As the Stoke result shows, Paul Nuttall is leading a party without a future
While last night’s by-elections present serious questions about the long-term viability of the Labour Party, the questions about UKIP’s viability are painfully immediate.
In Stoke-on-Trent, where UKIP threw the party leader and the kitchen sink at the by-election, Paul Nuttall was comfortable dispatched by Labour’s Gareth Snell, who won with a majority of 2,621. What’s more, he beat the third-placed Conservative candidate by just 79 votes, despite the fact that the Tories barely invested in the race at all.
The Daily Mail, typically a friend to UKIP, pulls no punches in its account of the night.
“Ukip’s defiant leader Paul Nuttall clings on despite his embarrassing defeat in Stoke after catastrophic campaign dominated by his false claim on Hillsborough.”
According to Nuttall’s vision for his party, Stoke was the perfect UKIP target. A working class Labour heartland, disillusioned with the status quo, where a sizeable majority supported Brexit. If UKIP were the new party of the English working class, Stoke was ripe for picking.
So what’s to blame for the result?
Nuttall himself must take the lion’s share of the responsibility. You couldn’t invent a campaign so saturated with high-profile gaffes, embarrassing climb downs and fantastical misrepresentations. This is man who lies about where he lives and what academic degrees he holds, who invented a professional football career and lied about a national tragedy for personal gain.
Quite simply, he has no place at the top of British politics.
However, last night’s result also demonstrate the incapacity of the UKIP campaign machine, which has never managed to get a candidate elected to parliament. Not only did the party lose Stoke, it also slipped to fourth place in Copeland, behind the Lib Dems.
In other words, in a decisively Brexit-backing constiuency, UKIP can’t even beat a party whose policy ambition is reversing the referendum result.
Nuttall insisted this morning that his party’s time will come. The reality is that UKIP’s time has come and gone. While it will go down in history as a significant force in the EU referendum result — if not the defining force as Nigel Farage likes to claim — the party itself has been consistently unpersuasive to voters.
Even faced with an extraordinarily feeble Labour Party, UKIP can’t win over working class voters. Indeed, both Copeland and Stoke suggest that Brexit-backing voters are more likely to go straight to the Conservatives.
The bell is tolling for UKIP’s politics of hatred and division, and as far as we’re concerned the end can’t come to soon.
So long, Paul. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.