Whichever ancient pharaoh’s tomb Paul Nuttall once disturbed, it certainly came with a powerful curse.
After anger on the UKIP NEC about his flop in Stoke-on-Trent Central, and having attracted the unfortunate nickname ‘Andy Capp’ among senior UKIPers, he now appears to be in a full-on battle with Arron Banks, the multi-millionaire donor who had been keeping UKIP afloat.
A few weeks ago, Banks stepped up his campaign to effectively take control of UKIP – demanding to be made chairman in order to purge people he deems to be a “cabal”, threatening to end his donations if he is refused, and promising to stand against Douglas Carswell at the next General Election. He later started laying into Nuttall himself, tweeting that “the new UKIP leadership couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding”.
Today we learn that Banks’s demand to be put in the driving seat has indeed been rebuffed. The party let his membership lapse early in the year, and when he came to renew it he has been informed that he is suspended and therefore not allowed to apply to rejoin.
It’s not exactly a surprise. Becoming chairman would require the sacking of Paul Oakden, the current occupant of the role and a Nuttall ally. Even those NEC members who supported the idea seemed to be doing so primarily on the basis that “we need money”, and out of concern about the possibility of Banks setting up a competitor with Sir Nigel Farage, rather than out of any great belief in Banks’s political nous.
Publicly attacking Nuttall’s leadership was unlikely to make his offer sound any more attractive. Why would the leader hand the car keys to someone who sounded likely to eject him through the sunroof at the first possible opportunity?
In the end, it might have been Banks’s pledge to stand against Carswell which offered the formal opportunity to suspend him from UKIP. Few parties would take kindly to a member standing against their official candidate – still less when that candidate is also their sole MP. UKIP’s technocrats are past masters at the rulebook exclusion (typified by Sir Nigel’s use of it to eliminate various rivals over the years) and Banks appears to be the latest victim of the tactic.
As for what’s next, the promises have been big and numerous. Banks has variously threatened to take his financial bat and ball home, to set up a “movement” to revolutionise British politics, to launch his own party and to become an independent candidate. He might do none, one, several or all of these things. If he’s anything, he’s unpredictable.