- UKIP leader Paul Nuttall fails to win Stoke by-election in latest defeat for the party.
- Nuttall had dubbed the town the “capital of Brexit”.
- Seat looked ideal for UKIP to claim but the party fell well short.
- Stoke is just the latest election to be wrongly talked-up in UKIP’s favour.
LONDON — In the run-up to the last general election, there were repeated reports that UKIP was on the brink of winning up to 30 seats off of the major parties. In the end, they failed to gain a single one, with then leader Nigel Farage falling short of becoming an MP for the seventh time.
The hype started again after the EU referendum when commentators suggested that the party would get a similar post-referendum bounce to that experienced by the SNP in Scotland.
Instead, its vote went down with UKIP suffering poor results in both local and parliamentary by-elections.
The final stage of hype came after Paul Nuttall was elected leader. The ebullient Liverpudlian was immediately written up as a “major threat” to Labour with commentators queuing up to state that Labour “should be worried” about the “game-changer” of a Nuttall-Led UKIP replacing them in their English heartlands.
In reality, UKIP continued to suffer, with polls suggesting that voters were even less favourable towards Nuttall than they had been towards Farage. The hype continued despite the fact that polling evidence suggests Labour have lost twice as many votes to the Lib Dems since 2015 than to UKIP.
The UKIP mirage
The hype continued when the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election was called.
Soon after the announcement, a number of publications published an incredibly questionable poll by the group “Labour Leave” suggesting that UKIP would win the by-election.
The Guardian’s John Harris seemed to agree suggesting, that it could be “Corbyn’s Waterloo.”
“Stoke-on-Trent Central is precisely the kind of seat where Nuttall’s aspirations to replace Labour might conceivably take wing,” he wrote.
“We should keep one eye on the looming contest in the Cumbrian seat of Copeland, but Stoke’s byelection is an altogether bigger story,” he added.
In reality the opposite was the case. In Copeland Labour were decimated by the Tories in a truly historic defeat, whereas in Stoke the party easily held on.
The long-promised UKIP storm had turned out to have been a mere mirage, while the very real rise of the Conservative party continued unabated.
So how could it have been? Here was a seat in Stoke which had so heavily voted for Leave that Nuttall had labelled it the “capital of Brexit”. And here was an electorate which was so clearly disillusioned with Labour that the former incumbent Tristram Hunt, held the seat in 2015 on the lowest turnout of any MP. And here was a time when Labour were polling at some of the lowest levels in its history.
Absolutely every single circumstance was in Paul Nuttall’s favour and yet still he failed to win.
Yet this was not some great surprise. Instead, it was a continuation of a long record of UKIP underperforming both its own polling and its own expectations.
In the coming days, there will be much talk of this result being the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall’s party. In reality, the end of UKIP’s hopes of becoming a seious parliamentary force came some time ago.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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