UKIP remove chair of youth wing for being too pro-gay marriage

"You are providing ammunition to the media… to say we are irrelevant"

UKIP have removed the chair of their youth wing, Young Independence, allegedly due in part to his stance on gay marriage.

Olly Neville, who had been elected chairman of the organisation last year, confirmed that he had been removed due to outside influence, tweeting that:

 

 

In another tweet, now deleted, Neville reposted an email sent to him from the party's chairman, Stephen Crowther, which informed him that:

…the NEC has resolved that you should not continue to act as interim chairman of YI, owing to the problems regarding party policy and public statements about which we have corresponded over the past week.

Liberal Conspiracy has a copy of that email.

A second email posted by another member of YI recounted the specific problems Crowther had with Neville:

On the BBC World at One on New Year's Eve, you were interviewed and said that (a) the European elections were a "sideshow", and the real action is at Westminster; and (b) that you were a supporter of Gay Marriage and that the Prime Minister was right about it.

While Crowther's concerns about the first point are rather revealing – he tells Neville, "if you are quoted as saying the Westminster is where the action is, it is self-evident that we have no MPs… You are therefore providing ammunition to the media and our opponents to say that we are irrelevant" – the fact that Neville was partially removed from office for supporting gay marriage strikes at the heart of UKIP's self-image.

Although the party has roots in a single-issue opposition to the EU, with a healthy dose of anti-immigration rhetoric and social conservatism, it has also been adopted as the UK's de facto Libertarian Party by many younger members (a slight blow to the UK's actual Libertarian Party, but there you go). Indeed, many in YI – Neville included – describe themselves as anarchist or anarcho-capitalist.

Now that the party hierarchy has cracked down on that tendency, however, the future of UKIP as a party placed firmly to the conventional right of the Conservatives seems assured. That will come as a relief to the Prime Minister, who was facing a battle on two fronts with the fringe elements of his own party; libertarian conservatives are left, once again, with nowhere to go.

UKIP has rid itself of some of its strongest members. In contrast to the "odd people" David Cameron criticised over the weekend – the anti-gay PPCs and Malthusian eugenicist council candidates – the youth wing is slick, forward-looking and making arguments which have the potential to appeal to floating voters. Or was, at least. Whether it can continue to do so against the wishes of its parent party is another question.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.