If it weren’t for his ill-advised crush and badger-strangling bravado, Henry Bolton would be unknown. As the sixth leader of the UK Independence Party since September 2016, he’s just another unremarkable figure passing through the party’s now-notorious revolving door (though at the moment, he’s still hovering in the vestibule).
September 2016 Nigel Farage (since 5 November 2010)
16 Sept – 4 Oct 2016 Diane James
5 Oct – 28 Nov 2016 Nigel Farage (acting leader)
28 Nov 2016 – 9 June 2017 Paul Nuttall
9 June – 29 Sept 2017 Steve Crowther (acting leader)
29 Sept – Present Henry Bolton
At the time of writing, 11 senior Ukippers have resigned from their frontbench party roles in protest at Bolton’s continued leadership, following his failure to comprehensively dump girlfriend Jo Marney for her racist texts about Prince Harry’s wife-to-be, Meghan Markle.
Reactions to this story have mainly been out of ridicule: Are there really that many senior people in Ukip? And aren’t they all racist themselves?
But as so often with farce, this is actually a morality tale. The last time Ukip was an influential force was when it worked as a pressure group. Back then, although they were drawn from different ideological backgrounds, all its members and representatives agreed that Britain should leave the European Union, and so it transpired. The party exploited Tory weakness by attracting defectors and influencing a Prime Minister to hold a referendum.
More recently, the party has achieved political traction when pulling together on policy goals – for example, before Theresa May lost her majority, it was basically having its 2015 manifesto delivered by the government.
Pretty much all Ukippers agreed on that manifesto’s contents: curbing immigration, ending what they call “health and welfare tourism”, bringing back grammar schools, supporting fracking but ending wind farm subsidies, and prioritising ties with the Anglosphere.
May’s pursuit of most of these, even after being in a weaker position, shows Ukip is not inevitably a spent force. Rather, it’s the party’s bitter factionalism (which I detail here) that has put in its current mess.
I was told last year that the party’s “wounds will never heal” by its former media chief, who said the “massive internal party schism” between the backers of Nigel Farage and Ukip donor Arron Banks, and the Douglas Carswell and Suzanne Evans faction, is “too deeply entrenched” and the “scars run too deep” to heal.
In 2018, it seems like a prophecy: Farage and Banks backed Bolton’s leadership bid (Farage was his referee), and now comes the backlash.
Most of the party’s frontbenchers wouldn’t usually find their leader’s private life relevant to his/her position. Today’s bloodletting is more a sign that some feel their party’s taken the wrong direction – believing it could have gone down the more Trumpian, Islam-bashing route, mirroring far-right parties on the rise in Europe, with Bolton’s leadership opponent Anne Marie Waters in charge (she is anti-Islam, and has described the faith as “evil”).
Waters’ supporters were “positively mutinous” when she lost last September to Bolton, who had hinted that she would turn Ukip into the “UK Nazi Party”. That leadership election caused huge splits behind the scenes. Now those rumbles are rupturing the surface – and it’s more to do with the party’s own racism than that of Bolton’s girlfriend.