POLITICS

Ukip in 2015: The Year Nigel Farage Became Just Another Politician

28/12/2015 08:17 GMT | Updated 28/12/2015 08:59 GMT
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), center, waits for the results for the constituency of Thanet South to be announced in the 2015 general election in Thanet, U.K., on Friday, May 8, 2015. David Cameron is poised to return as U.K. prime minister at the head of majority Conservative government after pulling off a surprise election victory that was helped by a landslide for nationalists in Scotland. Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Standing atop a Kent clifftop in the bright morning sunshine on May 8, Nigel Farage told a huddle of journalists and camera crews he was quitting as Ukip leader.

Less than two hours earlier, the returning office for the South Thanet constituency confirmed what had been suspected throughout the night: Farage had failed for the seventh time to get elected to the House of Commons.

Across the country Ukip had picked up 3.8million votes, making it the third largest party in the UK.

But the first-past-the-post electoral system meant Ukip had actually gone backwards in terms of parliamentary representation – from two seats down to one.

Where had it gone wrong? Where was the electoral breakthrough which Farage was counting on?

It’s easy to forget, but at the beginning of 2015 Ukip looked more together, more focused and more efficient than it had ever been.

In May 2014 it delivered an historic result by winning the European Elections. It was the first national vote since 1910 in which Labour or the Conservatives had not come out on top.

Then came the defections – two of them, both from the Conservatives, and both defending their seats at the subsequent by-elections. Ukip had momentum.

Before the short campaign even started, one academic claimed Ukip already had four seats “in the bag”, and could pick up a further six come May 7.

The party was focusing its resources in winnable seats: South Thanet, Rochester and Strood, Clacton and Thurrock.

Thanks to millionaire backers such as Arron Banks, the party was able to take the fight to other parties in these seats with billboards, huge advertising features in local papers and social media campaigns.

Yet the one thing the campaign, and seemingly endless public meetings, could not defeat was the fear in the minds of many voters of an SNP/Labour coalition.

The traditional Tory voters in the South which Ukip needed melted away, and with the exception of Clacton, the party failed.

In the North of England, the party was not expecting to win any seats but instead hoping for a swathe of strong second place finishes to prepare for a full on assault of Labour in 2020.

That plan was delivered.

But Farage still had to quit. Why? Because the showman within him, the gambler, the risk taker, had made a foolish promise in March.

nigel farage kent

Nigel Farage resigns after failing to win a parliamentary seat

In what is his third autobiography ‘The Purple Revolution’, Farage vowed to step down as party leader if he didn’t win South Thanet.

Having made the commitment, he now had to go through with it. He didn’t want to, and of course within three days he had unresigned, claiming Ukip’s governing committee would not accept his resignation.

At that moment, everything changed.

However he tried to spin it, Farage had gone back on his word. The anti-politician, the man who wasn’t like those careerists in Westminster, the man who kept his promises. For many, he was no longer that person.

Others in Ukip started to wonder what on earth was going on. They recognised how bad this looked, how it undermined the party’s credibility.

Fingers were pointed at those advising Farage for turning him into a “snarling, thin-skinned” man.

Farage let the dissent rumble on for a week, before clamping down on those angry at the turn of events.

The great misconception about this civil war is that people in Ukip wanted Farage gone. They didn’t. They wanted his advisors gone, and they wanted him to keep to his promise. A promise which many of them wish he had never made.

Over the summer, the rows seemed to have died down and heading into conference season, it looked like the party might pull together for what is set to be the biggest fight of its life: the EU Referendum.

But no.

Without consulting many of his MEPs, Farage announced the party would be backing Arron Banks ‘Leave.EU’ campaign in the referendum. The party’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, was backing a different group, now known as ‘Vote Leave’.

arron banks

Arron Banks

The gulf between team Carswell, who was also frustrated by the party’s relentless focus on immigration, and team Farage was widening.

Ukip donor Banks stirred up the conflict further when he claimed Carswell was “borderline autistic with mental illness thrown in”.

It’s fair to say that getting those two around the same table to plan ho to run an EU leave campaign will be tricky.

Earlier this month, Carswell reignited the feud when he called for a “fresh face” at the top of the party after Ukip’s underwhelming performance in the Oldham West and Royton by-election.

Farage snapped back that it was time for Carswell to “put up or shut up”, but seeing as there is no real mechanism for the Clacton MP to challenge for the leadership unless Farage himself calls for a vote it’s hard to see what he wants Carswell to do. Perhaps quit the party entirely, and leave Farage as its undisputed heavyweight.

Whatever your views of Ukip, and most people have strong views either way, this year has been a remarkable one for the party.

Just 12 months it genuinely seemed Farage would lead a breakthrough into Parliament, and could even hold the balance of power if the opinion polls were accurate.

A year on, and he is in open warfare with his only MP, at risk of being sidelined by the Leave campaign ahead of the referendum, and trying to stamp out an increasing amount of disquiet from some leading MEPs.

And it all goes back to a promise in a book which he never thought he would have to keep to.

If he hadn’t of upped the stakes, he wouldn’t have need to resign, he wouldn’t have need to unresign, and he wouldn’t have become just another politician.