Question: If Nigel Farage resigns as leader of Ukip and is replaced by an interim leader called Suzanne Evans, who is leader of Ukip?
Answer: Nigel Farage is leader of Ukip. He simply “unresigned”.
Question: If Nigel Farage resigns as leader of Ukip, triggering a lengthy leadership election which results in an overwhelming victory for an MEP called Diane James, who gives an acceptance speech and then to all external appearances, actually leads the party for eighteen days, who is leader of UKIP?
Answer: Nigel Farage is leader of UKIP. The paperwork wasn’t filled in correctly or something. Rest assured that when Nigel Farage has been dead and gone for a hundred years, a document will turn up in an attic revealing that Nigel Farage is still the leader of UKIP. Nigel Farage is always the leader of UKIP.
In comic strip terms, what Ukip keeps doing is known as retroactive continuity, or “retconning” – imparting shock revelations that conveniently negate what everyone had previously thought of as an established historical fact.
That sort of thing is all the rage in the mad world of English politics at the moment. And, yes, it has to be said that the madness is largely an English phenomenon.
From the relative calmness of Scotland, where the public voted by an almost two-to-one margin to maintain the security and stability of our decades-old relationship with our continental partners, we can only look on with disbelief at the increasingly alien political culture that seems to be taking root south of the border, and the incomprehensible rules of the game that can always be rewritten at any time if they outlive their usefulness.
The most blatant non-Farage-related attempt at retconning was of course in the Labour party. Having spent the last three-and-a-half decades inching the party towards a one-person, one-vote system for electing the leader, Labour’s so-called ‘moderates’ and ‘modernisers’ finally got what they always claimed to have wanted…and then realised to their horror that the members and registered supporters were not, as it turned out, sheep who would always vote the ‘right’ way.
All of a sudden, the anti-Corbyn brigade decided that the rule-book was an optional extra, and that what really mattered was whether the parliamentary party liked the leader or not. The rest of the London establishment dutifully joined in with this effort to retcon Labour all the way back to 1980, with the most eminent journalists assuring their readers and viewers that Corbyn’s position was untenable because the Westminster bubble had decided it was.
Of course it was entirely legitimate to overturn the members’ choice, because “Britain is a parliamentary democracy”. (Although it was never adequately explained why Labour must be a parliamentary democracy simply because Britain is. What is Labour’s “parliament”, for example, and how is it accountable to the members?)
Now, as it happens, this particular outbreak of madness had a highly satisfying ending. Emulating his fictional left-wing counterpart Harry Perkins from A Very British Coup (the TV version rather than the book), Corbyn faced down the plotters by simply ignoring the self-interested narrative they had woven, and sticking to the actual rules. His position would only have become truly untenable if either the Labour NEC or the courts had decided to keep him off the ballot paper – and they didn’t. That outcome at last opens up a tantalising opportunity for English politics to break out of the trap of self-perpetuating rule by a right-wing elite.
But the snag is, of course, that Corbyn doesn’t possess the charisma of a Harry Perkins, and is highly unlikely to lead his party to power. At best, he might limit the damage at the next general election, and then pass on the torch to a more electable leader from his own wing of the party. No-one will be betting their house on that, and even if it does happen, the new progressive dawn is a very long way away.
In the meantime, Tory rule just goes on, and on, and on, and the “compassionate conservatism” promised by David Cameron in opposition is a fading memory. Where will Theresa May’s own attempts at retconning end? Campaigning for a Remain vote in June and then claiming in October that only Brexit will restore “sovereignty” and “independence” to her country is a sleight of hand that the most ingenious storytellers would struggle to justify, but the London commentariat seem more than content to let her get away with it.
Brexit was a barrel of laughs over the summer (Getty)
If it’s so ridiculously easy for her, why should she stop at retconning England back to 1972, the year before entry to the Common Market? Why not go all the way back to the glory days of colonising Africans? That would seem to be the logical conclusion of her rallying cry for EU membership to be replaced by a “truly global Britain”.
And it has to be said she does seem very keen on London’s pre-existing Little Empire of Leftovers. To her, the indyref rhetoric of an “equal partnership” between England and Scotland was apparently code for Scotland being bound to the English popular will.
If Brexit Means Brexit in England, then Remain Means Brexit in Scotland.
More the Brezhnev Doctrine than Gorbachev’s Sinatra Doctrine. But here’s the bad news for May: there isn’t much appetite in Scotland for waiting around a couple of decades until English politics has its own glasnost moment, and tanks probably aren’t an option for her.
As the saying goes, “tick tock”.
James Kelly's blog, Scot goes POP!, is among the most popular political blogs in the UK. He has also contributed to a number of newspapers and magazines.
You can check out the blog here or follow James on Twitter.
More on the Ukip crisis