It’s less than two hours into Ukip’s Spring Conference in Bolton and already the cracks are starting to show. Although Paul Nuttall promised to unite the party as leader, his predecessor Nigel Farage has set the cat among the pigeons with a speech on the future of Ukip.
The former leader said he was concerned that ‘too many people’ in the party now wish to turn their back on the bold strategy of ‘thinking the unthinkable’ and ‘saying the unsayable’ that got them where they are today:
‘This party succeeded because we had guts, we had passion, we were brave. But now I sense there are too many people in Ukip — whose jobs and positions have come directly as a result of that bold strategy — who are now urging Ukip to become mainstream.
Now I will say this, it’s nice to be popular. It’s good to be invited to all the right social set parties in London and I guess it is easier in life to be thought of as being nice rather than one of those unpleasant populists. But this attitude is not Ukip. Ukip is a radical party — or it is nothing.’
Farage made further murmurs of discontent in the hall after. While he refrained from naming names in his speech, it appears to be a reference to the likes of Patrick O’Flynn, Suzanne Evans and Douglas Carswell — former foes, who have all been helping Nuttall in the Stoke by-election. It’s worth noting that Evans exited the conference hall just as he began to speak. In response to the speech, one party figure points out to me that perhaps life isn’t so bad for ‘unpleasant populists’ given that of all the Ukip politicians, it’s Farage who gets the best party invites.
Farage, too, may have said a bit too much for Nuttall’s liking. Nuttall has been trying to downplay his chances in next week’s Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election — telling reporters a loss would not be ‘terminal’ as the constituency isn’t even on the party’s top 50 list. However, Farage ramped up the pressure — telling conference it ‘matters hugely’ and that the party cannot for ‘one moment’ play down just how ‘important and fundamental’ it is to Ukip’s future. Following the bad press over Hillsborough, this is an unhelpful intervention and will increase speculation that should Nuttall fail a leadership challenge could be in the offing.
While Nuttall received a warm reception in the conference hall — at one point appearing to choke-up following a standing ovation — his decision to not do press after his speech means that it’s Farage who will become the story of the day.