Is there life in UKIP yet?
Ailing party’s decision to team up with controversial YouTubers provides much-needed ‘shot in the arm’
UKIP bosses are celebrating a reversal in their struggling party’s fortunes after gaining around 500 new members following their decision to join forces with three activists linked to the “alt-right”.
After achieving its aim in the Brexit referendum, UKIP failed to win any seats in the 2017 general election, before suffering more losses in last month’s local elections.
But according to The Guardian’s Nesrine Malik, “UKIP isn’t dead. It is reinventing itself as an extremist anti-migrant party.”
Having taken the reigns in April, new party leader Gerard Batten has “opened its doors to three controversial YouTube personalities”, The Independent reports.
New UKIP members Mark Meechan, Paul Joseph Watson and Carl Benjamin have all made headlines with their contentious views.
Meechan sparked an outcry last year when it emerged that he had trained his girlfriend’s pug dog to give Nazi salutes when it hears statements such as “gas the Jews” and “Sieg Heil”.
Watson is a senior editor at InfoWars, the US-based website run by right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that deals with so-called fake news.
The site has alleged that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, in which more 20 children and six adults died, was a hoax.
The third YouTuber, Benjamin, was last year accused of promoting a series of tweeted rape threats against Labour MP Jess Phillips.
Responding after the MP said that “people talking about raping me isn’t fun, but has become somewhat par for the course”, Benjamin tweeted: “I wouldn’t even rape you, Jess Phillips.”
The decision to allow the trio to join UKIP has attracted considerable criticism.
A spokesman for the group Hope Not Hate, which campaigns against racism and fascism, said: “There are attempts afoot to forge an alliance between extreme figures who have made their names online, those involved in electoral politics, and those out on the streets, around an anti-Muslim and pro-‘free speech’ agenda.
“In following the path he’s chosen, Batten is leading UKIP down a dangerous route, and the acceptance of figures such as Watson is further evidence of this.”
However, The Guardian’s Malik says the appointments may prove to be a “shot in the arm” for the ailing party, after a year of turmoil that culminated in the ousting of Henry Bolton as leader.
“What [the three] have in common is less a coherent political position, and more a sort of uber-troll politics that – once plugged into a global network that has managed to infiltrate mainstream parties and power – can be significantly disruptive,” Malik says.
Meanwhile, a UKIP spokesperson responded to the criticism by arguing that “bringing people into mainstream politics is a good thing”. When quizzed about Benjamin’s comments to Phillips, the spokesperson added: “One hopes if he says something like that again then we would have to look into it.”
However, the representative said UKIP “took issue” with the notion that the three new members were from the far-right.