In the past there has been good reason for many in Ukip to feel there has been plotting and scheming within the party, to topple the leader or prominent members. But in the last week, some in the conspiracy theorist wing of the party began falsely playing on that feeling to try and abolish the party’s NEC, since it took the unavoidable decision to exclude Steven Woolfe from the list of leadership candidates.
Could the democratically elected board of members really be scrapped over one single decision? Worryingly it looks like a very real possibility. And what’s really galling is that it would be as a result of doing what it’s supposed to do, uphold the party rules, and making sure the membership retains an influence in the running of the party.
If the NEC had allowed Steven Woolfe to stand, it would have been ignoring its own rules. The rules gave all leadership candidates a clear deadline for the submission of nomination papers and Woolfe’s explanation for his failure to meet said deadline is nonsensical. Party officials proactively contacted Woolfe on Sunday morning to remind him about the deadline. The first stage of the submission process, which had been open for twenty days was to pay the candidate deposit. This was not paid until 11.35am twenty five minutes before nominations closed. Woolfe protested to the media that he had to call his bank to get a payment to go through. That may well be the case; anyone making a £5,000 payment will often trigger a bank’s anti-fraud mechanism. The other candidates were sensible enough to pay their deposits earlier.
After the deposit was collected he had to complete the online form, upload a copy of his identification documents and his 500 word statement file. He had to declare any previous criminal convictions and provide an explanation. There is zero evidence that there was any fault on the part of Ukip or its website servers. We did due diligence on this. The servers did not drop at any point. Steven Woolfe blamed the party’s administration instead of taking responsibility for his own mistake in failing to get his application in on time. His paperwork eventually arrived at 12.17pm.
The rules were clear, however some people on the NEC wanted to turn a blind eye to this rule breach, but the NEC collectively couldn’t. The NEC knew that if rules were broken, the Party most likely would have faced court proceedings within 24 hours and an injunction would have been sought to keep Steven Woolfe off the ballot paper. I believe that a legal challenge would have succeeded. Steven Woolfe would still have not been allowed to stand, but we would have been dragged through the courts first. The party has one class of member. All members have to be treated equally. It doesn’t have a celebrity class.
The party’s NEC is already a membership elected body. Of its 15 votes 12 are held by the members’ elected representatives. If members don’t like what the NEC is doing, then they can vote members off it. Nominations for the next NEC election close in less than 40 days’ time. Seven of the twelve seats will be up for grabs this year.
Let’s also deal with this nonsense that Neil Hamilton, Suzanne Evans and Douglas Carswell are controlling the NEC and forcing it to do their “evil bidding”. Members of the NEC were on the disciplinary panel which suspended Suzanne Evans.
We get a lot of flak from some members who claim we’re victimising Suzanne Evans for that, whilst others now accuse us of being her puppet. Total nonsense. Neil Hamilton was on the NEC until May. He is no longer on the NEC. His name hasn’t been mentioned in any discussion except when brought up by one of the three NEC members who have just resigned. They have sought to drag Neil Hamilton into this. We have not.
Douglas Carswell has a vote at the NEC once every two months as the Party’s only elected MP. Because of his Parliamentary role he takes very little part in NEC discussions and has not commented on most of the ongoing issues.
Any suggestion that the NEC is controlled by Hamilton, Evans or Carswell is utterly laughable, pure Goebbels. Hamilton, Evans and Carswell are being presented as hate figures, pantomime villains that UKIP members are expected to despise. Then there’s guilt by association, used to smear some of the leadership candidates. Suzanne Evans will vote for Lisa Duffy? Why then are we told Lisa Duffy must be part of the plot too! She’s receiving abuse online on a daily basis. Online abuse is a new worrying trend that has crept into our party.
So what’s next? Will Bill Etheridge be attacked for working with Neil Hamilton on the policy committee? It is insane. And now the NEC are derided too. It is a ruse designed to destabilise the party to suit a cabal who have ambitions to wrest control of the party from its members.
We have to stop this manufactured bickering right now. I understand that a lot of members wanted Steven Woolfe to be on the ballot. It’s not the NEC’s fault that he didn’t meet the deadline. If you are looking for someone to blame for Steven Woolfe handing his papers in late, you don’t need to look any further than Woolfe himself. Instead they want to abolish the NEC.
The NEC is the highest governing body of the party. You can’t abolish it unless you replace it with something else. Its members are the Company Directors and meet a statutory role. It’s the party’s oversight body. It updates the party rulebook. It is the only major constitutional check on the authority of the party leader.
Whatever the NEC does it will get criticised. Leave Steven Woolfe off the ballot paper and it’s criticised for it. If the NEC had let him on, and then been made to look very foolish when a court of law overturned that decision, the criticism would have been just as bad.
If anyone submitted a job application after the deadline they wouldn’t be getting the job. There is a lot more that I could say, but I have a 12pm train to catch. If I arrive at the station at 12.17pm I’ll have missed it, no matter how much I argue with the station manager!
John Bickley is a Ukip parliamentary candidate, who nearly took Heywood and Middleton from Labour in 2014, member of the party’s NEC and its treasurer. He is writing in a personal capacity.