I suppose it was inevitable that, as Ukip gathered support, the party would start to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.
An enormous split has now opened up over the economy. Indeed it is more correct to call it an abyss. It is far deeper and more divisive than anything currently going on inside the Conservative Party, or even in Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.
On the one side is Ukip’s libertarian Right, which wants Britain to resemble the United States as much as possible, with low taxes and minimal standards of social provision.
Its supporters say they look to Margaret Thatcher for their inspiration. But the truth is that Maggie Thatcher in office very rarely touched any of these advanced libertarian ideas, such as the flat tax.
This group cannot count for a great deal of support from ordinary members. It is, however, well represented among the small number of donors who dominate the party finances and can always rely on the ear of Nigel Farage.
Ukip also has a Left wing, and it is becoming clear that the party’s economics spokesman Patrick O’Flynn is its leader.
At Ukip’s party conference six weeks ago, Mr O’Flynn made a speech that appalled the libertarian Right of the party. Ever since then, its supporters have been intriguing against him and seeking to bring about his downfall.
There are two key elements of Mr O’Flynn’s speech. On the one hand, Mr O’Flynn advocated sharply raising income tax thresholds, so that middle earners did not come into the top rate of tax. This idea was promptly copied by David Cameron in his speech in Manchester the following week. Mr O’Flynn’s second idea was a tax on luxury goods, the so-called “Wag tax”. However, Ukip’s Right wing got hold of Nigel Farage immediately after Mr O’Flynn’s speech and forced the Ukip leader to distance himself from his economic spokesman.
The party’s Right is now planning to strike again against Mr O’Flynn, as Andre Walker this morning reveals in a well-informed piece on Breitbart. According to Mr Walker, the senior members of Ukip are now making a concerted effort to get Mr O’Flynn removed.
One source is quoted as saying that Mr O’Flynn needs “does need to shut up with all talk of aggressive tax avoidance and bashing big business … It’s a real mistake to have a pinko in such an important position …” According to Breitbart, a letter will soon be circulated calling for him to go.
I should declare an interest. Mr O’Flynn was my colleague for many years on the Daily Express. He is a man who’s integrity and intellect I greatly admire. With his first-class degree in economics from King’s College Cambridge, he has always struck me as far more intelligent, and also far more connected with the views of ordinary voters, than George Osborne, the Chancellor.
I strongly believe that if the Ukip donors succeed in getting rid of Patrick O’Flynn it will mark the moment when the party returns to becoming a fringe movement of no significance. Mr O’Flynn’s emergence as a senior figure within the party has coincided with an exponential growth of party support amongst working-class voters, especially in the Midlands and the North. Indeed, as Matthew Goodwin pointed out in his article in the Telegraph today, Ukip support is by no means dependent on a small number of former Thatcherites.
Mr Farage claims to represent a different kind of politics to the mainstream political parties. There is some truth in this, but he is every bit as dependent on big powerful donors as is either David Cameron or Ed Miliband. He is in danger of allowing this dependence to damage the integrity of his party, with just six months to go before the general election.