The weekend's press gave a fascinating, and long overdue, insight into UKIP's latest series of crises. This has been a bizarre week for the party (and particularly internal UKIP party democracy), with candidates being forced to resign from winnable positions on the party's candidate lists, the new party chairman being, apparently, suddenly appointed by Nigel Farage, without the consent or knowledge of party members or even the party's National Executive. All of which has occurred while the party 'enjoys' its annual conference in Bournemouth.
The Independent ( http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/rumours-plotting-even-a-bnp-link--is-the-party-over-for-ukip-920824.html) revealed an attempt from within UKIP party headquarters to oust Farage as leader, with the conspirators including David Abbott, a member of UKIP's NEC who has donated money to the BNP. Elsewhere, Roger Knapman (who has always hated Farage since his own removal as party leader in 2006) and his allies also hope to force Farage out.
The Devil's Kitchen (http://devilskitchen.me.uk/2008/09/more-ukip-infighting-apparently.html) has an interesting post on UKIP's travails. The reality is that the infighting is between personalities, but also for the party's identity. UKIP is split between anti-tax and anti-state libertarians who think that Britain should leave the EU because its common market has common rules on environmental, social and consumer protection standards (in many ways their libertarianism is not wholly dissimilar to the more right-wing US Republicans).
The problem for these characters, which include chief of staff, Gawain Towler, press officer, Tim Worstall and new chairman, Paul Nuttall and, amongst the MEPs, by Nigel Farage, Graham Booth and John Whittaker, is that they are a minority elite. Most of the UKIPs activists and votes are not libertarian but authoritarian - the sort of hang 'em and flog 'em extreme right-wingers who hate foreigners and think Enoch Powell was too soft on immigration. Significantly, the likes of Towler and Nuttall (and former press office Annabelle Fuller whose ousting also appears in the Indy's piece) are all former Tories who defected after the 2004 breakthrough and are still regarded with suspicion by the old-guard who founded UKIP back in the early 90s when they were even more of a rag-bag of nutters and racists.
The new UKIP elite, which really only amount to a very small number, have run the party from the centre, frequently getting into trouble with the Electoral Commission over their financial declarations and cutting the NEC and party members out of decision making. The shenanigans surrounding allegations of fraud against Tom Wise MEP, which the party leadership have known about for the last three years, have been allowed to rumble on. Furthermore, the allegations made last week by party members on the Democracy Forum (http://www.democracyforum.co.uk/ukip-general-issues/52571-official-results-mep-selection-ballots.html) site that the MEP selection ballots were rigged by the leadership are further evidence that long-term party members are fed up with being treated with contempt.
Needless to say, the old guard are also apoplectic at the talks between Farage and Conservatives to establish some kind of non-aggression pact in advance of next year's European elections, presumably in exchange for UKIP not standing candidates in marginal Labour held seats that the Tories need to win to form the next Government.
UKIP are suffering from the inevitable problem of trying to turn themselves into a serious party. Farage is an effective and intelligent media performer, but most of his MEP colleagues are semi-literate buffoons. Mike Nattrass, Godfrey Bloom and Derek Clark are deadweights who don't seems to do any work and seldom get any media coverage, while Roger Knapman and Jeffrey Titford are similarly inactive and, in Knapman's case, hell bent on wrecking Farage's leadership.
Consequently, we have a brutal power struggle between the racist hard-right (who constitute most of the old guard and party members) and the so-called libertarian free traders (who want UKIP to be a serious and viable political party). The old adage about student politics being so vicious because the stakes are so small also applies to UKIP!
But, if UKIP collapses, where do their votes go? As the Independent says, if UKIP totally collapses, then the BNP will stand to benefit. The BNP comfortably outpolled UKIP in the London Mayoral and Assembly elections this year, they have more members and, unless the likes of Paul Sykes are prepared to give UKIP a couple of million as they did in 2004, they will have similar financial resources. And, of course, the BNP are in favour of British withdrawal from the EU. So if, as seems inevitable, UKIP's vote collapses and they lose most of their 12 seats won in 2004, it is likely that the BNP will win several seats, with the East Midlands, North-West and London the most likely regions.
However, a collapsing UKIP vote could also be good news for the Tories. In 2004, the Tories took only 28% of the vote (at the height of Government unpopularity over the Iraq war) with many natural eurosceptic Tory voters giving UKIP a try. With UKIP in turmoil, Cameron will expect to see these voters returning to the Tory fold.
The bottom line seems to be that, outside Farage and his cabal of 'modernisers', UKIP as a party are rotten to the core. After the 2004 breakthrough they look set to be consigned to obscurity, a blot on Britain's political landscape. Few will shed any tears.