After his girlfriend’s racist messages about Meghan Markle went public, UKIP leader Henry Bolton was brought to trial by his own party earlier today, and lost the no confidence motion by 867 votes to 500.

Does the fall of Henry Bolton mean the fall of UKIP?

picture from The Times

Earlier today, UKIP members voted to sack yet another leader, this time Henry Bolton, after controversy over racist messages sent by his partner. He was elected in September following UKIP’s disastrous performance in last year’s general election, but his time in the role was short-lived. This has undoubtedly raised questions about the stability of the party, who are likely to see their sixth leader since the EU referendum less than two years ago.

The announcement that Prince Harry was to marry Meghan Markle was hugely popular, perhaps particularly popular amongst UKIP supporters who pride themselves on being patriotic. Thus, for a party that faces a constant struggle against accusations of racism, Jo Marney’s derogatory comments regarding Markle’s race were inflammatory to say the least. With UKIP being the face of Brexit and Brexiteers being demonised as racists, bigots and xenophobes amongst other titles, they have constantly fought to improve their image. Views such as those expressed by Marney were exactly the kind that the party sought to condemn, which led to calls for Bolton’s resignation, but the damage had already been done.

As more and more senior UKIP members came out against their leader following his girlfriend’s offensive comments, Bolton had struck back. “If the NEC (National Executive Committee) decides to go down the route of months of further infighting and further negative media scrutiny, by deciding to pass a vote of no confidence in me, then I think the reality is that the party is probably over” was his response. And yet infighting and negative media scrutiny was what he got. It seems difficult to make a case for Bolton remaining as leader of the party: perhaps his views were not reflected in the messages, but they had lost him a lot of trust amongst UKIP members and supporters. However, another leadership contest will be detrimental to the party, and there are concerns regarding who might replace him. Gerard Batten will take over as interim leader and there will be a leadership election within 90 days where we may see the return of the controversial Anne Marie Waters, founder of Shariah Watch UK, as a candidate.

Having thrived under Nigel Farage during their successful Brexit campaign, UKIP faces a battle for its very existence. Constantly criticised in the media and unable to produce a long-term leader, the party risks losing its credibility. For some, this is good news: many people view UKIP as genuinely racist and do not want them to have power, but this is not democratic. Having received over half a million votes in last year’s general election, the party’s policies clearly appeal to many people, and yet they will not vote for a party they believe to be unstable, or worse, racist. If this party disappears from mainstream politics, this restricts our democratic options as voters from some constituencies will face a choice of only Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour. That some people will no longer be able to find a party that appeals to them goes against the UK’s democratic values and could be the very negative impact of Henry Bolton’s downfall. Many within UKIP have called for the return of Nigel Farage. Will he come to the party’s rescue once again?

By Lucy Higginbotham