And so, yet again, UKIP fails on the big occasion. Once again they fluff their lines/miss an open goal/leave their fly open as they walk into the job interview (circle your metaphor of choice). Every time they look like making a breakthrough they smack into the glass ceiling of Westminster politics. They would probably argue the ceiling was installed by immigrants taking our jobs.
In this case their politics didn’t even matter. It was all down to the farcical nature of Nuttall’s campaign, less a case of ‘Trumpist Populism’ and more a case of ‘The Chuckle Brothers meets the EDL.’ From the mishandling of his nomination papers to his website’s spurious claims about his connection to Hillsborough the UKIP leader’s campaign has been atrocious.
Despite a number of high profile media appearances before he became leader Nuttall lacked the public appeal of Farage and his biggest draw was the four-letter acronym that would appear under his name. The one thing he did have was a working class pedigree. However the scandals robbed him of even this. He went from working class hero to working class traitor in the blink of an eye.
There is no serious allegation of wrongdoing or even dishonesty on Nuttall’s part but the suggestion has firmly taken root in people’s minds – at best he is disorganised, at worst he is a fraud. It has all the obvious hallmarks of a classic Labour smear campaign. But UKIP can’t complain, they’ve been in the game long enough now to know the rules and the fact is that their incompetence gave Labour such an easy target. Come polling day Stoke Central was a ‘gimme.’
To think that the party leader himself could not find a team to run an effective campaign speaks volumes about the massed ranks of knuckle dragging morons that run UKIP at grassroots. But there is also a paucity of talent at the top. I’m certain Farage would have romped home in Stoke but now he’s gone there seem to be very few capable individuals who can take the party forward. Diane James lasted 18 days before realising she wasn’t up to the task. Nuttall might not last much longer
The other reason UKIP lost is very simple – people aren’t daft. They see UKIP for exactly what they are – a bunch of shifty charlatans, chancers ready to exploit any grievance who are nowhere to be seen once the votes are in and they can claim single malt on expenses. They have all the credibility of a 1930s ‘Rainmaker’ arriving in a forlorn dustbowl town to fleece the locals of their savings.
Yes, the public want change. Yes, they want outsiders to crash the political elite and this explains the rise of Trump, UKIP and Corbyn. But when it comes to handing out real power they also demand a certain level of competence – Ties need to be tied, anthems need to be sung and forms need to be filled in correctly. It really isn’t too much to ask.
Post-referendum UKIP faces a desperate need to define itself. People are wondering, now Brexit is happening, what is UKIP actually for? Is it for populist autarchy or free market libertarianism? Recent manifestos have offered little clarity. Until this dichotomy is resolved they will never be able to move forward. However at the same time it serves UKIP’s interests to remain ideologically vague so as not to spook anyone who might fear Thatcherite economics or authoritarian law and order policies. It is a catch 22 they cannot escape from.
It is becoming glaringly obvious that if they are nothing more than a party of protest they will never really offer a serious threat to either Labour or the Tories. But in Stoke they couldn’t even get the protest bit right.
For UKIP to have botched up Stoke Central, Brexit ground zero with almost 70% voting leave, takes a special kind of incompetence that they claimed to have left behind. The fact that they haven’t suggests they probably never will.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty