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.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.