UKIP have had their fair share of controversies over the past few years, but with the exposure of racist text messages from UKIP leader Henry Bolton’s now ex-girlfriend, Jo Marney, this feels like a potential death knell for a party already struggling.
After the revelation of the texts, Bolton – who has been leader for just four months – has faced increasing pressure to resign. Fourteen senior figures, including deputy leader Margot Smith, have resigned and UKIP’s NEC have passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in Bolton. Yet he has remained defiant, claiming that the party cannot afford another leadership election. Although this may be true, his position is still untenable. He must go.
Initially, Bolton claimed that his relationship with Marney was over and that she had resigned from the party. That should have been enough to put an end to the scandal. But his recent comments that the pair are still in contact and that he is willing to resume the relationship at a later date are unacceptable.
These views are unacceptable for anyone in 21st century Britain, let alone someone in public life. To still seek an association with someone responsible for such reprehensible remarks is an implicit approval of racism and sends a very troubling message. We must wonder what sort of man Bolton is. Are these views ones he wishes to associate with? To what extent does his own views align with hers? How does this influence the direction he wishes to take UKIP in? It really does not paint a flattering picture and risks further tainting the brand of a party which already has a reputation for what many would regard as divisive rhetoric on immigration.
From a party perspective, as well, there seems to be no other option for Bolton but to resign. He has lost the support of his party, diminishing his ability to reposition UKIP in post-referendum British politics. UKIP have been massively marginalised in recent times and this will do nothing to help.
Regardless of whether or not Bolton resigns, UKIP are in a very dire situation indeed. This scandal could prove to be the death knell for the party, especially with a vital local election in May. Having already lost all but one council seat up for election last year and having fallen from 12.6% in the 2015 general election to 1.8% in 2017, it is evident that the party is on its last legs. Even if Bolton does resign, it may well be too late. The party is on the verge of bankruptcy.
The continued media frenzy has completely neutralised their attempts to position themselves as the party of scrutiny over Brexit negotiations. UKIP has lost credibility since the (second) resignation of Farage; indeed, even founder Alan Sked recently labelled it a ‘national joke’. This episode has only further diminished their credibility.
Ultimately, Henry Bolton’s future is unclear. The party may limp through this immediate crisis, but the problems run deeper. UKIP’s days may well be numbered.