Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I kip for U-KIP

Can't sleep so I thought I'd take a look at the current fortunes of UKIP. It's the sort of thing I do, sad I know.

2004 was a stunning year for UKIP. They won two London Assembly members and an astonishing twelves seats at the European Parliament on just under 17% of the vote. For a party that performed so well, claiming more seats than the Lib Dems, you rarely hear from them do you? I mean they proclaimed themselves to be radicals that were going to really shake things up. Come on, I'm ready! I'm not shaking yet.

I was going to start with their two London Assembly Members but the thing is... they both left UKIP and are now in their own party "One London" which appears to be essentially identical to UKIP, apart from they get to be in charge of it. This probably means that neither UKIP nor One London are likely to retain a presence on the London assembly come the next election.

So let's look at the most prominent figure in the 2004 campaign, Robert Kilroy Silk, who led the party to its Euro successes - oh - it appears he also left to form his own, now defunct, party Veritas within less than a year of joining UKIP. Perhaps we'll have more luck with some of the other MEPs.

Tom Wise (who happens to be one of my MEPs) is currently suspended from the party because he is currently under investigation by the fraud squad. This must be quite embarrassing for an ex-policeman although he can take some comfort in the fact that whilst UKIP have announced to the world that they have suspended him they don't seem to have actually done anything about it, so none of his gravy train privileges in the European Parliament are, as yet, threatened.

Let's try UKIP MEP Ashley Mote. Oh dear, he's had the misforttune of having to serve a spell at Her Majesty's pleasure serving a sentence for eight charges of false accounting, eight of obtaining a money transfer by deception, four of evading liability and one of failing to notify a change of circumstances. He is currently tagged. His constituents can rest assured though Mote has claimed that being in jail did not impair his effectiveness as an MEP, presumably because he wasn't doing anything for them anyway.

What is it with UKIP and finances? They seem to be a little jinxed in that department. In August this year they were fined £18,000 for infractions of the laws on political donations. Then the UKIP treasurer, Bruce Lawson, resigned which may be connected to the financial difficulties that the Telegraph reported earlier in the year.

In fact there seems to be the rumblings of internal discontent over the attitude the party takes to its financial affairs all round. All unfounded I'm sure. NEC member David Abbott seems concerned about "a cavalier attitude to the accounts". In a statement now sadly only available in cached form he remarked that "When running for the leadership, Farage said that he was good at raising money. This claim is open to dispute. What is not in dispute is that he is very good at spending it."

Things have got so bad that some members have set up an alternative party name, just in case there is a wish to split. The Grassroots Democracy Party (registered newly with the electoral commission) is not yet a fact but there has been a dissenter's "conference" attended by three UKIP NEC members (David Abbott, Delroy Young and Gill Seymore) and dozens of activists whose key concerns appear to be the need for financial probity, and MEP's serving only one term at the Euro parliament (so they don't become feather bedded Euro-politicos). Hardly controversial you would have thought considering UKIP's founding principles.

So if we look at some of the motions passed at the Grasroot Democracy conference we have a motion carried unanimously that says that "All UKIP accounts and returns must be fully audited by a reputable and independent firm of Chartered Accountants and a proper accounting system put in place." and another that says "All UKIP candidates for the European Parliamentary elections of 2009 will be asked to sign a Code of Conduct which will include provision that all monies received from European sources by the MEP or in connection with his activities shall be publicly and transparently accounted for. No UKIP MEP will participate in any EU-organised or sponsored visit unless such visit is approved in advance by the National Executive Committee."

Could it be that the party set up to attack Euro-corruption is in fact less than 100% on its own pecuniary rectitude? I certainly hope not - I'm sure in this case there is smoke without fire.

However it seems that along with concerns that UKIP leaders and elected officials have not been quite satisfactory when it comes to the accounts it seems they are also concerned that there is a lack of democracy in this party founded to bring democracy back to the British people.

These concerns include "The minutes of bodies such as the National Executive Committee and Regional Committees and R/O meetings should, in general, be made available to members." and "Candidates on the National List all must have equal opportunity to be selected. Employees of existing MEP's must have no role whatsoever in candidate selection." Which raises more questions than it answers frankly.

But we get to the crux of how internal party debates are carried out with this motion (again passed unanimously) "Party members should have the freedom to speak out about the lack of freedom and on democracy in the party without being labelled as trouble -makers and put under pressure to resign."

Petrina Holdsworth, a long serving UKIP member, puts her position like this "Whether we like it or not it is now abundantly clear from the recent results at Local and Parliamentary level that we are not receiving the support of the British voters, inspite of all the valiant efforts of our membership."

It's always difficult to be involved in a project that does not fulfill your expectations - they have my sympathies, if not my support.

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