage was the personification of UKIP and while he was in charge they could get away with almost anything because he could deal with media. When you are a new party – there's a very limited pool of candidates for leadership positions. It is a party with very little established structures. It is a party full of eccentrics. 'Idiosyncratic' is the polite way of putting it. This is why they are where they are," Professor Fielding told Sputnik.
Photo: Nigel Farage reacts as he addresses delegates during his keynote speech to the UKIP National Conference on September 25, 2015. AFP, Oli Scarff
A slightly different explanation is offered by David Coburn MEP, who agrees there are problems but believes that "a lot of is down to the fact that we are a very young and democratic party, too democratic – some would say."

The resolution the 'Henry Bolton impasse' is set to be achieved at the party's extraordinary general meeting (EGM), with his fate in the hands of 24,000 party members.

Commenting on the leadership struggle in a recent interview, Nigel Farage didn't sugarcoat it.

"This EGM and the run up to it is the opportunity for particularly the former leaders to say to the members of the party: 'You know this thing is now an amateur shambles.' It doesn't work at virtually any level. This is the chance to put fundamental reform in place. To get a party where a leader can actually lead because I think in their hearts UKIP members know it is true. Simply – it is reform or die."
The Tip: Loss of Purpose
As described in its constitution one of UKIP's policies is: "The United Kingdom shall cease to be a member of the European Union."

That key target has been achieved following the referendum on EU membership, when to the immense joy of UKIP supporters, Britain voted to leave the bloc on June 23, 2016.
Photo: ukip.org
"Its job is done. It's got the departure from Europe on its agenda and it doesn't have any other common purpose to hold it together. I don't see them revive, they've got nothing else to fight for," former Labour MP, writer and broadcaster Austin Mitchell told Sputnik.

A Leave campaigner holds placards as she waits for the arrival of UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage in Clacton-on-Sea, eastern England on June 21, 2016. AFP 2018, Justin Tallis
The political success of UKIP reached its peak following the 2015 general election UKIP secured over 3.8 million votes (12.4% of the total), replacing the Liberal Democrats as the third most popular party.

The Prime Minister and the leader of Conservatives at the time, David Cameron, had miscalculated the importance of the Europe question, leaving it on the backburner, not realizing the rise in anger at the Brussels machine — not just within his own parliamentary party, but more importantly, among his constituency supporters.

In 2006, David Cameron dismissed UKIP as a bunch of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists". Ten years later, a campaign partly instigated by UKIP's chief, had toppled him from being the prime minister.
According to party's head office, UKIP has 39,000 members, as of July 2016. Its membership averaged 42,500 during 2015, with a peak of 45,994 at the General Election in May.

"We have done so well because of the enthusiasm of our people. We must maintain our revolutionary zeal," UKIP's David Coburn told Sputnik.

The Brexit cause has been holding UKIP together and afloat. But as they saying goes – be careful what you wish for. "They got what they wanted but they don't know what else to do," Professor Fielding told Sputnik.

As the Conservative party has eventually embraced Brexit, "many Tories moved to the right and it undercut to the ground from which many UKIP activists got their motivation" he added.

"There isn't much point in UKIP. With the Conservative party – one the candidates considered as one to succeed Theresa May is Jacob-Rees Mogg. You don't need UKIP anymore in this new realignment of politics where the Conservatives are situated further to the right than they have been for quite some time. "

All About the Money?
With the ideological chasm created by achieving Britain's withdrawal from the EU, the question of funding for the party and associated difficulties is as relevant as always. Raising money has always been a problem, Mr. Coburn admitted to Sputnik.

"We are an anti-establishment party. Labour has the backing of the trade unions. We have to make sure that we can run against all those other political parties which have bigger and deeper pockets. The Tories have loads of money from big businesses, and the Liberals probably do from the European Union."

"I don't know where they get their money from. We have the backing of small businesses. But it is always difficult when it comes to an election – you need a lot of money to run."
British pound notes. Pixabay
Coburn insisted that UKIP doesn't accept money from big corporations.

"Our people give us money for good reasons, without interference – which is good and we want to keep it that way."

A statement somewhat echoed by Professor Fielding, who agreed there is a trend of big businesses tending to give money to the Conservatives and the unions financing Labour.

"UKIP did benefit from a series of billionaires who used to be donors to the Conservative Party, like Aaron Banks and the owner of Daily Express Richard Desmond. It is a bit rich of them to be complaining they haven't got any many because they are probably the best financed minor party until recently," he told Sputnik.
The Submerged Level: Unhealthy Democracy
And now we dive deeper, uncovering the invisible, underwater tier of British politics responsible for setting up institutional traps for minor parties.

"I don't think it is possible for a minor party to break in mainly because of the electoral system working against them," former Labour MP Austin Mitchell told Sputnik.

British elections are decided according to the First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system, where the candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins and becomes the MP for that seat, while all other votes are disregarded.

The FPTP system can lead to members of parliament being elected with a relatively small percentage of the votes, and minor parties left suffering, when their votes are spread widely across the country, not concentrated in particular seats.

Despite securing over 3.8 million votes (12.4% of the total) in the 2015 general election, UKIP managed to secure one parliamentary seat, with Conservative defector Douglas Carswell in control of the Clacton seat.
"The only way that UKIP ever got an MP is somebody defecting as a Conservative. They never won an election for Westminster because of the FPTP voting system. They [UKIP] really should have had some representation in Westminster," Dr. Fielding noted, suggesting that Britain is not a "healthy democracy" and the FPTP is not fulfilling its purpose of promoting a stable government.
No Place for Minor Causes
Britain held two general elections in the past two years – 2015 and 2017 – that have ultimately produced a weak Conservative government forced to form a coalition with a somewhat surprising partner, the Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party

And although the Tory election campaign slogan in 2017 was "Strong and stable leadership", it was mocked both in the EU and in the social media world.
Britain has less of duopoly than ever before because of the SNP in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales and others but the two-party system forces the minor parties out from having a direct say in government, Professor Fielding told Sputnik.

"People who believe the British democracy isn't healthy as it should be, have been advocating for years: Westminster should be subject to electoral reform – some kind of proportional system," he said.
Proportional representation is an electoral system in which the distribution of seats corresponds closely with the proportion of the total votes cast for each party. For example, if a party gained 40% of the total votes, a perfectly proportional system would allow them to gain 40% of the seats.
The Union Flag flies near the Houses of Parliament the day before a general election in central London, Britain June 7, 2017.REUTERS/Clodagh KilcoyneThe Union Flag flies near the Houses of Parliament the day before a general election in central London, Britain June 7, 2017.REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
"The most frustrating thing about the system is that the role of an individual MP is very difficult and it is difficult to make headway unless you have a wider support of the party. It's no job for someone pursuing – as I did and some MPs do - minor causes because the system can only deal with broad issues and broad decisions. It is no place for a loner," Mr. Mitchell concluded.

Even if the UKIP manages to mobilize its forces (the threat that Britain will not actually leave the EU is one, according to Professor. Fielding), implementing a much needed structural reform and cementing a clear political agenda – the glacier of the British electoral system - will be right there blocking its way.

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