Knife fights aren’t a new thing for UKIP. As I wrote in August 2013:
‘UKIP is no stranger to internal disputes. I can think of no fewer than six bouts of bitter in-fighting over the years, peppered with dozens of smaller factional skirmishes. It also has a disturbing tendency to banish rather than simply agree to disagree when faced with a difference of opinion.’
True to form, the party is now engaged in two distinct but inter-connected battles.
The first is Douglas Carswell’s disagreement with Nigel Farage about Short Money. If, when he defected, the party thought that they were signing up another person who would be obedient to Farage’s will they were severely mistaken. As Paul wrote yesterday, Carswell is a cheerful optimist in a party led by someone who appears to prefer the language of pessimism. He is also a man of strong principle who, having left one party to follow his beliefs, has no intention of abandoning them just to satisfy his new hosts.
A volley of bitter attacks on the Clacton MP from anonymous spokesmen around Farage helped to spark off the second dispute, this time with Patrick O’Flynn. The MEP and economic spokesman was one (alongside Tim Aker) who rode to Carswell’s defence. But now he has opened his own front on a much more sensitive topic than Short Money – Farage’s leadership style, choice of advisers and “personality cult” – on the front page of The Times.
This tension between O’Flynn and the leadership isn’t new. It first flared after his ill-judged announcements on the WAG tax and corporation tax at the party’s autumn conference, after which I predicted “blood on the carpet”. By March his authority on his own policy area had been demolished and he’d picked up the nickname “Pinko’Flynn” (UKIP loves a name-based pun).
As Matthew Goodwin has often said, the rule of UKIP internal spats has so far been quite simple: Nigel always wins. That may not remain true forever – particularly as this time he is fighting two prominent individuals on two fronts – but he still has the biggest, sharpest claws in the party.
Carswell’s future remains in his own hands – without him, the party wouldn’t get any Short Money at all, so Farage cannot simply banish him. As the only People’s Army MP, his loss would also be a huge loss in standing, influence and reputation.
So, with few options on that front, the Dear Leader is turning all his ire on O’Flynn – after all, he has plenty more MEPs, this one in particular has been wounded for some months now and today’s attack is miles over the normal line. This morning I received, unsolicited, an extraordinary quote about Patrick from someone who can accurately be called a senior UKIP official and leading Faragiste:
“O’Flynn is a totally inexperienced campaign director and a candidate who struggled to retain his deposit, getting just 5.2%. A scribbler with a single tier education he struggled as Economics spokesman , trying to impose envy taxes and was keen on Red Ken Livingstone’s idea of a turnover tax on companies.”
As he went to Cambridge and has a qualification in journalism, I can only conclude that “single tier education” line refers to him having gone to a Community College rather than a Grammar School, by the way. *UPDATE* I’m told the intention of this comment was that he has no professional qualification at post-graduate level and isn’t a barrister or similar.)
The strength of that attack seems to leave little doubt that the intention of some of those around the leader is to obliterate and/or drive out Patrick O’Flynn if they possibly can. If I were him, I wouldn’t go too close to any anti-aircraft guns any time soon.