Friday

23rd Feb 2018

Column / Brexit Briefing

Ukip's last electoral stand

  • Nigel Farage, the former charasmatic leader of Ukip. (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

There was finally something to play for when formal campaigning resumed on Friday (26 May) after three days of mourning for the victims of Monday’s terrorist attack in Manchester.

Opinion polls have suddenly narrowed. The Conservatives’ 20-point lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has more than halved.

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Corbyn’s tactic of proposing tax hikes for the rich to fund extra spending on public services, while talking about Brexit as little as possible, has boosted Labour’s core vote.

Meanwhile, a clumsy U-turn by Theresa May over an unpopular manifesto pledge to take the payment for social care from the estates of the people who are affected, has hurt the Tories. Despite a wobbly couple of weeks, nobody should get over-excited. The Conservatives are still between 5 and 10 percent ahead.

Yet if long-suffering Labour supporters finally have something to cheer, minor parties have nothing to shout about in what is a two-horse race, particularly in England. Between the two, the Conservatives and Labour are set to take more than 80 percent of the votes, something which hasn’t happened since 1979.

If the Liberal Democrats have failed to make the breakthrough that they hoped would be delivered by marketing themselves as the voice of the "48 percent" of Remain supporters, The UK independence Party (Ukip) are on the political life-support machine. Having won 13 percent of the vote in 2015, the anti-EU party is now polling lower than 5 percent.

They won’t win, or come close to winning, any seats on 8 June.

Dying party

The first major warning that the party was over came at local council elections in early May: Ukip went from 146 seats to one. Its vote share slumped from 22 percent to 5 percent. Most of their vote appears to have gone to the Conservatives following Theresa May’s shift towards caps on immigration and leaving the EU’s single market and customs union.

In a sense, Ukip's demise shouldn’t be a surprise. Unlike Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France or Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom in the Netherlands, they are essentially a single issue party that, at the end of EU talks in 2019, will probably obtain its goal of Britain leaving the EU.

The speed of its collapse is the result of having little to say and nobody credible to say it – not to mention a series of petty personal feuds.

Aside from euroscepticism, UKIP's other calling cards have always been anti-immigration, climate change denial and islamophobia. Its manifesto launch on Thursday was a naked appeal to the latter, with a touch of farce thrown in.

Banning the burqa, on the grounds that the “women wearing them are deprived of vitamin D”, is one of Ukip's pledges.

No charismatic leader

The main reason for Ukip's collapse is that, after the loss of Nigel Farage’s charismatic leadership, they are just a rag-tag of third raters. Only a handful of journalists attended the launch of the party’s manifesto with Paul Nuttall – Ukip's latest leader – testament to its irrelevance.

So, too, was its cack-handed timing – the launch began 45 minutes before the minute of silence at 11am for the Manchester victims – hardly perfect timing for Ukip's deputy leader, Suzanne Evans, to suggest that Theresa May was at least partly responsible for Monday’s bombing.

“I think she must bear some responsibility. All politicians who voted for measures to make cuts (to police numbers) must bear some responsibility,” she said.

Desperate stuff from a desperate party.

“Ukip is dead,” pronounced Douglas Carswell, the party’s only MP for the past two years, but who quit Ukip in March after a long running power struggle with its national executive. “It is over for the party as a political force.”

Carswell pins the blame for Ukip's sudden death on the party’s long-time front-man, Farage.

“Far from having a strategy, we seemed to be driven by whatever came out of Nigel’s mouth,” he says.

Farage is still an MEP, of course. Nobody could deprive him of a two-year swansong in Brussels and Strasbourg picking verbal fights with liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt before collecting a €200,000 severance pay-off and a €70,000 a year pension.

If Ukip have ever been good at anything, it is milking the European Parliament’s allowances and expenses.

Ukip's 20 MEPs are likely to be the last party representatives left standing when the Brexit process ends in spring 2019. There is an apt symbolism that, having failed to break into domestic politics, the party of euroscepticism will finally die in Brussels.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy, a London-based PR firm, and a freelance writer.

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