Godfrey Bloom quits Ukip: exposing the paradox at the heart of the party

A self-image as maverick crusaders for the cause of “political incorrectness” is both intrinsic to Ukip identity - and a constant liability.

I've written an essay for this week's magazine about the position of Ukip in the political landscape, but in light of Godfrey Bloom's resignation, one section seems particularly relevant. 

The episode [Bloom's "sluts" row] exposes a paradox at the heart of Farage’s project. To establish Ukip as a permanent fixture of the political landscape he needs to turn the party’s high profile and double-digit opinion poll scores into representation on councils, in the European parliament and, eventually, Westminster. There is no way of doing that without imposing some of the organisational discipline that is the hallmark of serious parties. Yet much of the party’s popularity and profile has been won by rejecting the style and institutional apparatus that characterise professional politics. A self-image as maverick crusaders for the cause of “political incorrectness” is both intrinsic to Ukip identity and a constant liability. Farage has said he doesn’t want his party to come across as a “rabble” but that means foregoing rabble-rousing as a communications technique. And what does Ukip have without that?
 
Some of the younger figures in the party concede there is a tension between an ideological attachment to letting party representatives speak their minds and a pragmatic need sometimes to shut them up. It is all the harder because until recently party structures were very informal. There was Farage at the top, the members at the bottom and not much in between. “It isn’t an easy transition that we’ve got to go through,” says one thirtysomething Ukip official.
The full article will appear in this week's magazine, out on Thursday.
 
Godfrey Bloom has gone boom. Photo: Getty

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.