Monday 22 January could well be the day that the good ship UKIP, having listed badly for a long time, finally succums to the lapping waters caressing its hull and engulfing its interior.
Yesterday saw UKIP’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) unanimously back a vote of no confidence in party leader, 54-year-old Henry Bolton - a man who’s been in the job less than four months and is the party’s fourth leader in 18 months - following outcry over his relationship with 25-year-old model Jo Marney. Racist messages sent by her to a friend were released to the press, calling into question the judgement of a man who left his wife and two children to begin his relationship with Marney.
The only person not to support the motion was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Bolton himself. He immediately declared that he planned to carry on as leader, arguing that another leadership contest would be both costly and a distraction. The decision, ultimately, cannot be made by the NEC but rather by the party’s membership.
The subsequent day has seen a host of resignations, with trade spokesman William Dartmouth, assistant deputy leader Mike Hookem, deputy leader Margot Parker, immigration spokesperson John Bickley and Apprenticeships Spokesman David Kurten all quitting.
But how the hell did it end up like this, just three years after receiving the highest number of votes of any British party in the 2014 European Parliament elections, winning 163 seats at the 2014 UK local elections, and winning the third highest vote share of any party at the 2015 general election?
If you haven’t been following closely, here’s what’s happened.
22 May 2014 - UK local elections & European Parliament election
7 May 2015 - UK general election
2014 and 2015 were the golden years for UKIP, under the astute leadership of Nigel Farage. In March 2014, Ofcom awarded UKIP ‘major party status’, they performed strongly in the joint elections in 2014 and, while they still only managed to elect one MP - Douglas Carswell, who had defected from the Conservatives the year before - they still achieved the remarkable feat of being the third largest party in the UK general election, achieving 3.8 million votes - fully 1.4 million more votes than the Liberal Democrats, who until that point had actually been in government.
We all know the reason why: UKIP was unashamedly anti-immigration, constantly skirting on the edge of acceptability, but tapping into unease around the discussion of the subject with Farage skillfully perfecting his normal-bloke-down-the-pub-just-saying-what-we’re-all-thinking routine and every now and then using language uncomfortably close to - if not explicitly - racist.
Nonetheless, the surprising election result, with the Conservatives winning a majority instead of the widely-predicted hung parliament, meant that a manifesto promise which David Cameron had expected to be able to trade off in coalition discussions - a vote on whether or not to remain in the European Parliament - had to be enacted.
23 June 2016 - EU Referendum
Even Nigel Farage didn’t think they’d win. He’d maintained his outsider status all the way through the referendum campaign, choosing not to take part in the official Vote Leave campaign, with UKIP instead affiliating itself with the Leave.EU campaign group. In doing so, it enabled Farage to, again, focus on its perceptions of the negative impacts of immigration, with his infamous ‘Breaking Point’ billboard viewed by many as the point where his arguments crossed over into the nakedly racist - indeed the poster was reported to police with a complaint that it incited racial hatred and breached UK race laws.
As polling stations closed on 23 June, Farage stated “it looks like Remain will edge it”, but also said that despite an impending defeat, UKIP would “only continue to grow stronger”.
He was wrong on both counts.
4 July 2016 - Nigel Farage resigns
Just two weeks after achieving what had been his life’s political ambition, Nigel Farage resigned as UKIP leader, saying: “During the referendum I said I wanted my country back… now I want my life back.”
It was the second time he had resigned as leader, having originally headed the party from 2006 to 2009 before returning to the job after the 2010 election, converting the party to a major political force. However, with arguments over what Brexit would actually mean only just beginning, Farage decided to jump ship.
16 September 2016 - Diane James is elected leader
The election to succeed Farage took place from July to September 2016, with Diane James beating Lisa Duffy and Bill Etheridge to win, taking 46% of the vote. With the party already beginning to ask what else it could campaign for, since its main raison d’etre had been achieved, Duffy advocated a ban on Islamic full-face veils, while Etheridge wanted to campaign for a referendum on the death penalty and the relegalisation of smoking in public places.
4 October 2016 - Diane James resigns as leader
Just 18 days after winning the leadership election, James stood down, saying: “It has become clear that I do not have sufficient authority, nor the full support of all my MEP colleagues and party officers to implement changes I believe necessary and upon which I based my campaign.” She cited “personal and professional reasons” for her decision, effectively saying that she enjoyed the support of members but not party colleagues.
5 October 2016 - Nigel Farage declares himself interim leader
With the party, not for the last time, in turmoil, Nigel Farage stepped back into the ring to briefly lead the party while another leadership contest was held.
28 November 2016 - Paul Nuttall is elected leader
The early favourite to triumph was the Farage-backed Steven Woolfe; however, on 6 October, he was hospitalised following an altercation with fellow MEP Mike Hookem at the European Parliament. He withdrew from the contest on 17 October, saying that the party was in a ‘death spiral’.
Despite Raheem Kassam also receiving the Farage seal of approval, Paul Nuttall eventually enjoyed a resounding victory in the second leadership contest, taking almost 63% of the vote, beating Suzanne Evans and John Rees-Evans to the position.
25 March 2017 - Douglas Carswell quits UKIP
In March 2017, UKIP lost its only MP; after admitting that he had “jumped ship [changed from Conservatives to UKIP] with the express goal of changing the image of UKIP and ensuring that it was an asset rather than a liability in the referendum campaign… to decontaminate the brand”, he then stated: “Now we can be certain that that Brexit is going to happen, I have decided that I will be leaving UKIP.”
6 April 2017 - Mark Reckless quits UKIP
Having initially followed Carswell in becoming the second MP to defect from the Tories to UKIP back in 2014 - before he lost his seat at the 2015 general election - he left them to join the Conservative Group in the Welsh Assembly, again citing the fact that the referendum had been won, saying: “I leave UKIP positively, having achieved our joint aim, a successful referendum to leave the EU.”
UKIP assembly group leader Neil Hamilton accused his former UKIP colleague of showing “weakness of character”.
“He didn’t have the courtesy or the courage to speak to me about any doubts he had about his future in UKIP or what he might get from the Conservative Party,” he told BBC Wales. Fundamentally he was elected to the assembly not as Mark Reckless but as a UKIP candidate for the South East Wales region. He’s betrayed the trust of all of those who selected him in the first place to be a candidate and all of those who worked to get him elected to the assembly. He’s got no mandate to sit in the assembly as a member of the Conservative group.”
4 May 2017 - Disastrous local elections
The local elections in May 2017 were nothing short of a complete disaster: UKIP lost all 145 seats it was defending, only gaining one on Lancashire County Council. There were calls for the party to disband. However, with a snap election having been called earlier in April, it was forced to battle on.
8 June 2017 - Disastrous general election
Leader Paul Nuttall’s performances in the TV debates were widely derided and the party duly experienced a near wipeout in the general election, receiving fewer than 600,000 votes (hemorrhaging 3.2 million) and gaining no seats. They only received the fifth highest number of votes as the Liberal Democrats and the SNP surged ahead of them; they received only marginally more votes than the Green Party.
9 June 2017 - Paul Nuttall resigns as leader
With his position untenable, Nuttall duly resigned the following day.
9 June 2017 - Steve Crowther takes over as interim leader
Having previously been UKIP party chairman, Steve Crowther stepped in as interim leader ahead of yet another leadership election.
29 September 2017 - New logo unveiled, widely mocked
With UKIP again in disarray, their party conference couldn’t even get the choice of a new logo right, with their eventual choice, a lion, being mocked for being suspiciously similar to the Premier League’s logo.
29 September 2017 - Henry Bolton elected leader
Later that day, Henry Bolton was elected as the party’s new leader, beating the anti-Islam activist Anne Marie Waters, while third placed candidate David Kurten faced criticism when he claimed that gay people are more likely to be abused as children. Initially, there was speculation that Farage might run for leader for a third time, but his challenge failed to materialise. A former British Army officer and police officer, Bolton was seen a safe pair of hands - at least compared to the alternatives - that could try and establish a renewed sense of purpose for UKIP.
21 January 2018 - UKIP NEC delivers a vote of no confidence in Bolton
It turned out that Bolton was not a safe pair of hands. His relationship with the model Jo Marney following the split from his wife had already caused suspicion, but the publication of her racist messages called into question his judgement. Bolton said “I don’t believe I have done anything wrong. My own personal life, it’s a little bit of a mess at the moment. I need to sort that out, of course.”
22 January 2018 - Everyone resigns
At the time of publishing, seven senior UKIP figures have resigned. Who else is left to lead them? Where do they go from here? Is that it for UKIP? We shall soon find out.