Henry Bolton, whose wife Tatiana Smurova-Bolton is from Kimovsk in the suburbs of Moscow, cut his teeth advising on strategic intelligence in Eastern Europe for military and civilian bodies.
It is an unusual background for a politician coming at a time when the U.S. and European authorities are investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the democratic process, including efforts to support Brexit.
The result was warmly welcomed by Farage, who was Bolton’s “referee” in the UKIP leadership campaign. The former leader has reportedly been named as a “person of interest” in the FBI’s Russia-Trump investigation. Bolton told The Daily Beast that he had no relationship with anyone in Trump world.
Arron Banks, UKIP’s biggest backer under Farage’s leadership, wrote on Twitter: “This is great news & I’m sure both myself and Nigel will want to re-engage with the party!”
The previous post from Banks, who often jokes that his own Russian wife may have been a spy, was a retweet of the Russian Embassy poking fun at “paranoid Russophobia.”
There is no indication that Bolton shares Farage and Banks’ admiration for President Putin, indeed his service to the United Kingdom was rewarded with an OBE in 2013.
According to his LinkedIn profile and campaign website, Bolton graduated from the famous Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and served for 10 years in the Territorial Army as an infantry company commander and military intelligence officer.
He then says he became “a Transnational Organised Crime and Intelligence Advisor” for the Home Office, which saw him help set up a new intelligence structure for a foreign government. Next, he lists working as a global security and intelligence consultant for the Foreign Office before leaving government and striking out as an independent contractor just before the Brexit vote last year.
His website lists advisory roles for the United Nations, the European Union and the Organisation for Security & Cooperation in Europe, as well as stints in Helmand Province where he says he advised on stabilization and troop drawdown. An image on his website appears to show Bolton offering his advice to General David Petraeus.
David Coburn, the leader of UKIP Scotland, said that after four leaders in a year, it was about time the party brought in someone with military-style leadership credentials. “Someone who has organized a bunch of Afghan warriors is the sort of chap who could probably deal with some of our recalcitrant members and back benchers,” he told The Daily Beast. “This is probably harder—it’s probably easier to deal with Afghan warlords.”
Despite his background, Bolton appeared reserved when he made his surprise entrance on stage at UKIP’s annual conference. In the end, the unknown candidate had secured a comfortable victory, beating a radical anti-Islam candidate, Anne Marie Waters, into second place with 29.9 percent of the members’ votes. Or, as Waters later put it on Twitter; "Jihad 1, Truth 0."
At the podium he apologized for thanking his campaign team, wondered aloud whether he might have been better off losing, and then promised not to talk for too long. He told the audience that his priority as leader would be to serve the members.
As he came off stage, he promised The Daily Beast that he did actually want to be leader of Britain’s most dysfunctional political party. “I do, I do,” he said, pledging to last “a lot longer” than his predecessors in the role.
The previous permanent leader Paul Nuttall, who was chatting to friends outside the conference bar a few minutes after the result was announced, declined the opportunity to offer his congratulations. “I’m not interested in talking to the media,” he said. “I’ve done that, wore the T-shirt—didn’t like it when I had to do it, so I’m not going to do it when I don’t have to.”
Bolton’s gargantuan task will now be to bring together the warring factions within the party, many of whom had threatened to walk out if Waters had won.
Keeping the “patriotic” parties together was a theme throughout the day. Germany’s equivalent anti-immigration right-wing party, the AfD, who had their first taste of major electoral success last week, sent an official, Dr. Hugh Bronson, to speak at the conference.
His attendance was controversial in the British media and among some UKIP delegates because of the divisive approach of the party, who have already suffered their first major splits.
One of the AfD’s founders, Alexander Gauland, said Germany should take pride in the country’s aggressive expansionism under Adolf Hitler. “If the French are rightly proud of their emperor and the Britons of Nelson and Churchill, we have the right to be proud of the achievements of the German soldiers in two world wars,” he said.
Bronson acknowledged on stage that those remarks had caused reputational damage. “Last night I arrived at the hotel quite late and bumped into a few fellow colleagues, we had a few drinks… one colleague was quite open and frank, he told me that he would never support AfD’s agenda, he said his wife was Jewish and he didn’t like what some of our senior people said during the campaign. Let me tell you, be careful not to waste your energy looking for enemies when in fact you have friends.”
The crowd applauded enthusiastically, and UKIP delegates came up to shake his hand and thank him for traveling as he returned to his seat in the auditorium.
“I didn’t expect that,” he told The Daily Beast. “There’s a lot of similarities between the parties. We suffer the same problems, vilified by the press, ignored by the mainstream parties and that unites us.”
He was less sure whether President Donald Trump would become a lasting supporter of Europe’s patriotic parties. “He is in his own world, and because he is, he could also be a friend, an ally,” he said.
Bronson said some people in the party were building indirect links with Trump’s associates. “Across the media there are some links and we talk, but not direct links,” he said.
As if to underline Bolton’s impossible task of creating a professional, unified party, speakers on the first day of the conference managed to attract headlines for such off-message ideas as claiming people should be free to “black up” (masquerade in blackface) and blaming British mothers for the collapse of religion in this country.