It would take a heart of stone to be unmoved by the decline and farce of Ukip. The best comedy writers could not have scripted a more pointed commentary on Nigel Farage’s anti-establishment pretensions than his complaint that Douglas Carswell, Ukip’s only MP, stopped him getting a knighthood. It is hard to know what is more surprising: the idea that Mr Carswell should be in a position to influence an honour for his former leader; or that Mr Farage should have responded so touchily in public to Mr Carswell’s mocking of him.
It must be suspected that Ukip’s troubles reflect a deeper crisis for the party. It has always been disorganised, amateur, riven by faction fights and constantly dogged by personality clashes, most of them involving Mr Farage himself. Before the referendum last year, however, the party also had a central, simple purpose – to get Britain out of the EU – which was just enough to keep it going through the distractions. Now that has gone.
No one seriously thinks that Theresa May intends to back out of Brexit over the next two years, even if The Independent would like to keep that option open. So what is the point of Ukip? Paul Nuttall, the party’s new leader, came up with some words about keeping the Government honest for the purposes of the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election last week, but they failed to find much of an echo in one of the most pro-Brexit constituencies in the country.
To the extent that the current dispute in the party is about actual policy, it continues a difference of opinion between Mr Farage and Mr Carswell during the referendum campaign about immigration. That argument is now over whether Ukip should be more explicitly an anti-immigration party, trying to push Ms May towards a Brexit deal that is more restrictive of immigration from the EU to Britain. Mr Farage implies it should. Mr Carswell disagrees.
Naturally, The Independent prefers Mr Carswell’s view and takes some satisfaction from his relatively strong position as the party’s only MP. There is something Trumpian about Mr Farage’s rage against the entire parliamentary wing of the party he used to lead. Mr Carswell fails to accord Mr Farage the respect to which Mr Farage, who is after all the only British person who dines with the US President, thinks he is entitled.
We suspect that Mr Carswell is unintimidated. Arron Banks, Mr Farage’s ally and a former Ukip donor, has threatened to stand against Mr Carswell in his Clacton constituency at the next election. But Mr Carwell, who was elected twice there as a Conservative and twice as a Ukip candidate, including in the 2014 by-election after he defected, must be confident that he can see off any challenge.
Mr Carswell may not want to stay a member of Ukip for long – and who could blame him? – but may not be ready to re-defect back to the Conservatives yet. The last time he changed parties he felt he had to give his constituents the chance to approve or reject his decision, but he may not want to trouble them again. If Mr Farage’s allies succeed in expelling the party’s only MP, he could sit as an independent and rejoin the Tories at the time of the next election.
Mr Farage’s peacocking from the impotence of ex-leadership only underscores Ukip’s growing irrelevance. Mr Nuttall’s reputation took such a battering in the Stoke by-election campaign that it is hard to see how the party has any real future.
Ukip’s supporters were entitled at the last election to feel cheated by the electoral system, winning 13 per cent of the votes nationally to secure the election of one quixotic, semi-detached MP. They can tell themselves that they at least succeeded in their main objective of leaving the EU, although Dominic Cummings, the director of the official Leave campaign, says this was achieved despite and not because of Mr Farage and Ukip. But now it is time for the party to shut up shop.Reuse content