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When it comes to women in leadership — the theme of International Women’s Day 2021 (March 8) — Britain’s Conservative Party is decades ahead of Labour.

Below are the first women to lead political parties in the United Kingdom.

Look at the lag time after Margaret Thatcher. Then look at Labour, which has never had a woman leader:

In 1992, 17 years after the Conservatives elected Margaret Thatcher as leader, the Greens voted for Jean Lambert.

In 2012, Leanne Wood became the leader of the Welsh Nationalists.

In 2014, Scotland’s SNP elected Nicola Sturgeon to lead them. She is still the First Minister in that devolved nation.

In 2015, Northern Ireland’s DUP followed with Arlene Foster.

In 2016, Diane James led UKIP briefly.

In 2019, Jo Swinson led the Liberal Democrats for a few months, until she lost her seat in Scotland in the December general election that year. Nicola Sturgeon was thrilled.

As for left-wing Labour? That day will have to wait.

Labour have no business telling Conservatives that they are behind the times. The Conservatives have had two women Prime Ministers. Labour’s never even had a female party leader.

Ironically for Labour, International Women’s Day has Socialist origins. The Communists adopted it later.

These days, nearly every nation observes this day. The UN decides the annual theme.

One of my readers, Boetie (‘Brother’), asked for my view of the future of UKIP and Nigel Farage in light of Brexit.

UKIP past

The following will make it clear why many people in Britain had little time for UKIP, although they do acknowledge that if it hadn’t been for Nigel Farage, David Cameron would never have given us the EU Referendum nor would we have the Brexit result today. Therefore, Farage has delivered.

UKIP supporters make Farage out to be a national hero. Yes, he is very interesting and well informed. I have seen him speak in person. He graciously answered the questions I had about his party’s direction. And, yes, it was great seeing him on the hustings with a cigarette and a pint.

However, let’s not forget that, in 2009, Farage was called to account about his MEP expenses. The Observer (The Guardian‘s sister Sunday paper) has a good article from May 2009 which provides much detail. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

The leader of the UK Independence party (Ukip), which wants to lead Britain out of the EU, has taken £2m of taxpayers’ money in expenses and allowances as a member of the European Parliament, on top of his £64,000 a year salary.

Nigel Farage, who is calling on voters to punish “greedy Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem MPs” at the European elections on 4 June, boasted of his personal expenses haul at a meeting with foreign journalists in London last week …

During a debate about Europe at the Foreign Press Association – which was discreetly taped by the hosts – Farage was asked by former Europe minister Denis MacShane what he had received in non-salary expenses and allowances since becoming an MEP in 1999.

“It is a vast sum,” Farage said. “I don’t know what the total amount is but – oh lor – it must be pushing £2 million.” Taken aback, MacShane then joked: “Is it too late to become an MEP?”

Farage insisted that he had not “pocketed” the money but had used the “very large sum of European taxpayers’ money” to help promote Ukip’s message that the UK should get out of the EU.

That is the main reason why I could never go gaga over Farage or UKIP.

Here is another. The Observer helpfully summarises what happened after the 2004 European elections and UKIP’s success. This was two years before Farage became party leader, incidentally:

… one of the dozen, Ashley Mote, was expelled from the party – and later jailed – for benefit fraud. Another, Tom Wise, is now facing prosecution for alleged false accounting and money laundering relating to his EU expenses. He denies the charges. Television presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk, who won the East Midlands for Ukip, later left to form another eurosceptic outfit, Veritas.

Kilroy-Silk, a former Labour MP prior to presenting his erstwhile morning current events show, did the right thing by leaving UKIP. He left Veritas in 2009, and the party was absorbed into the English Democrats in 2015.

Money aside — perhaps it is no coincidence the £ sign appears in the party logo — one then needs to look at what UKIP MEPs and councillors have said. Thejournal.ie has a round-up of some of their statements from 2004 to 2015. Several follow.

Godfrey Bloom (MEP who has since left the party) said in 2004 that a small business owner would have have to be a ‘lunatic’ to employ a woman of child-bearing age.

David Silvester (councillor, expelled from the party) said in January 2014 that the disastrous flooding in England was caused by the Coalition government’s decision to bring in same-sex marriage. He had also written to No. 10:

I wrote to David Cameron in April 2012 to warn him that disasters would accompany the passage of his same-sex marriage bill.

Janice Atkinson (MEP) described a self-employed UKIP-supporting Thai lady with British citizenship as a ‘ting-tong from somewhere’ in August 2014. ‘Ting-tong’ not only sounds bad, but in Thai it is a derogatory term denoting madness. Not surprisingly, the lady and her husband withdrew their UKIP membership.

Bill Etheridge (MEP) praised Hitler for his ‘forceful’ manner of oration. That was at a talk in November 2014 in the north of England.

Rozanne Duncan (councillor) said in a Channel 4 documentary in 2015 that she did not like ‘negroes’. She talked about it for three minutes.

UKIP supporters

During the general election campaign of 2015, UKIP supporters trolled in comments sections everywhere, most notably those of The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Spectator.

Those sites were deluged with the same cut-and-paste messages — many of them lengthy — from the same people day after day after day. Those people should have been banned, not for what they were saying but for the nauseating spamming of those sites.

While the overwhelming majority of UKIP voters and supporters are responsible, well-meaning people who are rightly concerned about the changes they have seen in their local areas over the past 15 years, there is a kernel of support from a handful of extremist-sympathisers. I have read many comments over the years from this tiny faction of UKIP supporters discussing their attendance at fringe/extremist marches.

Farage attempted to change party image

So far, there is something to be said for David Cameron’s referring to UKIP as ‘loonies, fruitcakes and closet racists’.

He said that in 2006 and again in the run-up to the 2015 election.

Fellow Conservative Michael Howard, Cameron’s predecessor, also labelled UKIP as ‘cranks and gadflies’ during his time as party leader.

Farage, who is married to a German, did his best to cleanse that image but with his MEPs and councillors saying silly and stupid things, the tarnish remained.

However, UKIP have gained strength in parts of the South East and the North in recent years among voters who have legitimate concerns.

Nigel Farage

Farage stood down as party leader within days of Brexit.

Leave voters thought he would stay on to police the triggering of Article 50 of the Treaty of Rome. However, that was not to be, for whatever reason.

The ironic thing about his abrupt resignation was that, just hours before he made the announcement, UKIP supporters were writing at length anticipating that Farage would not be getting a seat at the Brexit table. In summary (sarcasm alert): ‘Waaaah! The mean, nasty Tories will ignore our Nigel!’

Maybe that’s because Nigel didn’t want to play anymore.

He will, however, continue as an MEP in Brussels. Perhaps his attendance will improve. He shouldn’t forget who’s paying his salary: the taxpayers.

The future — a new party?

Personally, I really do hope UKIP sink like a stone.

The party was weird to begin with and never changed.

Businessman and entrepreneur Arron Banks has given much money and time to UKIP. He also gave £5.6 million to Leave.EU during the referendum campaign.

Banks told The Guardian that UKIP might be pruned back, but he seems to favour a brand new party in a Brexit era. Infinitely preferable, in my humble opinion.

“Ukip grew so rapidly it had problems with personnel and all sorts of issues and I believe that could be better tackled with a new party,” he said …

I think we have a good shot at taking over from Labour as the opposition because Labour are imploding and Labour voters for the first time ever have defied their party, voting for leave,” Banks said on Wednesday.

But he hinted Farage might not be his choice of leader for any new party, saying: “He may have had enough. And by the way, going out at the top is a good way in politics.”

Indeed. Banks should start afresh. He understands what is needed:

Banks has been credited with professionalising Ukip’s referendum push through the Leave.EU campaign. He deployed senior executives and staff from his insurance companies and hired the Washington DC political campaign strategy firm Goddard Gunster on a multimillion-pound fee to sharpen its message.

“It was taking an American-style media approach,” said Banks. “What they said early on was ‘facts don’t work’ and that’s it. The remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You have got to connect with people emotionally. It’s the Trump success.”

Agreed.

I wish Arron Banks the best of luck in putting his project together.

2016 is a year of huge change. The spate of obituaries during the first three months of this year in the US, UK and France signalled the end of an era. More recently, we saw more change with Brexit. We now have a new, no-nonsense Prime Minister. We might well see a Trump victory in November.

Before the year is out, we might also see a new political party in Britain capturing the hearts and minds of many, particularly in England: a new party for a new era.

UPDATE — SEPTEMBER 16: Diane James is the new UKIP leader. The Spectator has details. James won by approximately 4,000 votes over her nearest rival Lisa Duffy. Three others also vied for the post. The Spectator complains that she is very much a representative of southern England and the middle class. Hmm. The same is also true of Nigel Farage. She looks respectable and interviews well, so there should be no problem with credibility. I wish her all the best!

Boetie, I hope this responds adequately to your request. If not, please feel free to let me know.

Sadiq Khan.jpgOn Thursday, May 5, 2016, England, Wales and Scotland held local elections.

(Photo credits: Wikipedia)

New London mayor

London now has a Labour mayor who is also a Muslim, Sadiq Khan. As French radio station RMC put it in their newscasts that day (translated):

London, Europe’s most cosmopolitan city, is on course to elect its first Muslim mayor.

The next day, one of RMC’s talk shows took a listener’s poll asking if they could envisage French voters doing the same. One woman rang in to complain that the question was ‘racist’. In any event, 78% voted ‘yes’ and 22% ‘no’.

Khan, the son of a bus driver and born in Tooting (South London), won largely on the housing issue. London property is frightfully expensive and many people are forced out of the market, either as buyers or renters. Although I did not follow the campaign closely, when I did pick up a copy of the London Evening Standard, the Khan soundbites of the day were about affordable and available housing. And ‘son of a bus driver’ was in every article.

It is unlikely that anything will change in a significant way immediately, however, over time, who knows? It is possible that we will see a certain amount of vocal social polarisation popping up in the coming weeks with a mayor whom a significant percentage of London’s population sees as one of their own.

Zac Goldsmith MP at 'A New Conversation with the Centre-Right about Climate Change'.jpgKhan’s opponent was Zac Goldsmith, the highly popular Conservative MP for Richmond Park. Goldsmith’s sister Jemima was married for several years to the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. During that time she lived in Pakistan and still holds dual nationality with that country and the UK. One of their sons helped Goldsmith campaign in Muslim neighbourhoods. Imran Khan’s name still has a lot of pull and meeting his son went down well but, in the end, not quite well enough. Nor did questions about some of Sadiq Khan’s associations.

Jemima Goldsmith tweeted her congratulations to the new mayor and, in a separate tweet, wrote:

When Khan’s predecessor Boris Johnson won re-election as Mayor of London in 2012, pundits predicted that it was highly unlikely that another Conservative would be elected to that post in 2016. And so it happened. One reason is the natural political cycles from right to left and back again. Another is demographic; the city has many more Labour voters who are diluting what used to be the doughnut of outer boroughs which voted overwhelmingly Conservative.

Scotland

A dramatic reversal of fortune for Labour took place in Scotland. For the first time in years, the Conservatives have become the second most prominent party, knocking Labour off that spot. The SNP, representing independence, also no longer has an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament.

Incidentally, it is interesting that these three political parties are headed by women.

Wales

Incredibly, UKIP — the UK Independence Party — won seven seats in the Welsh Assembly.

One of the newly elected UKIP Assembly Members has blamed Cardiff’s increased litter on Eastern European immigrants, although he was unable to back up his assertions with any data.

Labour still hold the majority of seats (29), and Plaid Cymru (pron. ‘Plied Come-ree’) have 12, nudging the Conservatives into third with 11.

England

Despite doubts over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, their mayoral and council losses were not as dramatic as some pundits predicted.

That said, UKIP managed to win six council seats in Thurrock, Essex (east of London), sapping the Labour vote. This puts them on level pegging with the Conservatives. Each party has 17 seats. Labour have 14 seats and an Independent councillor has one.

Our next national election will be on June 23, as we vote whether to leave or remain in the European Union.

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