After the by-election in Stoke Central just two weeks ago, all rejoiced in the fact that UKIP’s toxic leader, Paul Nuttall, had been defeated, but Jeremy Corbyn, as well as other Labour Party members, even went as far as to declare that UKIP were finished.
The by-election itself was arguably all about Nuttall, and UKIP. He, the Labour Party, and the whole country knew this would be a crucial campaign; even Farage called it incredibly vital to future of UKIP. Now that Brexit had been achieved, would UKIP fade slowly into irrelevance? Would it even become more of a social movement, using populism on other right wing issues? Or would it maintain its core support with its anti-establishment rhetoric, even increase its share? If UKIP and Nuttall could pull off a victory and take the seat, it would have meant their threat to the Labour heartlands was very much real, and would show they have clear support, even after Brexit.
As we know, UKIP and Nuttall didn’t take the seat, but for Corbyn and the Labour Party to rationalise this as being the end of UKIP was a big mistake, and here’s why.
UKIP gave this seat everything they had. They mobilised all they could onto the ground, and they put their leader forward as a candidate. What the campaign showed us is that Nuttall is a compulsive liar, a hypocrite, and is not at all liked, or even respected by the public. From the Hillsborough gaffe, to the PHD cock up, to the professional footballer hilarity, Nuttall screwed this campaign up. After all his lies unravelled, he never really stood any chance, even though they still managed a 2% swing from Labour. In 2020, UKIP will have other, better candidates fighting for their target seats, and the media won’t be able to so effectively scrutinise them like they can with by-election candidates.
Since their rise into mainstream politics, UKIP’s rhetoric has been based around us leaving the EU, and now this has been achieved, many wonder where their voters will come from. Let’s not pretend though that this will simply be enough for them. What will UKIP’s reaction be when we don’t get the deal they wanted? What will they say if we continue to pay into the EU’s budget? And you can be sure that even though EU immigration will drop once we leave, it won’t be as low as they’d like it to be. And what will be next? Remember, immigration from outside the EU is higher than inside, what if UKIP decide to go after these next? But for now, UKIP still has a place during the Brexit negotiations, pouncing on any Government relapses, and screaming ‘betrayal.
Bigger chances, bigger seats
Of course, the idea that Stoke Central was 72nd on UKIP’s target seat list was absolute hogwash, and no-one is buying the story. But this isn’t to say this was their only chance to get more representation in the commons. In 2020 there will be greater chances for them; Thurrock, Thanet, Hartlepool, Boston, and even the upcoming Leigh by-election will be an opening. There’s also the issue of turnout. The voters that UKIP tend to mobilise like they did on June 23rd are unlikely to come out in force in by-elections, and their turnout will increase come 2020.
They’re feeding the Tories
As I previously mentioned in another post, it’s very dangerous for Labour and the leadership to look at UKIP as a one-dimensional threat, simply stealing ex-Labour voters in the heartlands. The emergence of UKIP and the rise of personalities such as Nigel Farage has created a change of thinking, and the Tories have latched onto this with Brexit, and these voters are siphoning off to them. Immigration is now the main issue to many people, and certain attitudes are unfortunately becoming more acceptable, and this will only help, not hinder UKIP. Think of the exposure these views now have; Farage hosts a weekly radio show that reaches 1.5 million, and the likes of Hopkins/Morgan write for a paper that reaches 29 million readers a month.
The Corbyn effect
I’d be more inclined to agree with the “UKIP is finished” argument if we had a stronger Labour Party, with stronger leadership, who could reconnect with voters in the heartlands. Labour are losing these voters in droves both to UKIP, and now the Tories, and until Labour can win these back, UKIP are very much a clear and present threat. These people aren’t necessarily never going to vote Labour again; but these are people who will not vote for Corbyn in a million years, so one of 3 events happen, either they vote Tory, UKIP, or stay at home.
UKIP and Nuttall being defeated in Stoke was a great result, and of course it will raise questions as to where UKIP goes from here, and what their future holds. But pretending that Stoke Central was a great result is dangerous, and absolute folly. There was still a swing away from Labour to both UKIP and the Tories, and both by-elections only highlighted that the Labour northern strongholds are being hugely threatened from the right. If Labour doesn’t address these issues then they will face extinction in 2020, and planning a premature funeral for UKIP based on one seat, one victory, is perilous.