Alex Wickham

How paranoia and bitter infighting are tearing Ukip apart

How paranoia and bitter infighting are tearing Ukip apart
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For the Tories, it's Europe. For Labour, it’s Blairites against Brownites. The Lib Dems, devoid of principle, go in for limp-wristed back-stabbing. Now Ukip, in a sign of its growing political maturity, has become distracted by cynical, and at times thoroughly unpleasant, infighting as those close to Nigel Farage seek to maintain his leadership cult.

Party members do not even have to question their leader’s authority; merely being liked or achieving low level success breeds suspicion. Diane James, the Ukip candidate who came from nowhere to do so well in the Eastleigh by-election, has been on the receiving end of negative briefings in recent weeks. Meanwhile, an entire group of Ukip officials resigned from the party in protest at the treatment of their MEP Mike Nattrass, an outspoken critic of Nigel Farage who was deselected by the party hierarchy. They claim: ‘Ukip stabbed Mike in the back. Head office wants to meddle in everyone’s affairs... it has lost its way.’

The highly secretive selection process for next year’s European elections has seen impressive, big-name Ukip supporters rejected in favour of some frankly unhinged candidates. James Delingpole, the hugely popular journalist, was turned down. As was Jon Gaunt, the well-known former Sun columnist and radio broadcaster. Instead, the party decided that Henry Reilly, who infamously said that Britain should “support Assad”, was fit to run for office. Former Ukip MEP Nikki Sinclaire described the whole process as “Stalinist”.

All of this internal strife came to a head last week when the party announced that its head of press, Gawain Towler, the longest serving press officer in Westminster, would be leaving to become a researcher in Brussels. Towler has devoted a decade’s work to the party, forging a reputation as one of the best media handlers around. He is well-liked by journalists and party members. There is no obvious reason for his demotion. Sources within the party suggest that Towler is a victim of his own popularity.

The consequences of this paranoia are clear. Ukip will not progress unless the few strong voices it has at its disposal are allowed to be heard. By undermining anyone who dares make a name for themselves, Ukip will remain embroiled in a turf war that is tearing the party apart.