Less than four months before the general election, the UK Independence party’s manifesto is “just a series of bullet points”, according to one official, prompting the party to appoint a new head of policy.
The delay matters because Ukip support has surged and polls suggest the party may enter the next parliament with several MPs, prompting greater than usual interest in its election promises.
Senior Ukip figures say their manifesto may not be ready to publish at the Ukip spring conference on February 27-28 and have expressed concern at the slow pace of work on it.
Ukip confirmed on Tuesday that it was removing Tim Aker, the head of policy, from his role overseeing the drafting of the manifesto.
Neither Mr Aker nor a party spokesman replied to a request for comment. But Suzanne Evans, the former deputy chair who has been brought in to replace him, told the FT: “Tim Aker is an MEP, fighting for a seat in Thurrock and now a local councillor too. He was delighted to hand over the manifesto process.”
One person involved in the preparation of the manifesto said: “It will be largely ready by the spring conference, but perhaps not in full written form. It is going to take a lot of hard work to get to that point though.”
Another said: “A lot of people got irritated with Tim throwing his weight around. All he has for a manifesto at the moment is a series of bullet points, not a proper document at all.”
Ukip’s policy process has been particularly challenging for this election, because party leader Nigel Farage disowned every policy in the 2010 manifesto.
This included ideas such as a flat income tax of 31 per cent, a phasing out of national insurance, compulsory uniforms for taxi drivers and safeguarding British weights and measures.
The Financial Times revealed earlier this month that the party is planning a series of new policies, including ringfencing the National Health Service budget, raising the income tax threshold for lower earners and opposing a new runway at Heathrow.
But many details remain unclear, not least how the party would manage the economy and cut Britain’s gaping deficit.
Part of the delay is attributed to a split between those wanting to keep the party grounded in its libertarian roots and those wanting to push it towards more populist policy positions.
Those tensions erupted in public on Tuesday as senior party figures turned not only on Mr Aker, but on Mr Farage himself, who was quoted by the BBC saying the party should return to the debate over radical transformation of the NHS.
Mr Farage has previously advocated replacing the service with an insurance-based system, even though the party says it is committed to maintaining an NHS free at the point of delivery.
His words echo those of several officials, who have told the FT that maintaining the health service in its current form is only party policy “for now”
Louise Bours, Ukip’s health spokesman, made an unusual public attack on her party leader. She said: “Nigel is entitled to his opinion and others are entitled to theirs, . . . [but] I am certain that if the party discuss it again, we will reject it again. The vast majority of Ukip members, the British public and I will always favour a state-funded NHS.”
Another senior party official expressed irritation that Mr Farage would speak openly about such a possibility so close to the election. The person said: “Nigel has foot-in-mouth disease, he just can’t help himself.”
The row encapsulates what some in the party have billed the split between the “blue-collar kippers” and the “uber-libertarians”, as the party tries to win over disaffected Labour voters.
Internal rows suggest the party is struggling with pressure in run-up to the general election
Ukip is facing pre-election turmoil after policy differences and personality clashes burst into the open, with the party’s health spokeswoman slapping down Nigel Farage’s suggestion the NHS could eventually be privatised.
Amid signs of in-fighting and internal rivalry, a senior source admitted last night that the mood in Ukip’s higher echelons had become “scratchy and irritable” ahead of the 7 May ballots.
There is also dismay in parts of the party over the slow progress in compiling its manifesto, with the MEP responsible for drafting the document revealed to have recently relinquished responsibility for the task.
A fresh spotlight was shone on Ukip’s growing pains yesterday in a BBC interview when the party leader raised the prospect of ultimately replacing the state-funded NHS with an insurance-based healthcare system.
While stressing his party remained committed to healthcare free at the point of delivery, Mr Farage indicated it was “a debate that we are all going to have to return to” because of Britain’s rapidly ageing population.
Ukip’s health spokeswoman Louise Bours swiftly contradicted her leader as she insisted the vast majority of party members “will always favour a state-funded NHS”.
Ms Bours said: “Nigel is entitled to his opinion and others are entitled to theirs, we don’t whip people into all thinking the same thing, like the establishment parties.
“As he has said before, he raised the idea for discussion a while ago, the party discussed it and rejected it. I am certain that if the party discuss it again, we will reject it again.”
The clash followed the disclosure that Suzanne Evans, Ukip’s deputy chairwoman, had taken over the writing of the party’s manifesto from the Euro-MP Tim Aker.
He was reported to have fallen behind with completing the final draft, leading to protests from candidates that they were struggling to answer voters’ questions on the doorstep.
The party dismissed claims he had been sacked as “complete tosh” and said he had asked about 10 days ago to be relieved of the duty, although sources acknowledged Mr Aker had been behind schedule as he attempted to juggle his other jobs as an MEP, councillor and parliamentary candidate.
Work on the manifesto was also affected by the furore surrounding the party’s general secretary, Roger Bird, who was cleared internally of a sexual harassment allegation but stood down from his post by mutual consent.
Meanwhile, the party has been hit by a farcical series of events over its choice of a candidate in the Essex seat of South Basildon and East Thurrock. Kerry Smith – who was selected after the former MP Neil Hamilton pulled out amid controversy over his expenses – was forced to quit over offensive remarks he made in a telephone call.
Evidence is also emerging of rival camps gathering around Mr Farage and Ukip’s first elected MP, Douglas Carswell. The MP for Clacton upset some party traditionalists with a call for it to be “inclusive” and is understood to be at odds with senior figures over health and defence policies.
Aker was in charge of preparing Ukip’s 2015 manifesto before stepping down – but they say it will be “almost entirely” his work anyway
Ukip’s policy chief has quit just six weeks ahead of the party’s manifesto launch in February.
Head of Policy Tim Aker, who was expected to complete the 2015 policy platform before its launch at the Ukip spring conference next month, has been replaced by deputy chairman Suzanne Evans.
A Ukip spokesman said Aker chose to step down on January 12th following his election to Thurrock Borough Council on December 5th.
Aker is also standing as the party’s general election candidate for Thurrock, hoping to unseat Tory MP Jackie Doyle-Price.
Earlier reports suggested Aker had been sacked for failing to deliver the manifesto on time, but this was denied by the party.
A party spokesman said: “The full policy platform is and always was scheduled for the Ukip Spring Conference at the end of February.”
He also the manifesto was “almost entirely” Aker’s work and said replacing him with just weeks to go before its launch was not an indication of problems with the document’s preparation.
Last night, The Times reported a senior insider fuming: “There was growing disquiet that none of us had seen hide nor hair on the policy front. It was especially annoying for candidates, who are banned from making any specific pledges before the manifesto is published. They don’t know what to tell voters on the doorstep.”
Aker’s replacement, Suzanne Evans, took to Facebook this morning to praise Aker’s work, saying his commitments as an MEP, local councillor and election candidate meant he “simply couldn’t continue” with the full time job of developing the manifesto.
She also addressed the Times’ claims that he’d been sacked, describing it as “codswallop”.
“He was keen to hand the brief over,” she said. “And I feel very sorry that he is having to face some appalling lies form mischievous journalists.
“Still, we all knew this campaign was going to be bloody…”
The forthcoming manifesto is the party’s first full policy document since their notorious 2010 election platform, dismissed by Nigel Farage as “drivel.”
As well as her new responsibility for Ukip policy, Suzanne Evans is deputy party chairman and the party’s general election candidate for Shrewsbury & Atcham.
Evans wrote a book last year entitled Why Vote Ukip? – in which she suggests the party would demand all tourists visiting the UK prove they have medical insurance and that meat imports leave us at risk of Ebola if they were in power.
She also suggests the party would seek to abolish the Ministry of Justice.
Kent county councillor Trevor Shonk blames Labour and Tories for allowing in more immigrants than country can cope with
The Ukip leadership has moved to distance the party from remarks by one of its councillors claiming an “overload” of immigrants had turned Britain into a racist country.
Trevor Shonk, who represents Ukip on Kent county council and Ramsgate town council, blamed Labour and the Conservatives for allowing in more immigrants than the country could cope with.
“The two main parties that have been running this country have made the country racist because of the influx that we have had,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One.
“When I’ve done leaflets every shopkeeper, whether they are Asian or English-born, they’re concerned about the influx.
“It hasn’t been staggered; it’s just overload. We haven’t got the care homes, we haven’t got the houses for our own.”
However, the Ukip deputy chairman, Suzanne Evans, rejected the suggestion that Britain was racist and said that Shonk “didn’t express it as well as he could”.
“I think Britain is actually a very accommodating country and I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination can be termed racist,” she told The World at One.
“I know what councillor Shonk meant. Perhaps he didn’t express it as well as he could. There has of course been a massive increase in immigration, which people find incredibly difficult to deal with.”
The latest comments come after Ukip parliamentary candidate Kerry Smith was forced to stand down over racist and homophobic comments he made.
Meanwhile, another Ukip councillor in Kent, Martyn Heale, was reported to have spoken of his regret at having been a member of the far right National Front in the 1970s.
Heale, who was a Conservative activist for 20 years before joining Ukip a decade ago, would not be interviewed for broadcast, but told the BBC that it was really depressing to be reminded of his past.
“I obviously regret what I did,” he told the BBC.
Evans complained that media reporting of Ukip was unfair, pointing out that Labour had councillors who had previously been in the National Front or the BNP while crimes involving councillors from other parties often went unreported in the national media.
“The media reporting of Ukip is not fair,” she said. “I think the establishment is very upset with Ukip and the fact that it is shaking the cosy status quo, the stitch-up the three old parties have had between them.
“Ukip is standing up for things that good, honest, decent people care about.”
Martyn Heale, party’s chairman in constituency where Nigel Farage is standing for election, says he ‘regrets what I did’
The Ukip chairman in the Thanet South constituency where Nigel Farage is the party’s candidate at the general election has admitted being a former member of the National Front.
Martyn Heale told the BBC it was “really depressing” to be reminded that he was a member of the racist and neo-fascist NF in the 1970s. “I obviously regret what I did,” he said.
Subsequently Heale spent 20 years as a Conservative party activist before joining Ukip about 10 years ago. He is now a Ukip county councillor in Kent.
After the BBC’s World at One broadcast a report highlighting Heale’s background, Suzanne Evans, Ukip’s deputy chair, told the programme that media coverage of Ukip was unfair, and that the BBC never covered former NF members in other parties.
She claimed that in one week in April, 17 Labour, Tory or Lib Dem councillors nationwide were arrested, charged or convicted and another 13 were accused of racism, sexism of homophobia, but only one of these cases was reported in the national media.
There is a saying: “If you want to run with the big dogs, you can’t pee like a puppy.”
I am thinking of getting it cross-stitched, framed, and sent to Nigel Farage.
He would probably throw it at the wall and stamp on in it one of the childish tantrums he seems to be having an increasing number of.
Last week he ducked out of a public appearance on the basis there were some protesters.
At the weekend he claimed he needed bodyguards.
And on Saturday someone, somewhere, called the police to report someone tweeting things UKIP didn’t like.
We don’t know exactly who called the police. It happened just 90 minutes after @MichaelAbberton directed a tweet at Nigel himself.
Michael, a 46-year-old who lives in Cambridge and works for a school examinations firm, is not a fan of UKIP.
When he noticed their communities spokesman @SuzanneEvans1 tweeting someone about the upcoming Euro elections he thought she was misrepresenting the party’s policies.
He butted in, sought to find out what policies UKIP had, what could be found on their websites, and began taking notice of things on the #UKIP trend.
Then he saw an anti-UKIP poster claiming what the party would do if it got into power.
Rather than just retweet it, Michael went and checked every claim on the poster, and edited it.
For example, he found references to scrapping paid maternity leave on the personal websites of two UKIP candidates, and added their URLs to the poster next to the original claim.
Where he couldn’t find anything to substantiate the claim he said so, and when everything on the poster had been investigated he shared it online.
So far, so reasonable, you’d think. A drop in the ocean compared to the personal insults which do the rounds on those make-your-own-airbrushed-David-Cameron-posters.
Naturally, Michael got drawn into debates with UKIP supporters.
One of them included @Nigel_Farage in the conversation, although Michael says he had no idea if this was the real one or not (it is). These tweets were sent at 11.07am on Saturday morning.
An hour and a half later two police officers turned up on Michael’s doorstep.
“The first thing they said was there was nothing to worry about,” Michael told me that evening, admitting he was still “fairly rattled” about it.
“They had received a complaint, confirmed who I was and that I’d been tweeting about UKIP.”
The two police officers at no time told Michael what offence he was accused of.
They asked Michael about the poster, and he explained he’d checked claims someone else had made. He asked if he’d breached copyright, and the officers said no.
As if having two coppers knock on your door for finding out facts was not intimidating enough, Michael claims they then asked him to delete the poster, and not tweet about their visit.
Michael explained that deleting the poster would be useless as it had already been reshared, and the poster wasn’t his originally anyway.
And the police officers said he shouldn’t tweet about their visit, because in the run-up to an election it might look like they were taking sides.
According to Cambridge Police: “We were called with a complaint about a message on social media at about 12.40pm on Friday. Inquiries were made as to whether any offences had been committed under the Representation of the People Act but none were revealed and no further action was taken.”
A spokesman confirmed the complaint had come from a UKIP councillor that Michael was passing himself off as a member of UKIP.
He said the police had not spoken to whoever originated the poster Michael altered, and that all discussion about tweets being deleted was merely “advice”.
He added: “We can’t tell people what they can and can’t say on the internet, as long as it’s within the law. We certainly don’t go to people’s houses and say: ‘You can’t tweet about this’. This is not 1930s Germany.”
It’s not? Oh, that’s good. I was confused for a moment.
The problem here isn’t just the splay-footed size 10s of the Cambridge constabulary and the way they go about handling daft complaints on a Saturday afternoon.
It’s that the people really responsible for this mess are UKIP, which as hard as Nigel tries has members who behave like misfits chucked out of a sixth-form debating society for being mental.
1. If what’s on the poster aren’t UKIP policies, it’s UKIP’s fault for publishing in the first place and not deleting them in the run up to an election.
It’s not Michael’s fault for seeing them, or for pointing them out.
2. No-one with serious aspirations to influence legislation and perhaps hold the balance of power in 2015 should think the right way to carry on is to report critics to the police, wail about protests, or whine about their former policies being used against them.
There are people who don’t vote Labour because of the Winter of Discontent in 1978. There are people who don’t vote Tory because of Maggie, and she’s dead.
People are entitled to say they don’t like UKIP because of something that was in their 2010 manifesto and Nigel’s since disowned as “drivel”.
This is how grown-ups do politics. They scrutinise, they check, they remember.
If UKIP wants a seat at the leader debates, on the Question Time panel and in Parliament, it has to be able to take it without wetting itself in horror or launching great diatribes against journalists who write about its flaws.
The trouble is UKIP is used to being a bit niche. It was founded, after all, by a group of academics at the London School of Economics who didn’t like the Maastricht Treaty.
Then it had Robert Kilroy-Silk to contend with. Then Nigel was beaten at the 2010 General Election by a man dressed as a dolphin.
In local elections its largest share of the vote was 16.5% and in general elections it’s surged from a mere 1.5% to a whopping, er, 3.2%.
It has long been, in terms of political parties, nothing more than a puppy. A snappy, embarrassing, barely-housetrained little mutt with a tendency to bark at visitors.
Of late, and largely because of that barking, they’ve surged in the polls. They’re on course to win more seats, they’re nipping the ankles of the big dogs, and they keep doing the PR equivalent of getting over-excited and widdling all over their own feet and then shouting about the mess.
UKIP need to learn that when a politician screws up the only person to blame is that politician, not the people who noticed.
The way they’re going, UKIP is going to end up chasing its own tail while standing for Parliament in an ever-expanding puddle of cold wee.
It’s a good thing Nigel’s trousers are yellow.