Controversial “alt-right” social media activists are working directly with UKIP leader Gerard Batten to develop ideas for a new party manifesto and a communication strategy to increase support for the party amongst younger voters, according to a senior party source.
It comes as Sky News obtains detailed membership figures showing more than 3,000 people have joined UKIP in the month since the prime minister’s Chequers agreement on Brexit.
In a face-to-face strategy meeting at the Civil Service Club in London on Friday, Mr Batten and other senior party figures held talks with Paul Joseph Watson, the British editor-at-large of the controversial American alt-right website infowars.com, as well as Carl Benjamin, another right-wing online activist with a significant social media following, who uses the alias Sargon of Akkad.
One party source who was present said new ideas for a revamped party manifesto, due to be revealed at this year’s autumn conference in Birmingham, were discussed.
Another said the aim was to try and harness the influence of the alt-right social media figures as “outriders” for the party, “these guys are great communicators, whether you like what they communicate or not,” the source added.
The meeting is understood to have been part of an effort to build upon a spike in membership applications since the cabinet met at Chequers and agreed a plan that included seeking a “common rulebook” with the EU for goods as part of its Brexit strategy exactly one month ago.
The membership figures given to Sky News show at least 3,031 new enrolments since 6 July – with nearly 500 coming from the South East of England, the region where UKIP has enjoyed some of its strongest support in the past.
Earlier this year former leader Henry Bolton said the party had been losing 1,000 members per month.
“It’s obvious to the British public now that Mrs May is betraying Brexit and she’s going to go on doing that, and that is causing immense anger in the population and a lot of people are joining us because of that,” Gerard Batten told Sky News.
However, the UKIP leader also claimed some of the increase in membership had come as a result of recent support the party has received from social media figures that have significant followings among the so-called “alt-right”.
He said: “We’ve taken on-board some people from the alternative media realm, who joined us by the way, I didn’t invite them.
“They came on board because they like what we’re saying, they like the things we represent, and that opens us up to a much much wider audience than we had before particularly amongst younger people.”
Mr Batten said that the social media figures who have joined the party would be bound by the same rules as other UKIP members, and would not be given any special treatment if they were to seen to make comments that might bring the party into disrepute.
He also denied his own anti-Islam views and backing for former-EDL leader Tommy Robinson – who is barred from joining UKIP due to a previous affiliation with the BNP – would alienate more mainstream eurosceptics.
He said: “Those people have got an awful lot of things in common. They are the ordinary working people in this country that pay tax and the small business owners – there are a forgotten group in our country.
“I don’t think the fact Tommy Robinson may have had a youthful indiscretion and joined the BNP cuts much ice with those people, they care about what he’s talking about.”
Under the recent leadership of Henry Bolton, party membership is understood to have slumped to around 18,000.
The current level is thought to be near 23,000 but a senior party source said another goal of the strategy meetings with alt-right figures was to raise UKIP’s membership above its previous high of around 45,000 in early 2016.
At the height of its popularity between the European elections in 2014 and the 2016 referendum, UKIP generated significant support in the leave-voting Essex constituencies along the Thames estuary.
In last year’s general election, Thurrock was the party’s number one target nationally, having come within hundreds of votes of the Conservatives and Labour in 2015.
The party would have only needed a swing of 1% away from the Tories to win the seat, but as was reflected in results across the country, support fell away back to the Conservatives and Labour.
The candidate in both 2015 and 2017 was Tim Aker, who has served as a UKIP MEP, but earlier this year he left the party.
Mr Aker stood in recent local elections for the Thurrock Independents, and says while the government’s Brexit strategy does create an opening for UKIP, he has no confidence in the party being able to capitalise on that opportunity.
He said: “There is a massive opportunity to build up locally, but UKIP under the current leadership just isn’t interested.
“They care about what women wear and someone found in contempt of court, not about the bread and butter issues.”
Speaking to Sky News in Grays, Mr Aker accused Mr Batten of blurring the distinction between concerns over immigration and his anti-islam stance.
He said: “The two things are completely different. Under Farage, when UKIP were riding high, the talk was about the Australian points based system – people want controlled immigration.
“Look around, Thurrock is a very mixed very diverse community – how could UKIP do well here?
“Because everyone here drives on congested roads, has to wait longer for GP appointments, and sees council house waiting list soaring by the week – now that’s not pointing fingers at any one community, it’s saying the numbers of people coming into this country are too high and we need to control that and the only way we can control that is by leaving the European Union that’s the message that UKIP should be talking about.”
In the general election of 2015 UKIP received the third largest share of the vote across the country, although that only gave the party a single MP.
In 2017 the party received just 1.8% of the national vote, and has lost the vast majority of its councillors in recent local elections.
:: UKIP new membership enrolments since July 6 2018:
:: In the UK
East Midlands: 214
North East: 110
North West: 264
Northern Ireland: 21
South East: 485
South West: 304
West Midlands: 230
*Waiting to be processed: 331
:: Living overseas:
Hong Kong: 4
New Zealand: 1
Rep Ireland: 3
South Africa: 1