First a disclaimer: I know and like Gerard. That’s hardly unique, for he’s known and liked by many.
Nor can I claim any originality in deploring his choice of the thuggish criminal Tommy Robinson as his adviser. I’m sure many of Gerard’s friends feel the same way.
Where I diverge from some is in understanding, compassionately, why Gerard did what he did, going I’m sure against his better instincts.
Whenever a friend of mine has a problem, my first impulse is to offer help, if only in the shape of unsolicited advice. Alas, I can’t do so in this case – for the simple reason that I can’t find anything sensible to suggest.
The problem is that, though Gerard’s heart and head are both in the right place, his party isn’t. In fact, when Gerard took over as Ukip leader, the party was moribund.
It was sinking fast, and it took all of Gerard’s administrative talents to keep it afloat. But a ship that’s not structurally sea-worthy will sink sooner or later, for all the best efforts of its captain and crew.
That I’m afraid is Ukip’s situation, and it largely derives from the party’s nature. For Ukip isn’t really a party, in the sense in which we usually understand the word. It’s more of a pressure group, pressing on a single point: getting out of the EU.
For Ukip is a party not just of a single issue but of a single hope. The hope, even if continuously frustrated, can sustain the party’s life. But the hope fulfilled will have the same effect as the hope stamped out: death.
In other words, the party’s success would spell its demise, which isn’t how other political entities typically define achievement.
A political party is deemed successful when it gains enough votes to win or at least influence elections. It may or may not become king, but, to justify its existence, it must always have the capacity to be a king maker.
A party can become successful only when it enjoys a broad, and expandable, support base. It doesn’t have to be all things to all men (although most parties try), but it does have to be many things to many men.
A single-issue party is thus at an inherent disadvantage, which Ukip illustrates vividly.
I once asked a senior Ukip figure if the party could extend its life expectancy by positioning itself as the true conservative party, as distinct from the Labour Lite that has appropriated the name.
That was an ignorant question, my interlocutor was quick to explain. For Ukip isn’t only, perhaps not even predominantly, conservative.
For the issue of Brexit is narrow enough to attract broad masses. People who disagree on everything else may still overlap on that one point.
Generally speaking, they are all disaffected with the existing establishment, Tory, Labour or especially the cross-party apparat that transcends any nominal affiliation and governs on the basis of narrow self-interest. But they do fall into separate, sometime irreconcilable, groups.
One group is indeed formed by intuitive conservatives, those who realise that a transfer of sovereignty from Parliament to any foreign body invalidates Britain’s constitution and hence effectively Britain herself. Anyone who knows Gerard Batten or has read his book on Henry VIII will know that this is the group to which he belongs.
Another lot are old-fashioned patriotic Labourites, who are socialists not because they wish to destroy Britain but because they’re misguided into believing that socialism won’t do that.
Yet another group are hard-Left socialists in the Corbyn vein, for whom the EU isn’t socialist enough. They do want workers of the world to unite, but only under the Corbynites’ own aegis. If conservatives are loath to weaken the constitutional mandate, this lot hate weakening their own power.
And then there’s another wad of humanity, one with which the Remainers perfidiously identify the whole Brexit movement: fascistic thugs. This group is best exemplified by Tommy Robinson.
If the conservatives and old-fashioned Labourites are chiefly motivated by love, the Tommy Robinson types are driven by hate – of foreigners, minorities such as Muslims and often also Jews, poor people, rich people, you name it.
A conservative may deplore the uncontrolled influx of Muslim immigrants because he is aware of the cultural and demographic catastrophe that may ensue once a certain critical mass has been reached. But he won’t viscerally hate individual Muslims, the way fascistic types do.
So why did Gerard welcome that criminal thug into the inner sanctum of Ukip? The answer lies not in any imperfection of Gerard’s character, but in the structural defects of his party.
Dave Cameron put Ukip in the coffin by agreeing to hold a Brexit referendum. And, when more Britons voted to leave than had ever voted for anything else, they nailed the lid shut. The single issue seemed not to be an issue any longer.
A succession of Ukip leaders followed, until the reins were taken by someone with all the requisite qualities: Gerard Batten. He prised the coffin lid open because Ukip couldn’t be buried yet.
Hence Ukip had to go back to acting like a party, which entailed standing in all sorts of elections, winning some, affecting the outcome of most and thereby putting a squeeze on the mainstream parties.
After all, Dave Cameron didn’t call a referendum out of the goodness of his heart. He did so because Ukip was cannibalising the Tory vote, delivering marginal seats to Labour.
Since the cross-party apparat is tirelessly working to undermine, ideally torpedo, Brexit, the need for Ukip is as urgent as ever. But the core support for it has been compromised.
The disaffected Tories have gone back to their political roots, as have the disaffected Labourites. After all, both their parties claim to be committed to Brexit.
Those prodigal sons will smell a rat sooner or later, but later is no good for Ukip. It needs to make its comeback now, before the coffin has been lowered six feet under.
The most immediate political opportunity lies in bringing under its unifying banners all sorts of marginal groups, those that go by the misnomer of ‘extreme right’. There are at least half a dozen of them around, and I mean only the largest ones, those that call themselves a party.
However, Ukip’s charter wisely ostracises BNP types and their ideological relations – it’s incumbent on a serious political party to disavow any extremist group claiming affinity with it.
When a party refuses to do so, it thereby brands itself as not serious. Corbyn’s Labour springs to mind.
Throughout its life, the Labour party has tried to keep communists and other hard left riff-raff out. In that effort, the party has been only variably successful, but at least until now the hard left has been unable to claim the party as its own.
Now the loony left are in charge there, and one can only pray that the British have enough nous left to keep that bunch out of power – for all the vacillating inadequacy of the Tories. Alas, I’m not sure electorates are capable of thinking in terms of lesser evil.
Labour didn’t have to open its doors to the lunatic fringe, but I’m sure Gerard Batten feels Ukip is in no position to be fastidious. If it can survive at all, it has to get support wherever it can find it. It can no longer afford to pick and choose.
Having said all that, if I were a member of Ukip, I’d leave it over this out of sheer squeamishness – just like many years ago I stopped attending parties at a conservative magazine because I had espied some BNP types there.
Mercifully, anticipating just such a situation, I never joined Ukip even though I faithfully voted for it in a number of elections. Now I’m not bound by party loyalty to defend the hiring of Tommy Robinson.
I would never hire scum like that in a million years, and I’d leave any room he’d enter. But I have the luxury Gerard lacks: reaching for the high moral ground.
I’m responsible to no one but myself; he has a party to run. I can afford being uncompromising; Gerard can’t. So I’m sorry he did what he did – but I understand why he did it.