I DON’T think anyone is truly of the belief that Nigel Farage and Gerard Batten don’t have the same goals in common. The differences are tiny, and come down to strategy rather than philosophy.
Most of you will know that over the summer I was one of a small team of people who organised and fundraised for the #FreeTommy rallies.
I also was a media spokesman for the campaign, and spoke with him and/or his family almost every day. I still do.
But many who follow closely also know I’ve long said, and long said to Tommy that party politics was beneath him. He has proven himself a highly effective citizen journalist, campaigner, and activist. I don’t want him to lose those skills nor waste them by becoming a part of a bureaucratic organisation.
There’s a lot to think about when considering UKIP and Tommy joining forces, and I’ve had the opportunity over several years to give them significant thought.
The issue first arose for me, publicly, over two years ago. Sky News asked me if I would have Tommy Robinson in a UKIP under my prospective leadership. I said I wouldn’t. Before the interview I had spoken with Tommy about the issue, and he said very much what I believe to still be the case: that party politics should not be of interest to him.
Now I understand that has changed from his perspective. It hasn’t from mine, and I’ll tell you exactly why.
Running a political party, even being senior within a political party requires a collective responsibility. It means you all have to pull in the same direction on manifesto writing, fundraising, campaign pledges, publicity, events, membership, messaging, leafleting, and more.
Do we really want to see Tommy wasting his time delivering leaflets? Does he himself really want to have to be held to certain manifesto commitments of UKIP? Education policies? NHS policies? Foreign policy? I highly doubt it. It was uncomfortable enough for someone like me back in 2015. He is his own man and needs to be able to continue that way.
Furthermore, flip the conversation around. Does UKIP, or should UKIP be held to everything Tommy says or does? High profile figures in political parties are scrutinised incredibly heavily. Journalists and opposition parties watch their every move. Track their finances. Monitor who they are meeting, why, and what is discussed. I don’t think UKIP should have to answer for Tommy, much as I believe Tommy would dislike having to answer for UKIP.
Now let me bring something else into the equation: political strategy.
Over the past few months Gerard Batten has publicly denounced Steve Bannon and Donald Trump. These are two people who could have been very good for UKIP to work with. Instead, Batten has said he is “not a big admirer” of Bannon, and has said of Donald Trump, “I think it is sad state of affairs that Trump is a serious contender for the American Presidency” and that “it was hard to take seriously anyone with a hairstyle like that”.
If we think our movement could develop any long-standing ties to the American right (which we really should be doing) under Gerard Batten, we are gravely mistaken.
This shouldn’t be viewed as an attack on Mr. Batten, either.
I invited him, repeatedly, to be a part of the #FreeTommy rallies. I’ve known him for years, and on the policies we are scarcely different. But he is wrong on the strategy.
He told the BBC today that under him, UKIP was up to 8 per cent in the polls. Well actually that one was Opinium poll. Others have UKIP down at 3, 4, 5, and 7, respectively. An average of these five polls puts UKIP at around 5 per cent, with a couple of points margin of error either way.
Why does this matter?
Because you would think that a party that has been as high as 20-odd per cent could capitalise on this Tory stitch up, fake Brexit deal. But under Gerard it hasn’t.
I also believe Gerard has succeeded in keeping UKIP from bankruptcy as he told the BBC earlier today. But that is neither here nor there, because the means by which it has happened means UKIP now operates on a skeleton staff, without a proper office, and without the means by which to fight a general election. So yeah, if I didn’t eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner, I’d be considerably better off, too.
In closing, I thought I’d let you know that I don’t say anything in public that I haven’t already made my feelings clear about in private. I’ve told Tommy how I feel about him becoming a party figure. I’ve told Nigel he was wrong not to support the #FreeTommy movement. I’ve told Gerard I was disappointed in his comments about Bannon.
And now I’m telling you what a mistake it would be to lose Tommy as a journalistic and campaigning force.
He has the opportunity to build a major media challenger to the establishment. I’d rather than doesn’t get lost in day-long National Executive Committee meetings, or in developing manifesto pledges.
I don’t expect you to agree with me, but I do believe this to be the most eminently reasonable and well thought through position.