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He’s back – or is he? Nigel Farage, the sort-of UKIP leader

Clacton-On-Sea Parliamentary By-Election
Photo credit: The Financial Times (www.ft.com)

Pledging to resign after failing to take a seat in Westminster, Nigel Farage has somehow simultaneously resigned and maintained his position as leader of the UK Independence Party. Farage and his supporters justify his return as something that was unanimously demanded by their elected National Executive Committee, but he faces challenges from within and without his party, notably from their Economic Spokesman Patrick O’Flynn and UKIP’s sole MP Douglas Carswell (pictured with Farage). 

Winning 2,812 more votes than Nigel Farage, the Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay succeeded in halting the UKIP leader’s attempt to enter the Commons last week. Swearing that he could only command the party from Westminster and not the Westminster Arms, Farage announced in the middle of nowhere by the coast that he would address the National Executive Committee and inform them of his intention to stand down. “I know you in the media are used to party leaders making endless promises that they don’t keep, but I’m a man of my word, I don’t break my word,” he said confidently to the photographers and journalists surrounding him.

“I intend to take the summer off, enjoy myself a little bit, not do very much politics at all, and there will be a leadership election for the next leader of UKIP in September, and I shall consider over the course of this summer whether to put my name forward to do that job again.”

Checking UKIP’s website I found that Farage’s profile had, like Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, vanished with little trace.

A few days later it was reported by the press that UKIP’s leader still continued to go by the name of Nigel Farage. The Chairman of the party had made a statement, an extract of which follows:

As promised Nigel Farage tendered his official resignation as leader of UKIP to the NEC. This offer was unanimously rejected by the NEC members who produced overwhelmingly evidence that the UKIP membership did not want Nigel to go… On that basis Mr Farage withdrew his resignation and will remain leader of UKIP. In addition the NEC recognised that the referendum campaign has already begun this week and we need our best team to fight that campaign led by Nigel. He has therefore been persuaded by the NEC to withdraw his resignation and remains leader of UKIP.

Nigel Farage remains leader of UKIP, and the UKIP news feed on their website is awash with messages of support from his fellow UKIP members and donors to the party.

However, the security of his position in the role of leader is very weak. From outside the party come calls from and (perhaps hypocritically) politicians who see the self-described anti-Westminster politician and people’s man going back on his promise. Technically speaking, Farage did resign as promised – but the three-day duration period in which he was not the party leader hardly amounts to a resignation to many people! Farage is also under fire for assuming the role without putting the decision to the party in a democratic leadership contest, a criticism he defends with the evidence that no one else wishes to stand.

Inside the party Nigel Farage doesn’t seem to be a popular man. The Economy Spokesman described him as “thin-skinned” and “snarling”, hardly complimentary words from a close ally; and there have been worsening disagreements with Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s only MP, who has argued that UKIP should not take public money to which it is entitled. Opposition parties are given taxpayer’s money, the level of which is dependent on votes and seats in the Commons won at elections; Carswell sees no need for UKIP to be like other parties, relying on the people’s money. According to the newspapers a few days ago Farage was adamant that the full sum should be accepted, but on Question Time last night he said that none of it should be taken – perhaps someone had persuaded him otherwise?

All in all, Nigel Farage has a tough time being at the eye of a very dangerous UKIP storm. Maybe he should have taken that summer off like he had thought.