Britain’s political-party conference season draws to a close this week, with highlights including Prime Minister Theresa May’s “Dancing Queen” stage entrance, as well as would-be Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson again stopping short of making a direct leadership bid against her.
Another consideration over the past month – Britain’s most insularly active political period – is the fate of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), otherwise known as the organization that gave the world Brexit.
For more than 25 years the party has withstood all manner of difficulties, including but not limited to: mockery, irrelevance, a lack of money, being ignored by the media, security concerns, infiltration attempts, and of course the kicker – that no one believed its raison d’être, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, was ever a serious possibility.
Now, after Brexit has been voted for (though not yet enacted), the party finds itself in a real existential crisis.
Whatever the brave face the new leader Gerard Batten MEP (member of European Parliament) and the party faithful may try to put on it: UKIP has never faced such a massive implosion as is taking place right now.
This has major implications for Brexit itself: once a rebellious phrase, now a sobriquet for bureaucratic entanglements vis-a-vis trade, borders, and the interests of the corporate classes in the City of London.
UKIP has never faced such a massive implosion as is taking place right now. This has major implications for Brexit itself: once a rebellious phrase, now a sobriquet for bureaucratic entanglements vis-a-vis trade, borders, and the interests of the corporate classes in the City of London
Over the past few months, a number of UKIP’s elected officials have left the party, including some in the upper echelons of their powerful group of MEPs.
But polls of polls show the party still – even at a time of peril for Brexit – unable to push above 5%. This was a party polling at 20% as recently as 2015.
This in effect means there is no current guardian of the Brexit promise: the democratic decision made by the country to leave the European Union, currently being fudged by Prime Minister May, who herself was a pro-EU activist during the campaign in 2016.
Observers of UK politics will be aware that I am not soft on issues like radical Islam or free speech, and even pulled together three major rallies with a bevy of international guests over the summer to oppose the imprisonment of radical Islam critic Tommy Robinson.
But these issues are not necessarily ones for political parties to hitch their bandwagons to as their full-time occupation.
In short, Batten’s attempts to play to a right-wing base in the United Kingdom has left him toothless on the core issue of Brexit.
This is the most serious source of frustration for Britons on either side of the argument. It is also frustrating European partner nations, the United States, and other allies that are keen for something to be resolved so that the world’s economies and political alliances can grasp where Britain now stands in the world.
Curiously, UKIP – a party of around 25,000 members – holds the key to all of this. They’re just currently refusing to use it, which is even more strange given the expertise of Batten in this area. The new UKIP party leader authored the 119-page manual on leaving the European Union just last year, but has since become driven to distraction by other issues which could be addressed after March 29, 2019 – the UK-EU Article 50 leaving deadline.
All this means the only two major political voices on the subject of what Brexit actually looks like are the Labour and Conservative parties, neither of which is committed to fulfilling a serious “leave.”
It puts Britain in a situation of greater instability as Brexit becomes bastardized, vague, or perhaps abandoned entirely.
Markets won’t know what to do, nor will investors, and certainly the public will be left scratching their heads. To put it mildly.
I am not dissimilar in my world view to someone like Gerard Batten. I also do not believe he is stupid, or doing any of this out of malice.
I do believe, however, that in a media environment dominated by Britain’s two major parties; and in a 21st-century Britain mired in issues surrounding social cohesion, security, and free speech, Batten is being dragged off the reservation by his laudable philosophical instincts.
If UKIP can’t get back in the Brexit game fast, it will cause great problems for both Britain and indeed the world, with a suspected extension of the two-year Article 50 negotiating period being privately mooted.
So next time you talk to someone about Brexit, remember: Its fate rests on the shoulders of the self-described “People’s Army” – a small gaggle of Britons who come together once a year to drink thousands of pints of warm ale and wear garish purple rosettes on their lapels.
Personally, I’ve always been proud to be one of them.