Can Henry Bolton emulate Nigel Farage and rebuild UKIP?

Henry Bolton

Bolton’s win last week was a big surprise to the media and the bookies, but can he save the party?

The former policy and army officer won last week’s leadership election with 30% of the vote. The far-right Anne Marie Waters came in second, and one time front-runner Peter Whittle AM came in fifth place.

From the media performances Bolton has given, he comes across as a charismatic, uncontroversial figure. He has an incredibly rich CV, contrasting greatly with the questions about Paul Nutall’s past that dominated his bid to win in Stoke last year.

However, Bolton's success will likely be shaped by Brexit negotiations.

Now that Brexit is happening, there is arguably little point to UKIP, however, should Brexit not be as "hard" as UKIP would like, Bolton has an opportunity to lead a UKIP resurgence.

If the transition deal becomes the deal that never ends or if single-market membership continues beyond March 2019, the Tories could start haemorrhaging support to UKIP.

UKIP will probably never be the force it was under Nigel Farage’s leadership before the Brexit vote, but an “unacceptable” EU deal could give them new life.

Nigel Farage Debate on Council meeting conclusions - with Brexit: MEPs agree on key conditions for approving UK withdrawal agreement - Nigel Farage (EFDD, UK)

What opportunities are coming up for UKIP?

Next May’s council elections could provide Bolton a chance to prove himself. Of the seats up for grabs next year, UKIP won 154 the previous time they were up for election, one year before UKIP’s 13% vote-share at the 2015 general election. UKIP will undoubtedly lose seats, but if the Tories soften their Brexit stance and Bolton cuts through then they could hold on to a decent number. As already said, much will depend on the direction of the Brexit negotiations.

The next opportunity after that will be the 2019 local elections, due to take place after the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. That could be a make or break moment for Bolton.

The irony is that a Brexit has deeply damaged UKIP, and that a UKIP-style Brexit could finish them off for good.