In 2014, UKIP topped the national poll in the elections to the European Parliament, the first time a party other than the Conservatives or Labour had achieved this since 1906. The result was likened to a ‘political earthquake'- and with good reason. It was because of the UKIP surge that Prime Minister David Cameron, worried about losing even more Tory votes to UK Independence Party (UKIP). pledged an ‘In-Out' EU referendum at the time of the 2015 general election. The referendum was duly held in June 2016 and against all the odds, the Brexit side won.
It was UKIP's finest hour. But since then their descent has been faster than Franz Klammer going down the Patscherkofel on a new pair of skis.
In July 2016, Nigel Farage quit as party leader, saying he had achieved his lifetime's ambition. An election was held to find his successor, which was won by Diane James. James appeared to be a sensible choice, but before she had formally taken up her duties, she had second thoughts. She resigned not only from the leadership, but from the party altogether- saying that her relationship with UKIP had become 'increasingly difficult'.
Since Diane James won in September 2016, the average life expectancy of a Ukip leader has been 68.2 days.— Mikey Smith (@mikeysmith) January 14, 2018
Nigel Farage put his cigar back in the ashtray and returned as caretaker leader, before a new election was held, which was won this time by Paul Nuttall.
Nuttall vowed that UKIP could replace the Labour Party within five years in some communities and become ‘the patriotic party of working people'. His ambitions were bold, but he didn‘t aid his cause by deciding to dress like a character from The Wind in the Willows in the Stoke Central by-election. In the end Paul didn‘t even last seven months as leader- and stepped down after the 2017 general election, in which UKIP failed to land a blow.
The next party leader was Henry Bolton O.B.E. Surely the ex-army officer would impose a bit of military discipline and get the party back on track? In fact, things have got even worse. In October, Bolton made a strange boast in a television interview that he could strangle a badger with his bare hands, a claim that was hardly likely to attract animal rights/animal welfare campaigners to the party. Then, details emerged in the popular press of Bolton's messy private life. Twice married, he had left his latest wife over Christmas for a young ‘glamour model' less than half his age. But after it was revealed that his new girlfriend was accused of making racialist slurs against Prince Harry's fiancee Meghan Markle, Bolton announced he was splitting up from her too. UKIP might have elected Patrick O'Flynn as their leader- instead they seem to have got Errol Flynn. As if the lurid details of Bolton's private life being splashed in the newspapers on a daily basis wasn't bad enough for the party- we've now got more negative publicity, with Nigel Farage saying that he might support a second referendum. "The Cleggs, the Blairs, the Adonises will never ever, ever give up‘ he said. "They will go on whingeing and whining and moaning all the way through this process so maybe, just maybe, I'm reaching the point of thinking that we should have a second referendum on EU membership‘.
Supporters of Brexit understandably didn't take too kindly to these comments. Farage has tried to back-pedal in recent days, stressing that he doesn't want a second vote, but arguably the damage has been done. ‘I do not understand why Nigel Farage would even suggest we may need a new EU vote. This is not a game, we do not believe their vote is more important than those of us who voted to leave the EU.. If a second referendum vote was allowed I would feel embarrassed and ashamed for the UK' wrote Roy Surrey in a letter to the Daily Express. 'Nigel's words of yesterday "maybe we SHOULD have a 2nd referendum on EU membership" are not helping him v Chuka Umunna on R4 today,' tweeted UKIP MEP Patrick O‘Flynn.
Nigel’s words of yesterday “maybe we SHOULD have a 2nd referendum on EU membership” are not helping him v Chuka Umunna on R4 today.— Patrick O'Flynn (@oflynnmep) January 12, 2018
UKIP Welsh Meanwhile Welsh Assembly Member Gareth Bennett declared: "The only people mooting the possibility of a second referendum are people who don't want us to leave the European Union."
The rise of Jeremy Corbyn has also hit UKIP hard. The party did so well in elections in 2014 and 2015, partly because Labour, under Ed Miliband, made no real pitch to Euro-sceptic working-class voters. But Corbyn has taken the party to the left and in the 2017 general election, by adopting more populist positions, he managed to coax UKIP voters back into the Labour fold. Figures show that in 2017, Labour picked up 12% of the UKIP vote of 2015- which as Peter Kellner points out here, was more than the number of those who stayed loyal to UKIP.
In 2014 and in 2015, UKIP were the party of change. In 2017 it was Labour. It's hard to see how Henry Bolton can turn things round, particularly given the publicity he's been receiving over his private life. But is the return of Nigel Farage as head honcho the answer? Some would say the party needs a female leader right now, with Louise Bours, Fiona Mills and Elizabeth Jones all possible contenders.
Whoever leads UKIP though, whatever their gender, will be faced with a tough assignment. Not only do they have to try and make sure- without any Parliamentary representation, that a ‘non-fudged' Brexit takes place, they will also have to attempt to impose some kind of discipline in a party where simply too much dirty linen has been washed in public.
Follow @NeilClark66 on Twitter Support his AntiStalker Crowd Fund
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.