Looking back the one prediction I got right about political developments this year was this:
There will be a little bit of drop off [in UKIP support] come the election but we're talking figures of 12-13% here, certainly not a collapse the likes of Dan Hodges is predicting (hoping) for. A big slap on the back for them then. But my reading of the runes flags up a problem for them. They're only going to win one seat, and that will be Douglas Carswell's. Mark Reckless will depart from the Commons and Nigel Farage won't even make it in. Then comes the infighting, if Farage makes good his promise and resigns as UKIP leader. And when that happens I'll cheerfully pass round the popcorn.Absolutely spot on. Pity my forecasts about Labour didn't come to pass ... Anyway, Farage did resign and it was therefore reasonable to expect there would be some chafing for leader between the hard right libertarians, and the so-called "left" red UKIP tendency around Patrick O'Flynn (or "PinkO'Flynn to his oh so hilarious factional opponents). That has indeed happened, but no one expected Farage to be the catalyst.
We know the gospel according to Nige. He'd made no bones about it. If he didn't in in South Thanet, then he would fall on his sword. Lo and behold the good voters of that blessed constituency spurned their opportunity to return the UKIP supremo to Westminster. "Are you going to resign, Mr Farage?" went the media scrum all throughout last Friday. Having captured - some may say cultivated - his rise, the press pack were out in force to document his fall. But that's when Farage started fudging it. Announcing his resignation on the sea front, he declared he'll be taking the summer off and if there's a leadership contest in the autumn, he'd consider throwing his hat in the ring again. Okay. Then there was the unseemly row between Carswell and the kipper apparatus over short money, which more than suggested a widening chasm between him and Farage's office. Then yesterday came the unresignation. Farage will be staying on after all. Apparently, he tendered his resignation to UKIP's NEC but they knocked it back. That, in addition to hundreds of letters and emails from the party faithful begging him to stay on had tipped his mind. Or had it? Rumour has it that Farage laid the law down to the NEC. "You need me", he's said to have said. He remained present as the NEC "debated" his fate meaning, of course, they had no choice but to unanimously cave to the gaffer.
Clearly, this was too much for O'Flynn. In his Times article this morning, he pulled the trick every critically loyal party hack has done - me included - by going for the leader's handlers. They're responsible for the "snarling, thin-skinned, aggressive" man who berates BBC audiences and treads on kittens, complained O'Flynn. Nigel should stay on, of course, but we need the charismatic beer smoking ciggy swilling chappy back. After some hussle 'n' tussle with emails flying back and forth, Farage's lieutenants have sailed off into the sunset. And now, at the time of writing, their leader may follow. From unresignation to re-resignation; the shortest fall, rise, and fall again in British political history. If I have jumped the gun, UKIP can look forward to a summer of internal scrapping either way.
The problem with UKIP is the same for any populist anti-politics movement. They have become a vehicle of catch-all protest. You've got disgruntled Tories in there. Pissed off Labour. Angry none-of-the-above'ers. Flat Earthers and the terminally bigoted. It's a ragtag rabble thrown together, a loose outfit in which its members are united by what they are against, not what they are for. Without the charismatic leader, or a replacement waiting in the wings, such an organisation cannot survive in the long-term. So grab the popcorn, and let the blood flow.