Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The yo-yo chairman

First she had resigned, and then she hadn’t. This is Petrina Holdsworth, erstwhile chairman of the UK Independence Party, who has now resigned again. This time it's for keeps – or for as long as "the current regime" is in place.

The proximate cause this time is UKIP leader Roger Knapman (pictured below)and his apparent refusal to stand by the terms of his agreement with Petrina, which brought her back into the fold after her original resignation on Friday. The deal had been that a letter of support from the UKIP MEPs – less deputy leader Mike Nattrass – would be published on the UKIP website and that Nattrass would be fired.

Petrina did compromise, accepting that Nattrass could stay on until after the conference this weekend, to maintain the fa├žade of Party unity, but he would then depart afterwards.

However, as the week progressed, it became clear that Knapman had no intention of honouring his part of the deal and in fact had passed work to Nattrass via an intermediary that his position was safe "contingent on his continued good behaviour". Nattrass's response was to fire off another abusive e-mail in the direction of the party chairman.

Petrina's response was to deliver an ultimatum which expired this afternoon and, on failing to hear from Knapman, she again submitted her resignation at 4.13 pm, leaving UKIP without a chairman for its conference. The full text of her resignation letter is as follows:

Dear NEC Member

I was approached by Roger Knapman to rescind my resignation as Chairman on the basis that Roger was willing to remove Nattrass from the Deputy Leadership for his recent behaviour.

I agreed to that.

Roger then told me that it would be very difficult to remove it forthwith as the conferences were so close in time with all the attendant publicity plus the fact that Nattrass was co-hosting the I&D Group Conference. I was left in no doubt however that it would be removed by Roger after the conferences.

I therefore agreed to that.

In the meantime he said that he would obtain a letter from the other MEPs apologising for Nattrass`s behaviour .He stated that the letter was to be put on our website.

(As you know the letter has been signed by the other MEPs and a copy circulated to the NEC members.)

In the meantime Nattrass had issued another intemperate email on the 2nd October at 10.48.I telephoned Roger about this who indicated that Nattrass would have to go forthwith as he had now "cut his own throat". I telephoned Roger later that day but he was unavailable.

I then spoke with Piers that evening (2nd of October) who had no knowledge of any further action having been taken by Roger and we agreed that a short holding statement should be put on the web.

We agreed that the next day the MEPs letter would be put on the web,or at least a reference to the MEP's letter would be added to the statement. I sent two emails later that evening pointing out that there was no reference to Nattrass in the letter, which was not acceptable, and amongst other things I drew Roger's attention to the fact that the question of the removal of Nattrass's Deputy Leadership seemed to be slipping still further as Graham Booth had rung me that evening to say that Roger would simply be informing Nattrass that his Deputy Leadership was now dependant on his future good conduct.

I went to London on the 3rd of October. On my return in the afternoon I noted that the MEPs' letter was still not on the website contrary to my agreement with Roger and Piers.In deed nothing had been added to the short holding statement.

I emailed a copy of the letter to Stuart Gulleford and asked him to have a word with Piers out of courtesy before putting it on the website.

That evening I spoke to Stuart to ask why it was still not on the website. He told me that orders had come "from the top" to stop it going up.

I rang Roger and we had our first acrimonious exchange.

He refused to allow the letter on the website. He indicated that he did not want to remove Nattrass's Deputy Leadership. I pointed out that I felt Roger had not kept to his word on either topic and that I felt betrayed.

By the end of the evening it had been agreed that the question of the Deputy Leadership would be dealt with at the next meeting of the NEC. Roger said that Nigel (Farage) had agreed to raise the topic. I agreed to that as a final position although I viewed it as a weak option.

I hope that Nigel will not mind me adding that he was sympathetic to the position which I found myself in.

I asked Roger to put our latest agreement in writing to me as I was fed up with him changing the position so arbitrarily and frequently. He agreed and said that Piers would send me an email confirming the position this morning. No email has been forthcoming.

I have formed the view that I am no longer prepared to work under these unacceptable circumstances.

I now strongly suspect that nothing will be done re the Deputy Leadership as Roger has shown that he is not prepared to act decisively and to publicly support his chairman. I only wish he had been clear with me in the first place and then he would not have put the party in this mess.

I am left with no alternative in my view but to resign yet again as Chairman of the Party and from the NEC in order to preserve my own integrity and self respect. This time there can be no coming back under the present regime.

I thank the huge amount of people who have contacted me over the last few days to welcome me back but I cannot continue to act with the "rug being pulled from under my feet" repeatedly.

I regret that I will not be attending the conferences this weekend.

Yours sincerely,
Petrina Holdsworth
With the Conservative Party conference in full-swing, and the Clarkeites and the BBC pushing the idea that "Europe" is no longer an issue in the leadership, a crisis in UKIP is just what the Eurosceptics do not need.

UKIP, under the "leadership" of Knapman – himself a former Tory MP and whip – may have turned out to have dealt the cause a crippling blow, just at the time when it was most important to present a strong, united face to the public.

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