The UK Independence Party died on Saturday aged 24 after a lengthy battle with irrelevancy.
A bit like when your distant Uncle – a known racist – passes away, you don’t know whether to be saddened or relieved.
UKIP’s membership voted 867 to 500 to sack embattled Henry Bolton as party leader at an extraordinary general meeting in Birmingham, ousting the party’s fourth leader in 18 months. The party, already facing a slump in opinion polls, an exodus of members and now bankruptcy, looks set to fade into irrelevancy, having ebbed away from the public sphere ever since the EU Referendum in June 2016.
Saturday afternoon’s vote is the death knell for the troubled party, which had been struggling to project a coherent vision for the UK ever since Nigel Farage resigned as leader in July 2016, triggering a lengthy bout of infighting. Farage was the public face of UKIP for over 10 years and it would appear that the party has now run into the ground – voted itself out of existence – without his stewardship.
It is rumoured that the party’s accounts are in such dire straits that they may not even be able to fund what would be the fifth official leadership election since Farage’s resignation. If, by some remarkable feat, they struggle through insolvency and crown a fifth leader, by the time the party emerges from such introspection the public will have forgotten them completely: If the party isn’t done for now, it will be done for by then.
Therefore, UKIP is dead. The party’s primary goal of a referendum on Europe was achieved in 2016 and now their work is done.
After rising to prominence under the Cameron premiership, UKIP have fallen away to distant memory. This may well mark a new epoch in British politics. As the 2017 election showed, Corbyn’s Labour successfully won back voters who had flocked to UKIP after being disillusioned by the New Labour years. UKIP’s final act of self combustion in ousting Bolton seems a poignant reminder that UKIP’s xenophobic-tipped doctrines no longer attract the British public; which can only be a good thing. Under Paul Nuttall, Bolton’s predecessor, UKIP won just 1.8% 0f the vote in 2017, losing 10.8 points on 2015. Nuttall’s uncharismatic, overtly ‘racist uncle’ campaign clearly did not win over the public. And that can only be a good thing.
While UKIP’s demise will undoubtedly lead to, as 2017 showed, a return to two-party politics – which is problematic in itself – we can nevertheless celebrate the death of the project to make fascism palatable to UK voters. Perhaps the best way for the UK public to dance on the grave of UKIP is to embrace multiculturalism with new-found fraternity. 2017 was characterised by steady news streams of depressing rejections of multiculturalism. From the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, to Trump’s travel ban and the Charlottesville nazi rally in the US, to the Finsbury Park Mosque attack; it seemed that multiculturalists had lost. But to many around the world, such disturbing events served as a wakeup call.
2018 can be a better year. Taking UKIP’s death as a starting point, it can be a year in which we all as a united people speak out against efforts by those who seek to undermine the rich fabric of diversity that we all benefit from: not just in the UK, but across the world. We must put pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi to act on the Rohingya crisis. We must encourage the acceptance of citizens of all faiths and ethnicities. If Trump is to come to the UK this year, we must assemble the largest demonstration against a sitting president in history and send him a clear message which embraces multiculturalism and rejects his racism and xenophobia.
In the words of the late Jo Cox, we have far more in common with each other than that which divide us.