Saturday, February 17, 2018

Can an established party truly vanish?

Today Ukip are holding an extraordinary general meeting to decide whether or not to remove their leader Henry Bolton from office. It comes at a time when Ukip is struggling on all fronts, with defections, election set backs, funders deserting, infighting and more, leading to many to wonder whether the party will soon disappear.

But just how easy is it for a party to truly vanish? Many parties have a brief period in the spotlight and manage to linger on for years afterwards, despite major losses. For example many would think Veritas was just a flash in the pan vehicle of Robert Kilroy-Silk for his actions back in 2005. In fact Veritas existed for another decade before merging into the English Democrats (and no, I don't know what happened to Veritas in the rest of the UK, if there was anything by then). It shows how for as long as there are still people around maintaining the registration, a party can just keep on going.

But what of the more significant parties that have actually won seats in elections? Well since 1997 the following parties have won seats at at least one out of Westminster, Stormont, Cardiff Bay, Holyrood or Brussels but since dissolved:
Spot a common theme? With one exception, each of these parties was largely built around a single figure, in four cases a past or present parliamentarian/assembly member. Blaenau Gwent People's Voice did outlive Peter Law for several years but ultimately these were personalist vehicles that hinged on a single figure. When that figure either died or was defeated or sought to join a bigger party, their vehicle soon gave up.

The exception in the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, although even then the party was heavily identified with co-founder Monica McWilliams. However it did manage to develop beyond the one member personalist vehicle that others usually began as, but ultimately folded.

Now Ukip may have been heavily dominated by Nigel Farage, but it was created before him, has had many other representatives over the years and has a clear brand. In normal circumstances there is absolutely reason why it wouldn't continue to exist and contest elections with just a handful of people still going. Around the world this isn't unusual - for instance in the United States the Prohibition Party is still going (and still receiving money from a trust fund established during its heyday) long after its banner issue has ceased to be of any relevance. So expecting a party to disappear altogether may be premature and Ukip do still have some significant broadcast entitlements (helped by the media using a formula that's based on two election cycles) that will keep the group in the public eye.

However there is a major threat to its existence and it has little to do with Henry Bolton (although how the leader handles it may be a factor in how members decide today). The party has been found liable for some of the costs in a libel case (see BBC News: Jane Collins defamation case: UKIP delayed case for more details) and may prove financially unviable. If the party cannot pay then it could be forcibly liquidated. The case could shed light on exactly what and who constitute a political party and are thus liable for its debts. The party's intellectual property and registration might well become assets seized and auctioned off. Could someone buy up "Ukip" to carry on or will the case destroy the party for good?


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