It’s a month since we launched our Pinning Down Farage series with the question “What is UKIP’s economic policy?” It proved popular – indeed it’s now a top three Google result on the topic, and sometimes number one depending on how you phrase the search.
It also put into print concerns that have been circulating inside the ‘People’s Army’ for some time about the direction and coherence of the policy set by Patrick O’Flynn MEP, the UKIP Economy spokesman. Senior officials and activists – particularly those on the Faragiste wing of the party – have grumbled about him to me a number of times in recent weeks.
Today we see the first signs of a move to unseat him from the job.
First Breitbart – whose boss was coincidentally hired to be Senior Adviser to Farage a couple of weeks ago – reported that:
‘Senior members of UKIP are campaigning behind the scenes to have Patrick O’Flynn MEP removed as economic spokesman after his appearance on the BBC’s Newsnight programme last Monday night…His opponents are now circulating a letter calling for him to go, which they hope to publish this week. One source who is not involved with the letter told Breitbart London: “He really does need to shut up with all talk of aggressive tax avoidance and bashing big business… It’s a real mistake to have a pinko in such an important position.”‘
Then Guido revealed a letter from Sean Howlett – who coincidentally used to assist Steven Woolfe MEP, UKIP’s Financial Affairs spokesman – expressing a “concern of mine and many others” that O’Flynn was responsible for moving the party away from its “small state, low tax agenda”. It then emerged that that’s a totally separate letter from that covered in the Breitbart report, and that there are evidently at least two pushes underway.
Ardent UKIPer James Delingpole has stepped in to twist the knife further, bracketing O’Flynn with Miliband, Russell Brand and – perhaps most hurtfully – David Cameron:
‘…why is Patrick O’Flynn, the economics spokesman for Britain’s most libertarian mainstream party UKIP, flirting with the kind of wealth taxes and turnover taxes you’d more usually associate with the Greens or the Socialist Workers’ Party?’
‘..does UKIP intend to follow the example of David Cameron and decide that the pursuit of power is more important than ideological principle – or does it mean to make a real difference?’
O’Flynn’s former colleague, Peter Oborne, has rallied to his defence, alleging that libertarian donors have Farage’s ear and that the former Express man’s development of Red UKIP tax and spending policies are key to the party’s growing success.
I’m not sure that Peter’s approach of talking up O’Flynn’s importance will help his old friend. As we’ve seen in bouts of UKIP infighting and factionalism over the years, people who take on Farage – or, worse, emerge as perceived competitors to him – tend to end up needing a bit of stitching work done between their shoulder blades.
Whatever the outcome of this latest battle, one thing is clear: the internal tensions within UKIP are building. Some of it is interpersonal, some of it is policy-based, most of it is a mixture of both. As Red UKIP continues to gain sway within the party, new figures develop their standing and – not least – Carswell and likely Reckless sit under the purple banner in the Commons, that’s only going to get worse.
As a host of former colleagues and allies will attest, Nigel Farage is experienced in this kind of internal battle. If past form is anything to go by, there’ll be blood on the carpet.