LONDON — UKIP leader Paul Nuttall is set to stand as the party’s candidate in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election, according to multiple reports.
The news, if confirmed, will create huge interest in what already looks like a fascinating race.
The constituency also voted heavily for Leave in the EU referendum, meaning that in theory there should be a receptive audience there for UKIP.
Yet those hoping that Nuttall will become the party’s third ever MP are likely to be disappointed, for several reasons.
UKIP support is down
UKIP’s support in the polls has fallen by about a quarter since the general election. This has been reflected in council by-election results where the party have failed to gain ground over the past year. Even without the shambolic series of leadership elections and accompanying fisticuffs the party has endured since last June, the party has struggled to find an audience since the EU referendum.
May has stolen UKIP’s clothes
Much of that struggle has been down to Theresa May who has hijacked much of UKIP’s agenda on Brexit, immigration and even on issues like grammar schools. By effectively stealing UKIP’s clothes, May has made Nuttall’s party all but obsolete. UKIP may have won the battle of ideas in British politics, but so far they’re losing the battle to represent those ideas.
As Farage himself tweeted on Tuesday in response to May’s speech: “I can hardly believe that the PM is now using the phrases and words that I’ve been mocked for using for years. Real progress.”
Nuttall has failed to impress
The third reason why UKIP are unlikely to triumph in Stoke is Nuttall himself. Much has been made of his supposed ability to connect with Northern Labour voters, but there has so far been very little evidence of it. Indeed all the polling we have suggests that Nuttall is much less effective in that regard than his predecessor Nigel Farage. According to a recent poll by Opinium, Nuttall has a net approval rating of just -22%, with only 15% of Leave voters saying they approve of the job he has done so far. Among Labour voters as a whole, Nuttall has a net approval rating of -38.
Now that may change as he becomes more well known to the public, but he has been surprisingly anonymous since his election, with Farage’s presence still looming large over the party. His Radio 4 interview this week in which he praised Donald Trump as an “Anglophobe” (sic) was a telling moment. Whatever his other skills may be, he is clearly not the kind of capable media performer that Farage is.
Labour currently look like the favourites to hold onto Stoke. However, these are turbulent political times where seemingly anything can happen. But if there is going to be an upset in this by-election, the most likely beneficiary of that upset will be Theresa May’s party rather than Paul Nuttall’s.
“Massively excited about Donald Trump!” says Paul Nuttall. “It’s clear he’s an Anglophobe!”
— Isabel Hardman (@IsabelHardman) January 17, 2017
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