In Depth

UKIP leader Henry Bolton denounces ‘coup’ over racism claim

He could face a vote of no confidence this weekend over continued relationship with ‘ex-girlfriend’

UKIP leader Henry Bolton has accused senior members of his party of orchestrating a coup against him after he ended his relationship with a 25-year-old activist who was suspended for racism.

As the party descended into an online civil war, reports emerged that Bolton, who became leader only last autumn, could face a vote of no confidence by UKIP’s national executive this weekend.

To complicate matters, Bolton, 54, was seen having dinner with former girlfriend Jo Marney, with whom he was forced to sever ties last week, after it emerged she had sent racist text messages about Prince Harry’s fiancee Meghan Markle.

The ex-Lib Dem army officer turned politician was pictured dining with Marney on Wednesday night, shortly after giving an interview to  The Daily Telegraph in which he said he still loved her and hoped they would one day get back together.

Writing on his official Facebook page after news of the dinner broke, Bolton said “an organised coup and insurgency against my leadership” had been launched and posted “evidence” that a former leadership challenger had colluded with Marney’s ex-boyfriend and others.

He went on to claim Marney’s incriminating texts had been doctored and leaked to the press and that references to child abuse had been taken out of context by the selective leaking of messages, all as part of a co-ordinated campaign to undermine him.

“Prominent individuals both inside and outside the party have cooperated with leftwing media to intentionally destabilise the party during this time and turn the members against me,” he wrote.

The Daily Telegraph says Bolton is “determined to confront members of UKIP who he accuses of obtaining compromising material about Ms Marney in a bid to destroy him for their own political gain”.

For others, it is not his relationship with Marney at issue, but rather his handling of the scandal. One senior party figure told The Guardian: “Henry has shown an astonishing lack of political judgment over this.”

“His CV is very impressive, but it has no politics in it. The party took a risk in electing him, and now this has happened. Yes, there are a lot of people in UKIP who want to remove him for their own ends, but there’s also more to it,” the source said.

Bill Etheridge, a UKIP MEP who has led calls for Bolton to resign and quit as a party spokesman because of the affair, said: "My calls for him to resign have not been based on his private life but have been entirely based on his performance as a leader, which I think has been risible.”

It is unclear whether Bolton would survive a majority vote on the 15-seat national committee but, if he did go, UKIP would face its fourth leadership election since 2016, when Nigel Farage departed.

“It is a precipitous decline for a party that won nearly 4m votes at the 2015 general election, making it the third biggest political force in the UK by vote numbers,” says The Guardian. “Support has since slumped and the party could now fracture completely.”

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