The lights truly are going out all over UKIP. This morning’s PR Week brings news that Gawain Towler, the Party’s communications director, is leaving after 13 years.
It’s hard to overstate the degree to which Towler is an institution in his party. Back in 2015, I described him as follows:
‘The unsung hero of UKIP’s rise to prominence, Towler – who officially works for the EFDD – has been instrumental in establishing Farage’s voice, tone and fame. Unconventional in his love of waistcoats and cravats, any conversation with him is punctuated by phonecalls asking for statements from Nigel on every type of story. Having just passed his tenth anniversary of working for UKIP, Towler has become a rare stable fixture in a party notorious for its bouts of in-fighting. Sufficiently trusted by his leader to give comments in his name, he knows the heart, guts (and skeletons) of the movement.’
Like Farage, he is one of the figures without whom the breakthrough of the ‘People’s Army’ might never have happened, and he proved a thorn in the Tory side many times. In a party that often despised the idea of professionalism, he was able to smuggle a highly effective combination of very hard work, good-natured affability and sharp news judgement into the operation under the cover of his eccentrically chappist exterior.
He understood that being likeable, indulgent towards journalists and always, but always, available for enquiries were valuable and somewhat rare attributes, and used them both to create Brand Farage and battle the seemingly endless scandals generated by his Party’s grassroots. “Oh god, what’s some silly sod done now?” was a routine way in which he would answer the phone. His new enterprise will apparently be advising private clients on how to handle crisis communications – something to which his experience has left him uniquely well-suited.
Towler’s departure after all this time marks the end of an era for UKIP. It also raises further questions about the Party’s overall viability; without any national press officers, without the institutional knowledge of people like Towler or even of the younger staff whom he trained, how can it maintain any sort of capacity to function as a real force in the national media? So far as I can see its operations will now revert to the freelancing efforts of whichever MEPs’ offices fancy having a crack at one topic or another, while Henry Bolton battles on as an increasingly lonely figure at the top.