‘Kent will receive a lot of attention’ - Henry Bolton pledges to reignite Ukip support in county
PUBLISHED: 13:42 02 October 2017 | UPDATED: 13:42 02 October 2017
Mr Bolton defied the odds to be elected Ukip leader at its conference in Torquay on Friday
Kent will receive “a lot of attention” from Ukip as it looks to launch a recovery in British politics, its newly-elected leader has claimed.
Henry Bolton defied the odds last week by beating off the likes of bookies’ favourite Anne Marie Waters to clinch the top job at the party’s conference in Torquay.
A former army officer and security expert, Mr Bolton lives in Folkestone and contested the county’s police and crime commissioner election last year - ultimately losing out to Matthew Scott of the Conservatives.
He now faces the difficult task of uniting a party left almost in tatters following a series of high-profile defections, infighting and devastating election defeats off the back of the vote to leave the European Union last June.
Prior to its collapse, Ukip had built a strong level of support in Kent, claiming control of its first ever council in Thanet back in 2015, and becoming the main party of opposition on the county council two years earlier - though its representation at County Hall was completely wiped out when voters returned to the polls in May.
Speaking to KentNews.co.uk this week, Mr Bolton was keen to emphasise his responsibility to turn the party’s fortunes around across the nation, but recognised the county as a strong starting point.
“We will of course be trying to exploit areas where we are best supported at a local level,” he said.
“Kent will receive a lot of attention, not because I’m from here, but because we’ve got a lot of support.
“There will be a lot of discussions within the party, I need to know exactly where we are on a range of issues such as the finances.
“My priority is to get the party’s structures and support mechanisms fit for purpose.
“At the same time I am starting to engage with various elements outside the party – other political parties both at home and abroad, thinktanks, Leave campaign groups – and starting to map out the terrain.”
Mr Bolton revealed he was putting together a large team of around 25 to 30 people to help implement the changes he pledged during his leadership campaign.
In the run-up to the vote last week, Mr Bolton was clear that Brexit was the party’s “core task”, and insisted it needed to stamp its authority on proceedings, with little progress having been made in negotiations with Brussels.
“Ukip has done very little over the last nine months so we need to start saying and doing things,” Mr Bolton said.
“The Conservative government has shown a real lack of planning and preparation in working towards Brexit, nothing concrete has been done.
“We’re supposed to be leaving in March 2019 but we keep kicking the can down the road.
“The centre of Ukip has been weak and the local level has been left without support and guidance.”
Indeed, Mr Bolton was critical of Chris Wells’ running of Thanet District Council last month, claiming he had “not covered himself or the party in glory” since surging to power two years ago and warned of a “disastrous” result next time around.
Cllr Wells dismissed the criticism, suggesting the new party leader needed to “hear a few home truths on understanding local government”.
Next year sees voters return to the polls in a number of local elections, including those in London boroughs, and Mr Bolton admitted he was looking to take a longer-term approach to reviving its local government presence - and that it may come at a cost in upcoming votes.
“This is about the future of the nation and making all our communities more optimistic, more confident and having a voice in shaping their communities,” he said.
“If we have not got local government right, we are not going to get national government right.
“One of the things I will be changing is introducing long-term strategic planning.
“We have local elections coming up quite soon and it may well be there’s not time for us to fully prepare.
“We’re not going to throw all the resources at those elections because we have got to think longer term.
“It’s possible we will take a hit in those elections but I want to make sure we are fit and resilient. We can’t empty the bank accounts and exhaust everything.
“Ideally we’d still win those seats but the time window to turn things around is quite short.
“We will look at it and certainly be fighting vigorously in those elections but we are not going to break ourselves in doing so.”
Since the prime minister’s heavily-criticised Brexit speech in Florence last week, Mr Bolton claims to have witnessed a surge in Ukip membership, as well as bounce following his election on Friday, which he believed signalled “a new sense of energy in the party”.
One of those to welcome his victory was former leader, Nigel Farage, who also has ties to the county having lived in Westerham and stood for election in South Thanet.
He acted as Mr Bolton’s political referee in the run-up to the vote and described him as “a man of real substance” following his triumph.
Mr Bolton is clear he hopes Mr Farage will have a role to play in the party under his leadership.
“I’ve spoken with Nigel and we’re going to have another talk this week,” he said. “I have got some thoughts on that, certainly.
“He has moved on from leading the party, however he has strong views on Brexit and is recognised as national figure – he is probably more well-known than Theresa May.”