Olly Neville, leader of Ukip’s youth wing, has been sacked for publicly voicing his support for equal marriage. Cementing the party’s position as one incapable of keeping up with popular thought on the subject of gay marriage, it also simultaneously exposed its leadership as anything but the advocates of free speech they claim to be.
Ukip leader, Nigel Farage.
Just this month party leader Nigel Farage gave an interview with the Guardian where he stated: “I want Ukip to be a party of free-thinkers.” There is something rather worrying when such a party ignores its own values, removing a democratically elected member from his post simply for exercising his right to free speech.
Ukip has a pretty good track record for remaining unfazed by the (worryingly frequent) outlandish comments made by its members. Last November culture spokesman Winston McKenzie received much criticism from the press for equating adoption by gay couples to child abuse. Hammering his offensive and ill-informed point home, McKenzie went on to suggest that some people come out as gay “as a sort of fashion.”
You’d be wrong if you assumed that such comments might land you in hot water with Ukip’s leadership: Winston McKenzie remains in his post. This was despite the volume of negative attention those comments received in the press. Olly Neville’s support for equal marriage, however, was deemed so damaging to Ukip’s reputation that he was sacked.
It is doubtful that anyone would have paid much attention to Neville’s public support for equal marriage legislation had Ukip avoided sacking him. Instead, Ukip has rather shot itself in the foot over the matter. By sacking Neville the party has received a huge amount of press scrutiny over whether it allows members to practice the free speech it claims to uphold.
In removing Neville from his post, Ukip was attempting to portray itself as the new choice for those voters disillusioned by Cameron’s progressive stance on gay marriage. Ukip is the only noteworthy political party whose policy remains opposed to equal marriage. The party relies so heavily on this policy to mop up voters who oppose the government’s introduction of equal marriage legislation that Neville’s comments perhaps threatened the gains Ukip has made in this area.
Ukip has sacrificed its own philosophy of libertarianism in order to appeal to an increasingly limited number of anti-equal marriage voters. Whether such a sacrifice will pay off remains to be seen.