Ukip have had over twenty years to prepare for this moment - and just at the critical time, Farage's dropping the ball.
Confused about EU Leave or Stay? Brexit or Remain? In and Out? Who’s running what campaign with who?
Welcome to the ‘God Only Knows’ Club. Grab a beer from the ‘No Idea’ Bar, take a seat on the ‘Not A Clue’ sofa and we’ll explain it all. Well, we'll try.
The bad news is, despite wall-to-wall rhetoric from all sides, the campaign hasn’t even started yet. Officially. Even the timetable hasn’t been decided. You thought we’d been debating this for months? Funny, we thought that too.
The Electoral Commission has still to 'nominate' one 'Designated Group' from each side to receive the public funding that each side gets. Ah, so there's money involved, is there? We can see the Ukip ears pricking up. Yes, actual hard cash. But only for one Designated Group per side. And there are lots of rules.
Clearly Farage's OUT side is up and dressed and having his first pint while the REMAIN Campaign (or whatever they finally choose to call themselves) haven't laced-up their trainers yet. But the interest right now lies with the OUT Campaign - which appears to be fragmenting already.
The 2014 Ukip Doncaster Conference was a rip-roarer with the defection of Douglas Carswell - but the 2015 Conference exposed the Party weakness. And the weakness is the egos involved. Oh, those egos. When putsch comes to shove, Farage has to be front and center, and this will be his undoing.
|It is Nigel Farage himself|
that is the single biggest
challenge for Brexit
Nigel Farage's main announcement last week - in fact, the core message of the Conference in toto - was that the Eurosceptic Movement had to come together as one to fight the Referendum. That worked well. Within 24 hours it had neatly been cleaved asunder.
(For Ukip readers: 'cleaved asunder' means 'cut into two parts')
There are two Eurosceptic Camps vying for the official 'nod', the honours, the credit - and of course the cash.
Firstly, "Business For Britain". A professional cross-party group, run by referendum veterans Matthew Elliot and Dominic Cummings.
(Update February 2016 - BfB has now morphed into 'Vote Leave'. Yeah,we said it was complex.)
Allied to 'Business For Britain' is Ukip's one and only MP. Yes, 100% of the Westminster representation. This is the Eurosceptic Movement for those who want to distance themselves from Ukip. 'Business For Britain' isn't even sure it wants to leave - it's strapline is "Supporting A Better Deal From Europe". Doesn't sound very Brexit to us.
(Update February 2016 - This was of course, before Cameron's negotiation process with the EU.)
Secondly "Leave.EU". Formerly trading as TheKnow.EU. Before that it was 'The Know', and before that 'Better For The Country'. Allied to Leave.EU is Farage, Ukip donor Arron Banks and it seems, the entire rest of Ukip.
(Update February 2016 - LeaveEU has now thrown it's weight behind Grassroots Out. Except for Douglas Carswell and Suzanne Evans. Still keeping up?)
|Arron 'Go Skippy' Banks|
Under his guidance, TheKnow.EU has already soiled it's reputation by posting streams of falsehoods on Social Media, leading many to conclude that when the Campaign begins for real, they will be unable to stop themselves breaking the Referendum Rules.
They are, in short, uncontrollable mavericks. Which might go down very well with the Ukip faithful, but which won't work at all for a Proper Referendum which needs to appeal to a wide cross-section of British people.
(Update February 2016 - which is why they've now allied with Grassroots Out.)
Leave.EU will have all of Ukip's (few remaining) resources, however; they are controlled not by Farage - but by Banks. I can't recall when a single wealthy individual has ever had so much power over how a party promotes it's one core belief. And so cheaply, too. Murmurs are being heard within Ukip. This is not how Democracy is supposed to be.
|Carswell - SHOCKED!|
Add in two egos as large as the EU Headquarters in Brussels and it's clear - Ukip needs moderate Eurosceptics to join them, but moderate Eurosceptics just won't work with either of them.
Both? Not. A. Chance.
The division was aptly demonstrated right in the middle of Conference when Banks, livid with Carswell for what he saw as disloyalty, reportedly "threatened to deselect him if he didn't back Leave.EU".
Banks clearly appears to have a lot more power in Ukip than an unelected donor really ought to have.
He followed this up by describing Carswell, his Party's sole elected MP, as "borderline autistic with mental illness thrown in.” What a charming chap.
And this spat between the two camps doesn't look like mending any time soon. If anything, the gulf is likely to widen.
(Update February 2016 - And indeed it has. Merger attempts have failed, Ukip is still split on which group to back, Vote Leave trying to sack it's own founders.)
So, er, Nigel - how's that "Unified Eurosceptic Movement" working out for you?
Only one of two things can happen:
Vote Leave gets selected as Nominated Group.
- It gains some cross-party support for Brexit but probably not enough.
- Meanwhile Leave.EU disintegrates as supporters and backers flock to Vote Leave, leaving Farage and Ukip isolated from the very cause they've promoted for twenty years.
- Banks pulls out his money, both from Leave.EU and Ukip.
- Farage resigns.
- Carswell gets sidelined.
- Considers resigning from Ukip and remaining as an Independent MP - (the Tories won't take him back, he's asked already.)
- Banks and Farage have the much anticipated Total Ego War (get popcorn for that one).
- Grassroots Out, under guidance from Banks, shoots vitriol at every target in range, and Immigration becomes the core 'message' for the Campaign.
- Moderate Eurosceptics become alienated at this and reconsider whether the EU maybe isn't so bad after all.
- The Brexit Campaign fails, Banks pulls out his money, both from the Campaign and Ukip.
- Farage resigns.
|So how's that Unified Cause|
working for you, Nigel?
Meanwhile what of the Remain Campaign? They just have to play a straight bat and wait for the inevitable implosion. They can only lose through ineptitude (but never underestimate the idiocy of any group.)
You know, Ukip have had twenty years to prepare for this moment.
It has been their raison d'etre. It they blow their chance now, what has it all been for? Farage is backing UKIP's last chip on Leave.EU / Grassroots Out.
If it fails - and we think it will, either way - what then for Nigel?
What then, indeed, for Ukip? How many donors will contribute, how many members will remain?
And, gee, where will all the racists go now?