So there you have it. Paul Nuttall, Vietnam veteran and the fourth man on the moon, has added another failure to the long list of UKIP by-election failures. What a surprise that this man of the people couldn’t convince Stoke to back him, even after he promised to “make chips cheap as chips again” – what more do the proles want than that?!
The fact that FA Cup winner Paul Nuttall couldn’t win in a Brexit constituency against a Labour candidate who is about as likeable as Gonorrhoea suggests something important about the future of his party. They are supposedly on the brink of sweeping Labour out of the north and becoming the new opposition in their former heartlands. The latest failure raises questions about whether they genuinely have the capability to do that.
Since the good showing in the Euro elections in 2014, it has been one long false dawn for UKIP; even Farage couldn’t win a seat. They’ve failed in every by-election and despite speculation about winning a batch of seats in the last General Election, the upsurge in their support amounted to little. Only Douglas Carswell, on the fringes on the party and hated by the Farageists, currently holds a seat in parliament.
Kippers like to think of Brexit as their great victory and, yes, there would not have been a referendum without Farage pressurising the Conservatives. However, the Brexit vote was about far more than UKIP and it’s clear that Farage repelled a lot of eurosceptic voters who voted Remain because they didn’t want to be associated with him and his ilk. The idea that UKIP could push on in a post-Farage, post-Brexit era is looking increasingly unconvincing.
Nuttall went on the defensive and pointed out that he had managed to cut the Labour majority in half. Snell received 7,853 votes to his 5,233. However, UKIP only just held off the Conservatives who came a narrow third on 5,154 and this was a failure in the “Brexit capital of Britain” where 69.4% of the city voted Leave. If the UKIP leader wasn’t sure he had a good shot at winning he wouldn’t have risked it – this was a crucial by-election for his party and for his reputation, which has taken an absolute battering in the campaign and in the loss.
The sudden insistence that Stoke was only number 72 on the UKIP “hit list” just doesn’t wash. If they can’t capitalise on these fertile conditions they will never be able to take it to the next level. The hope was that Nuttall would beat Labour and surf into parliament on a wave of populism; a precursor to their blitzkrieg in the north of England
Instead, he slinked away humiliated, surrounded by the press, with an exasperated aide shouting: “Where the hell’s the car? Where the f***’s the car?” Now the party is in damage limitation mode.
There was nothing particularly appealing about Gareth Snell, who thinks Brexit is a “massive pile of s***” and had his fair share of bad publicity in the campaign. It was always going to be a challenge to take the seat but Nuttall, as leader of his party, is considered one of the stronger UKIP candidates and he still couldn’t win or get through the campaign without controversy; this was a reality check.
The great UKIP surge is never going to happen. We keep hearing time and time again about how they are about to take off as a major electoral force, but they never have and never will. In order to execute their new strategy of wiping Labour out across the north of England they need a great degree of professionalism, an efficient ground operation, compelling and well considered policies and a very strong batch of candidates. They don’t have any of these.
Seriously, where are the candidates going to come from to launch this major attack on the north? The only decent people they have are Suzanne Evans, Patrick O’Flynn and the already elected Carswell – and they are all hated by many in the party. The political talent just isn’t there, neither are the resources and neither is the professionalism.
In this crucial by-election their new leader, the man who said he’d professionalise the party and help them kick on after Farage, had nothing of worth to say and was proven to be a habitual liar. No one seriously believes that he was not aware of the claims made on his website or that the aide who took the blame was anything but a sacrificial lamb protecting him from his own duplicity. His claims about his qualifications were untrue, he lied about his career, and he tried to boost his reputation on the backs of 96 dead people. Nice.
UKIP don’t have a proper set of substantial policies. They are adept at stoking concerns about immigration and trying to convince people that a “no compromise, no deal” approach to negotiations with the EU is not boneheaded and childish, in other words they are adding nothing of worth to British politics. They are aberration that signifies the toxic nature and divisiveness of the political climate over the last decade.
Nuttall took the opportunity in a recent speech to announce a key policy of cutting VAT on hot food and making the “traditional British dinner” of fish and chips “cheap as chips” again. Far from modernising the party this was reminiscent of the dad’s army manifesto of 2010, which promised to repaint trains in traditional colours and make bus drivers and taxi drivers dress in “proper” uniforms.
Patronising policies and endless focus on immigration doesn’t make you the party of the working class. What working people need is a manifesto of policies that will provide them with jobs, offer them opportunity to better themselves and provide their children with a decent education. Such policies can only be implemented by a serious party; UKIP is the omni-shambles party and enough people are wise to this to withhold their vote.
After their last electoral success in 2014, the way forward for UKIP was to broaden their appeal, de-toxify their image and forge a new identity. Instead, Farage settled on a policy of attracting BNP refugees, doubling down on immigration and appealing to xenophobia and remaining a single issue pressure group. Now UKIP’s real destiny is not to become the second party of British politics but to slowly fade away into irrelevance, probably fracturing terminally after its never ending civil war finally takes its toll.
Ben Kelly is an Executive Director of Conservatives for Liberty.