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UKIP have countered Douglas Carswell’s opinion that the party may not be able to move beyond its base with Nigel Farage at the helm by claiming that voters are satisfied with the leader.

The Member of Parliament for Clacton, and UKIP’s only representative in the House of Commons despite winning four million votes in May’s general election, said in an interview with BBC Essex (see tweet, below) that, while it wasn’t for him to decide who the leader was, “we all need to think very carefully as to whether or not we can build beyond the base that we’ve now got”.

Whilst affirming his commitment to UKIP, Carswell took issue with the party’s response to the resounding loss in the Oldham West and Royton by-election earlier this month.

Let’s not do what we did the day after the Oldham by-election and blame the voter, let’s not pretend it’s all due to postal ballots. You know they had postal ballots here in Clacton too and I don’t remember anyone blaming postal ballots then.

If you are in the business of doing democracy for a living you need to accept the democratic verdict, and the punter didn’t take what we had to offer.

Carswell also added that without a change of direction, “you can come second and you can carry on coming second and you can be an ‘also ran”.

The party’s chairman, Steve Crowther, responded to the MP’s criticism by claiming that the majority of UKIP voters are satisfied with Nigel Farage, while the party leader himself hit back saying “he has been saying this privately for some months,” insisting that the party is very united. Members, elected representatives and supporters of the party have also taken to defending Farage on social media.

Others, however, have agreed with their MP’s opinion or, at least, defended his right to express it.

The point that many of those UKIP supporters fiercely firing off angry tweets have missed is that Douglas Carswell was only stating an opinion, formed from many years’ experience in politics, and himself admitted that it was not up to him to decide who the leader of the party should be.

Any party which seeks to be credible must accept that mature and sensible debate as to the leadership and direction of that party is an integral ingredient in democratic discourse. Angrily shouting down your party’s only MP, even if only on social media, because you disagree with him or you think that his views may hinder your electoral success, is only ever seen on the outside as as an attempt to quash internal debate – and, ultimately, supports the assertion that the party is only looking to appease its core support, rather than build itself into a credible, winning force.

UKIP is too often seen as a one-man band, even referred to openly as “Nigel’s party”, which betrays the numerous talented politicians and coveted “People’s Army” which provide the backbone of the party. To many within UKIP, Farage is seen as an almost Godly figure, whilst to many outside the party, he is seen as incredibly divisive. It is easy to see why someone might think it difficult to move the party from being “also-rans” to “winners” with a polarising leader at the helm.

That said, I do not wish to see either Farage or UKIP tarnished by current events – there is, after all, a referendum looming which, I believe, would not be taking place had it not been for Farage and UKIP. However, sooner or later the party must face up to the fact that it needs an internal debate as to who can take the party forward and how. Only the party membership can decide whether that is Farage or someone new, but, either way, they must realise that there is more to politics than their own wishes. Yes, Farage is popular and has many, many fans (myself included), but having fans among the converted will not necessarily result in winning elections and being able to put your policies into practice.

Until then, supporters must realise that there are differing opinions within the party – and respect when they are expressed, even if they do not agree with them. The new politics promised by UKIP cannot be seen in publicly insulting and attempting to drown out any voice of dissent – especially when it comes from the only voice representing their four million voters in the House of Commons.

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