There has been much talk of plots, rumour and conspiracy surrounding UKIP over the past few days. The excitement stemmed from Andre Walker’s report on Breitbart London claiming “senior members of UKIP are campaigning behind the scenes to have Patrick O’Flynn MEP removed as economic spokesman”. Or, as Peter Oborne puts it, there exists as “well-connected clique which is plotting to turn UKIP into the party of the rich”. So, wherein lies the truth?
I understand there are ructions at the top of the party dating back to its conference in September. Nigel Farage gave O’Flynn a dressing down after his proposal for a so-called “WAG tax” on luxury goods, loudly admonishing his Economics spokesperson for mooting the policy without clearing it with the leader. At the chairman’s conference dinner, O’Flynn was mocked by the room, facing heckles of “are you going to tax that” as each course was served.
At the time, a long-serving party source told me “Patrick had his eyes on everybody’s speeches to look out for anything bad, except his own. Nigel really wasn’t happy”.
However, that same day in Doncaster, Farage signalled to me that he was happy with the direction O’Flynn was taking the party: “I think Patrick is taking us in a slightly different direction and I think that is a recognition and a realisation that for millions of people life is a lot worse now that it was ten years ago”.
It is worth noting that Farage – while clearly privately unimpressed with the WAG tax – strongly defended him publicly. Both that and noises from Farage’s camp suggest the idea UKIP’s leader is trying to knife one of his star names may be something of an exaggeration. Any bad blood between them is more likely more personal; Farage was reportedly concerned by O’Flynn’s ambition following a series of impressive media appearances prior to the European elections.
Who, then, is doing the plotting?
A letter to UKIP’s chairman Steve Crowther attacking O’Flynn emerged yesterday afternoon, however its author was a young activist named Sean Howlett, hardly a major name and not someone who could organise a plot to remove him. There is also apparently a second letter, written by more grown-up figures.
One party veteran, who has been a member for years, tells me “lots of the more libertarian members are irritated by Patrick’s leftwards march on turnover taxes [for example] bashing tax avoidance”. Over the weekend, the last chairman of UKIP’s youth wing quit the party citing its abandonment of libertarian values.
It is fair to conclude that there is a divide in UKIP, between those who ideologically want to keep the party committed to small state, low tax values, and those who more pragmatically want to chase Labour votes in the North. O’Flynn is certainly in the second camp. Crucially, however, it appears Farage is too. In the last year, the proportion of UKIP support coming from past Labour voters has trebled. From a cynical perspective, the party would be bonkers not to continue to try to appeal to left-wing votes.
So, is there a plot? If there is, Farage probably isn’t behind it. However, there are many people throughout the party who are deeply concerned at the direction the party has travelled in recent months. These UKIP Right-wingers – perhaps unfairly – blame O’Flynn. It would appear that some of these figures, though how senior or influential they are is unclear, are trying to take him out.