UKIP have an image problem. It’s hardly a secret, even the most politically passive of individuals will likely find themselves experiencing almost innate feelings of unease should so much the UKIP brand flicker into their consciousness for but a brief moment. The reasons behind this are many and exist at many intervals across the entire absurdity spectrum; whether it be a, shall we say, reluctance to provide aid to the third world or a perhaps overly aggressive approach to handling internal party disputes – the outside perception of UKIP remains one of near universal revulsion.
So what were the UKIP top brass to do? A public image, once foisted upon you, becomes seemingly set in stone and the act of shifting it a monumental task. Besides, the farcically regressive aura was hardly ill deserved. The only realistic shot they had at vanquishing the rot would have been to tear the whole thing down and to quietly set about starting from scratch, hoping beyond hope that the ever settling dust masks their intentions.
But of course, such a bold gambit would have taken vision, discipline and professionalism – qualities that have consistently failed to seep into UKIP’s isolationist cabal. So they just changed their logo instead.
Ever the populists, the UKIP re-brand played to its base – or at least attempted to. The ‘all the better colours were already taken’ purple and gold colour scheme remained of course, but no longer was this the canvas for a fusty old pound sign to serve as their motif. Ideologues require something more fearsome rather than being merely symbolic and so, the lion won the day – inspiring a backdrop of groan inducing predictability.
Though, from the very outset, something seemed amiss. This was a recurring theme; a smog of farce had accompanied UKIP at every turn they attempted and it took but mere moments for incompetence to take centre stage once more. As to how much of these apparently inevitable blunderings are down to design or simple negligence is open to debate. Did they unwittingly re-purpose the Premier League logo? Do they appreciate the irony in appointing a lion, a creature that only currently roams these shores by virtue of being imported from a foreign land, as mascot to their hard line anti immigration party?
Who the hell knows? But one thing’s for sure – that lion sure doesn’t look happy. A sullen expression adorning its face and exuding a sense of beaten down impotence – one could argue that it epitomises UKIP perfectly.
However, occupying a state of feckless irrelevance hadn’t always been the norm for UKIP. Why only back in the 2015 General Election they achieved 3rd place in the overall vote share standings. Though this only ended up amounting to one seat, it still presented a significant victory and in part almost justifying David Cameron’s ill fated scheme to ensnare UKIP voters to his cause. With it being successful enough to grant him the majority he perhaps didn’t crave, the simultaneous rise of UKIP applied further pressure for Cameron to begrudgingly deliver upon what he had promised.
Leading the party during this period of unprecedented success was a peculiar chap named Nigel Farage. A former city trader turned populist war cry, who possessed a fashion sense so peculiar you could easily imagine it being the result of a night spent binging on 1940’s media whilst impaired by some sort of extreme narcotic. Nevertheless, this bewildering anachronism managed to prosper in grassroots politics, a world away from the uniformed halls of Westminster – a world that also contained the so called “unheard majority”.
Nigel set to work on schmoozing with the proletariat; he wasn’t like the stuffed shirt elites who littered the Houses of Parliament – he was just like them. He even had the ‘Fisher Price – Beer and Fags Accessory Set’ to prove it. He charmed them, he inspired them and, depending on the narrative to which you subscribe, he came to represent them – because he was just like they were; disenfranchised and pissed off at the corrupt system holding the little guy down.
As divisive and morally dubious as Farage could be, he was most certainly an effective politician – all the while assuming the guise of a vengeful outsider. However with Brexit secured the party’s overall purpose had become increasingly unclear. The war was viewed as won and, with his name recognition having soared, the general decided to step down. He’d “got his country back”, now he was going to pursue getting his life back; though, having spent his entire political life chasing the Brexit dragon, with the dragon now quelled it didn’t seem like there was much else to get back to.
Still, losing their figurehead (arguably their only prominent figure in the entire party) didn’t sit well at a time their entire relevance was dwindling. Some sense of stability was desperately needed. If they were ever going to save the sinking ship then robust, reliable and enduring leadership was required – to hold the party together as their entire reason for being faded around them. This task fell to Diane James, coming right out of the blocks with defiant proclamations of UKIP’s potential to thrive – going as far to say that they would become the de facto party of opposition.
Diane James quit after 18 days.
Nigel, ever the maverick detective for who circumstances never allow him to retire, took less than a day to swoop back onto the throne – albeit on an interim basis until a suitable heir could be elected.
Indeed an heir was eventually chosen – but if UKIP were hoping for a suitably cunning rabble-rouser to extend upon what Farage had created then they were to be sorely disappointed.
Paul Nuttall was a interesting bloke, but how much of this interest was down to his actual credentials and qualities as a person was infinitesimal at best. For you see not much about who Paul Nuttall really came out; at least not direct from the source. Apparently concerned about stepping into the shoes of a man who, at least partially, had achieved some measure of success by playing the ‘Cult of Personality’ hand, Nuttall seemed determined to cultivate his very own cult of personality. Unfortunately for Paul, likely being misrecognized as Eddie Hitler more often than being acknowledged for who he actually was, such a task didn’t seem especially feasible. Hell, what did he even have to work with?
So he set about crafting his own mythos and it was one that needed to tick certain boxes in order to be effective. UKIP aren’t especially well regarded by the would be intelligentsia so hey, by all means bolt a PhD next to your name. Then there’s the working man to appeal to; your core demographic – the base. There must be some high profile yet highly emotive cause to latch onto out there, surely? Don’t forget to throw a footballing past into the mix. Everyone loves football, right? Politicians being deceitful is just the way of the world, it’s accepted. Even if someone were to check, who the fuck cares?
They checked, they cared and UKIP’s descent back to being a mere political punchline was all but confirmed with the unsurprising revelation that they’d appointed a jobsworth as their leader. Nuttall had staggered on to fight the 2017 snap election but he was a beaten man long before the battle had even begun. UKIP were vanquished, Nuttall resigned (seemingly disappearing into the nothingness from which he came; legends and all) and the stage was set for Nigel, ever on call for “one last job”, to return.
Only he didn’t. Nigel kept his name decidedly out of the hat and they were forced to look elsewhere. Following a fairly fractured party election campaign, (so much so that one of the unsuccessful candidates immediately jumped ship to start her own party; a kind of UKIP for the especially deranged) Henry Bolton OBE reigned supreme. A man described by Don Farage himself as “a man of real substance”. Could Henry be ‘the one’? Become Neo to Nigel’s Morpheus – finally stabilising the party in the process?
For that’s where this increasingly circular tale of near perpetual calamity (with the odd smattering of unforeseen success) catches up with the present day – aptly punctuated by a timely scandal. A UKIP leader, still green to the role, had become embroiled in another PR nightmare of his own creation. With what little credibility he may have once had dissolving away by the minute, the ever lingering phantom of Nigel circles overhead – seemingly prepping the waiting public with hints of a potential re-animation. Where have we heard this story before?
Today’s news isn’t shocking; it’s merely part of the UKIP cycle – lurching from one slapstick episode to the next with little respite, each time having to fall back on Farage to keep their heads above water. It’s often been suspected that UKIP are a one man show and time has only served to provide evidence for the prosecution. At this moment the Bolton debacle is still ongoing and he’s remains in charge but, without any particular cause to avoid destabilisation for, it seemed his days are already numbered.
What happens next remains to be seen but expect a predictable path to be followed, in turn serving to further highlight the increasingly laughable notion of a future for UKIP. Whilst it’s undeniable that UKIP are a somewhat more potent proposition when fronted by Farage their dependence on him seems certain to be their undoing. They’re mired within a high stakes game of Pontoon yet find themselves hindered at every interval when they’re inexplicably dealt a joker with every second deal. It’s not just that they’re struggling to replace Farage, they simply can’t. The party rose to prominence with Nigel at the helm with his colleagues relegated to background extras in the recollection of the general public – hardly an environment within which a potential successor can thrive. Above all, it’s Nigel who, whilst not bringing respectability, at least brought some sense of feasibility to the cause; not least with his apparently permanent residence on the nation’s television screens getting the message heard.
Alas, it’s with a certain irony that the man who established them will also be their undoing. Without Nigel there’s no feasibility and without feasibility the enthusiasm among its members is destined to fade away – finally bringing an end to this miserable and misguided tale of attempted populist upheaval.
Not that the UKIP lion gives a shit. He’s foreign.Follow @grahamlithgow