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It’s one of the curious features of the 2019 European Union elections.
I refer to the media-led onslaught against UKIP which has helped result in that Party being wiped out at EU level.
In 2014, UKIP topped the EU elections in the UK, winning 24 seats and gaining 27% of the vote. This was a seismic political event, despite the relentless mockery directed towards the Party, it’s candidates and its Leader, Nigel Farage. Such was the threat to the Conservative Party that it created a momentum which encouraged David Cameron to instigate the 2016 EU Referendum which in turn brought out the dramatic decision of the UK electorate to leave the EU.
This would NOT have happened without the threat of UKIP. This would not have happened without the leadership of Farage and the strong connection with the electorate.
When Cameron promised the Referendum, this essentially defanged the UKIP threat as disillusioned Conservative voters returned to the fold, assuming that the Conservative Party would now honour the result. Nigel Farage stood back from UKIP, eventually leaving it in 2018, and UKIP went through a series of burlesque leaders, until the coming of Gerard Batten as Leader.
Batten seemed a plain speaking and honest politician and he was prepared to tackle a range of incendiary issues beyond just that of UK continued membership of the EU. He was outspoken on the threat of militant Islam and he enjoyed a political proximity to Tommy Robinson, going so far as to appoint him as an adviser on the issue of Rape gangs and prison reform in late 2018. Robinson was not a member of UKIP at any point though Batten shared a public platform on occasion. Earlier in 2018, Batten had welcomed Youtube personalities Sargon of Akkad (Carl Benjamin), Paul Joseph Watson, and Count Dankula (Mark Meechan)
UKIP’s share in polls hovered around 2% but as 2019 progressed and the Theresa May farce continued, UKIP started to stir in the opinion polls, moving up to 5-6% at one point.
Two things then happened which were to prove terminal to UKIP.
In the first instance, it was announced that Carl Benjamin and Mark Meechan would stand as MEP candidates.
In the second instance, Nigel Farage made a sensational return to the political sphere as the new leader of the Brexit Party.
The Carl Benjamin candidacy was to provide the media with a very convenient stick with which to beat UKIP around the head. They zeroed in on a tweet that Benjamin had made several years previously which was directed at Labour MP Jess Philips. It was in the context of her disrespectful behaviour at a Westminster Committee looking into issues such as male suicide. This tweet was made a central feature of the media coverage of the UKIP EU election campaign.
During the campaign, in what was clearly a joke video, Benjamin also said;
The media also zeroed in on this, once more implying Benjamin was suggesting he might rape Philips but there wasn’t enough beer to make him do so. The optics were horrendous for UKIP but I am unsure if they realised that.
Benjamin provided a principled and coherent explanation of his tweets and jokes. But the damage was done. The tweets were at best, ill-considered, and in poor taste. Being a Youtube star and being a political figure are two very different things. Media coverage of the UKIP campaign was to be all about “Rape Tweets” and little else cut through. It didn’t matter that UKIP wanted a WTO clean break Brexit, the media amplified the noise around THAT tweet and it has buried UKIP. This was trial and execution by media.
In retrospect, the adoption of Carl Benjamin (and to a lesser degree Mark Meechan who was all but invisible, media-wise) can be seen as the moment when UKIP consigned itself to the electoral bin. It was a pivotal moment. Nigel Farage distanced himself entirely from UKIP and the media relentlessly focused on Benjamin, demanding Batten disavow him.To be fair to Batten, he held strong but the Party’s message was lost entirely in the media furore.
The consequences of this became apparent in the Local Council elections on May 2nd 2019 when UKIP saw its vote collapse. This was the prelude to what has now happened. All UKIP seats have been lost. Gerard Batten has lost his seat.
It’s all over for UKIP.
UKIP provided a useful function for many years and I feel that it is owed a debt of gratitude. The many loyal UKIP rank and file deserve due recognition. It must feel incredibly painful for them today but perhaps consolation comes with the knowledge that Brexit must now happen by October 31st.