Farage’s Fillies, UKIP’s reshuffle and the electoral race

Nigel Farage with Members of the University of York Freedom Association Society

The main theme to last week’s “UKIP shuffle” was not so much gender diversity as ending Farage’s monopoly of the spotlight.

With rather less fanfare than the Tories managed two weeks ago, UKIP announced its own reshuffle on Thursday, with a twitter hashtag - #ukipshuffle – created especially for the occasion. “People you’ve never heard of being appointed to shadow jobs they’ll never fill” was apparently the way one Tory MP witheringly characterised the event. Fair point, although the same could be said for any opposition party reshuffle unless it takes place shortly before an election that the party in question has a decent chance of winning.

What non-governmental reshuffles can do, however, is send out a message. Since the Tory reshuffle of two weeks ago appears to have been primarily about PR as well, UKIP can hardly be blamed for jumping on the bandwagon. Endless debate is possible about the nature of the Tory reshuffle, described as everything from a “massacre of the moderates” to an attempt to “punish bravery”, UKIP’s reshuffle, on the other hand, can be characterised quite simply. There are two themes to the “UKIP shuffle”: diversity, especially promotion of women (like the Tories), and an attempt to raise the profiles of others besides Nigel Farage.

Like the Prime Minister, Farage has selected a large number of women for his top shadow posts, prompting influential political blogger Guido Fawkes to describe a contest between “Farage’s Fillies” and “Cameron’s Cuties”. As with the Tories, the humorous term belies the serious and matronly nature of some of the ladies promoted. At least this is one time we shouldn’t see tabloid pictures of “Nige” surrounded by leggy blondes young enough to be his daughter.

Diane James becomes UKIP’s Justice and Home Affairs Spokesman. Having scored the highest UKIP result to date, taking 28% of the vote in Eastleigh, only just losing out to the Liberal Democrats, she is evidently considered to be something of a star by the party. She frequently appears on Question Time and other TV programmes, her relatively calm presence and presentation evidently considered an asset in media situations. She can lay claim to having drawn a spectacular eye-roll from the Tories’ most senior business minister, Matt Hancock, on a late night TV programme. Her argumentative style is diametrically opposed to Farage’s in that she rarely seems to tackle opponents’ arguments head on. Is this smoother style considered an asset by the UKIP leadership, which allows the party to appeal to voters left in the cold by Farage’s fiery rhetoric?

Also of note is Louise Bours, now UKIP’s Health Spokesman. This former actress had a much-publicized ding dong with footballer Joey Barton on Question Time. Describing the choice of main parties presented to voters, Bartonsaid Ukip was like the least unattractive of “four really ugly girls”. Bours must have spotted the opportunity to capitalise on likely feminist outrage at the comment, and reacted with mock outrage, telling Barton he had proved that footballers’ brains were in their feet. It’s a surprising reaction from a representative of the party that gave us Godfrey Bloom and wins votes out of having little time for political correctness – according to pollster ComRes, the third most popular reason for voting UKIP in May after immigration and the EU was “UKIP say what they think”. None the less, public opinion, faced with the apparent choice between backing her and backing sexism, grudgingly sided with the UKIP candidate. Bours 1, Barton 0.

Farage’s other women are more of an unknown quantity, with Jane Collins, Jill Seymour and Margot Parker (Employment, Transport and Small Business, respectively) having kept a low profile so far. Meanwhile, there was no promotion for Suzanne Evans. Widely reported as saying that UKIP failed to appeal to “educated, cultured and young” voters, Evans has perhaps been treated unfairly given that she never actually said those words, but apparently failed to reject the sentiment strenuously enough.

So much for “Farage’s Fillies”, but what of the men? Amjad Bashir – formerly the Small Business spokesman – becomes Communities Spokesman, presumably an attempt to appeal to the British Asian community. Patrick O’Flynn, the Express’s former political editor, is rewarded for his loyalty to the UKIP cause with the nearest thing the party has to a Shadow Chancellorship – Economic Spokesman. UKIP will hope to benefit from his media experience. At the same time, being identified with the Express positions UKIP away from Guardian readers on the one hand, and Telegraph readers on the other, as the party of the white working class.

But the real star of the reshuffle is Stephen Woolfe, the new Immigration and Financial Affairs spokesman. Woolfe has real-world experience as a City lawyer, is a motivational speaker, and has positioned himself as a moderate. He’d be a natural candidate for a safe Tory seat in the peaceful shires. He’s like the Tory poster boy Robert Jenrick – recently winner of the Newark by election – but with more charisma.

Forget “Farage’s Fillies”, whose gender, unlike that of “Cameron’s Cuties,” could pass for an accident. The political significance of the UKIP reshuffle is the party’s promotion of significant figures other than Farage, from the “safe pair of hands” Diane James to the colourful Louise Bours to the charismatic Stephen Woolfe. Whether it will make any difference to the party’s electoral prospects, of course, is another matter.