POLITICS

Analysis: Ukip's Unknown Soldier Needs To Bring Army Discipline To The Dysfunctional Party

Henry Bolton wants to move the party away from talking about Islam

29/09/2017 17:34 BST | Updated 29/09/2017 18:05 BST
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As the Ukip leadership results were announced, hacks in the gallery looking over the hall in Torquay became increasingly worried.

Chairman Paul Oakden read out the results in reverse order, and the familiar names fell early.

Deputy leader Peter Whittle: fifth place.

The ‘gay donkey tried to rape my horse’ candidate: fourth.

The London Assembly member who had the backing of Arron Banks: third.

The far right, Islam-bashing Anne Marie Waters: second.

Everyone looked at each other. Who was left?

It wasn’t until Oakden read out the name “Henry Bolton” that we realised who the new leader of Ukip is.

He is a man who is like his name: no-nonsense, to the point, unfussy.

Bolton has a tough job on his hands. Ukip was close to falling apart -1,119 votes to be precise. That was the scale of his victory over Waters.

If Waters had been victorious, the party would have split. MEPs were set to meet in Strasbourg on Tuesday to coordinate their resignations, and Farage was due to have breakfast with an inner circle of advisors on Saturday to begin drawing up plans for a new party.

Those plans are now shelved.

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Henry Bolton with Nigel Farage in 2016.

It was clear from his press conference that Bolton is a serious man for a serious time. His background – soldier, police officer, security advisor – tells you he values order, discipline and clear structures. These are attributes which Ukip has always struggled to uphold.

His first job will be bringing the warring sides of the party together again. From the free-market libertarian wing of Bill Etheridge and the so-called ‘Indigo Group’, to the anti-Islam faction represented by Waters, there is a split that needs to heal.

Bolton was clear that he will speak to Waters about her future, but he was also adamant that if former donor Arron Banks wants to get back involved with the party, it will be on his terms.

His no-nonsense approach may rankle some, and it would not be surprising if some do leave Ukip as Bolton clamps down on dissent and tries to refocus the party on Brexit.

But if he can do it, if he can somehow keep the Ukip show on the road, he might be able to pull it back from the brink of irrelevance.

Theresa May’s Brexit position has softened since the June election. In that campaign, Ukip was unable to get a strong message across on its most famous issue as May had stolen the best lines.

But with her committing to staying in the Single Market for at least two years after March 2019 – which will include keeping freedom of movement – Ukip can now claim betrayal.

That will be a message which could unite the party again – something everyone feels comfortable with, unlike campaigning for burka bans or compulsory vaginal examinations on girls deemed to be risk of female genital mutilation.

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Anne Marie Waters finished second in the Ukip leadership contest.

Bolton’s great advantage in all this is he has no baggage, and will not be seen as representing one faction or the other. But that is not to say he is a fence-sitter. It was clear in his first press conference as Ukip leader he was not happy with party’s ‘integration agenda’ which dominated its 2017 election campaign. Indeed, he pleaded with the media to move on from talking about Islam - but perhaps those words should have been directed at the 2,755 members who backed Waters.

Bolton’s biggest problem will be media exposure – or lack of it. With no MPs, a massive decrease in voter numbers at local and national elections, and the party’s 20 MEPs soon to be out of a job, just where is the justification for TV shows to give him an outlet?

A similar problem faced Ukip in the early to mid-noughties, and it took the charisma of Robert Kilroy-Silk and Nigel Farage to force the party on the public conciseness. Bolton was quick to admit he is no Farage, but he will need to find a way to make sure Ukip is heard in the conversation on the UK’s future.

His first job is making sure the party speaks with just one voice.