The 24 June 2016. UKIP supporters across the country are waking up to the news that the UK has voted to leave the European Union and are rejoicing. Cue fervent celebrations, emphatic hyperbole and a proclamation from at-the-time leader Nigel Farage that the referendum of the previous day would serve as an “Independence Day” for Britain.
Fast forward nine months and things are looking more than a bit different for our fanatically-Eurosceptic party: the euphoric post-referendum atmosphere has dissipated, Farage is no longer leader, replaced instead by Paul “emphasis-on-the-nut” Nuttall, dissent is rising amidst the ranks. In other words, UKIP’s future looks wholly uncertain.
The recent Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election provides one of the most resonant signals that things do not bode well for UKIP. The party was already the second-biggest in the constituency dating back to the previous general election, and with leader Paul Nuttall running as their candidate, there was significant hope that the party might genuinely stand a chance of claiming their second MP. They did, however, fall short again to what is, electorally, the weakest Labour Party since the 1980s, who held onto their seat.
Now, in fairness, it’s worth noting that UKIP has never been strongly represented in Parliament. When they gained their first MP in Douglas Carswell at a 2014 Clacton by-election, it was something of a watershed moment for the party. And this was, arguably, only because Carswell had held the seat for nine years prior as a Tory. But even with their own parliamentary representative there is trouble brewing, with the hugely influential Farage in a very public row with Carswell, claiming that he is still, essentially, a Tory hand puppet acting as a blockade to the progression of UKIP as the champions of anti-immigration. Such disharmony among key figures does not an electable party make.
And while Brexit has long been the goal of UKIP, the fact that there is now a popular mandate for it doesn’t necessarily play in their favour. Despite their scepticism, the party owes an awful lot to Europe, not least their entire mantra being based on getting out of it – the UK Independence Party. Isn’t their work done now Theresa May is hell-bent on triggering Article 50 once and for all?
Perhaps the biggest contributor to spelling disaster for UKIP, however, is their new leadership. Since his election as leader at the end of last year, Paul Nuttall has not found his time at the helm particularly serene. Among various gaffes, a false charity scandal and most shockingly a proven false claim of having lost “close personal friends” in the Hillsborough disaster, have all clouded his first months in charge. To be fair, things haven’t been easy for Nuttall, what with him having ‘lost his mother’ in the 9/11 attacks and ‘never knowing his father’ due to him dying in action fighting in the Vietnam War…
I digress; Nuttall appears a genuinely dangerous figure to carry the party forward, with a flurry of political faux pas in his career prior to leadership. Such a divisive figure will prove disastrous following Farage who, though also divisive, was an incredibly astute politician in guiding UKIP to the forefront of the political landscape. Support and hype surrounding the more extreme parties often disappears as soon as they reach their zenith. What UKIP needed was a strong figurehead and stability going into post-Brexit Britain, to prove that they might just be a feasible governing possibility. What they’ve got is Billy Bullshit and swathes of inter-party bickering. It seems to me, the time has come for UKIP to take their place in the annals of political history.