The defeat of Paul Nuttall in yesterday’s Stoke by-election was a real blow for UKIP’s aspirations to be the turn-to alternative party for the working man – as a sane and sound replacement for mad Labour. There were many parameters in play, including some unfortunate website bio notes about Nuttall and Hillsborough which did not help UKIP’s cause.
Stoke was not only a chance for UKIP to be perceived as the alternative to Labour, it was a great opportunity for UKIP to prove to the UK that it has a future as a party. Now that Brexit means Brexit there is little need in the UK political forum for a party whose very name is becoming irrelevant by the day.
Of course, UKIP argue to the contrary and have adopted a project fear of their own, suggesting the Tories could yet renege on Brexit or their desired Hard Brexit. Either which way, one would expect the will of the British People to run a juggernaut through the usefulness of UKIP’s key purpose of national independence by 2020 when we’d expect the next General Election. This is a huge problem for UKIP for without more MPs the party is not really a party, especially since its MEPs are soon set to become voluntarily unemployed.
On the one hand, UKIP lacks mainstream electability. It’s an attractively iconoclast party yet too easily dismissed as aftercare for dropout and anti-establishment Tories. While the party attracts many eccentrics who are good eggs (the party’s Small Business Spokesperson Ernie Warrender, with his penchant for Classic Cars and Elgar, is a good example), it also attracts the likes of bow-tie wearing Neil Hamilton and his wife, who have become nothing more than voter repellent when put in front of a constituency vote.
Think UKIP and, unfortunately for UKIP, images of golliwogs, tub-thumping chavs in Burton’s suits and Stephen Woolfe “smiling and well” in a Strasbourg Hospital spring to mind – that’s a winning recipe at a BNP conference but not a winning formula nationally. Even with success, UKIP’s image went awry: the memories of Nigel Farage on Brexit morning surrounded by victorious colleagues talking about revolutions could have been better handled – the slick-suited men around Farage had rather overdone it on the hair gel and there was an air of Mosley hanging around them, which would have made many leavers rather worried about a UKIP resurgence and choke on their cornflakes at a time when the UK needed steady hands and calm. As one non-political friend commented that morning, “time for Farage to get back in his Cessna. Gloaty like a German. Just not English enough.”
On the other hand, UKIP has a bright star. He may be Marmite but Marmite sells. And Farage can be political gold dust. The aforementioned Woolfe was of ministerial quality, as was Diane James as is Suzanne Evans, but there is no PM in waiting. For a party to win a serious number of seats it needs a strong team and a strong leader – a team that you can imagine as ministers and Prime Minister. Paul Nuttall is no PM and it’s hard to see him managing a role in Government much greater than sports minister really – even that might be a tad uphill now given the recent Hillsborough comments fiasco. UKIP has attracted wealthy backers in the past – that’s a huge plus – Stuart Wheeler of IG Index is a gentleman and as shrewd as they come, while Arron Banks clearly relishes the political scene that UKIP allows him (being a big fish in a small pond suits certain political backers who feel diminished somewhat in the Tory Donor big pond).
If Banks were to set up a new party, he’d do well to rein in the gung-ho approach that has seen the recent appearance of Westmonster – a webzine which looks like it has been put together by schoolchildren and written by an oik who managed a D in English GCSE. It may be “fun” for Banks to have a pop at Westminster but if you want to bring down elusive animals you don’t show up on a shoot with a spud gun. Yes, UKIP’s success is its radical thrust – that is exciting – but for UKIP or a new Banks-funded party to be successful it will need to embrace the whole of the UK professionally. Banks will likely need an associate backer with deep pockets, the same passion for politics and proven chutzpah (such buccaneering characters are rare in Britain these days and tend to sport a tan).
Professionalism costs. Tea-party style campaigns can flourish in the US where there are the numbers to generate cashflow but in the UK there are not the numbers for a grassroots-funded grassroots surge (Labour’s recent upturn in funds was using existing party and union apparatus as well as Momentum).
“Professionally” means party conferences with sleek stage settings – not tables covered in a hotel bedsheet and bedecked with doilies and Perrier bottles. It means a sleek ad campaign, a ministerial team in waiting of high calibre, a network of sharp, centrally-whipped agents arranging effective ground campaigns, it means a central message (like Trump’s MAGA) around which party members can bind and it means inspirational speech-writing which taps on deeper conservative yet radical political philosophies – giving the impression that there has been some serious thinking at play, which will lead to more of the same, when a successful manifesto is published.
Good luck to Banks and Mr X.
Let’s face it, Britain needs a serious opposition. One that rejects socialism and builds on progress made during wise Tory years. One that wipes pernicious Labour off the map once and for all and gives a genuine voice back to the working class so their tax pounds come back to enrich their lives rather than being wasted on backslap PFI and property deals for Labour millionaires.
Can UKIP or a Banks-replacement step up to the plate?
Now is the time to find out. Implement correctly now and a new party could be in power by 2025. Dilly-dally and Corbyn will be gone and Labour will have been given a chance to regroup to cause yet more pain for Britain.
There are many Labour, Liberal and Tory voters who – if such a party as UKIP or its replacement met such high standards and embraced the mainstream – would back it in a heartbeat.