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UKIP’s existential dilemma

UKIP’s existential dilemma

What does the United Kingdom Independence Party stand for?

UKIP leader Paul Nuttall Photo: Joe Giddins/PA

That is, on the surface, actually quite easy to answer: they want a United Kingdom that is independent of the European Union. Last year we learned via referendum that a majority of Britons want that too, and the British government – a Conservative Party government, not a UKIP one – is going through the process of extracting the country from the European super-state.

The problem for UKIP is that Britain leaving the EU removes their own raison d’ĂȘtre. The party seems to realise this, and has spent the last two years trying to build a purpose for the party beyond its foundation principle. UKIP made some big gains at the general election in 2015, coming second in 120 of the 650 constituencies, most of which were in Labour heartland in the north of England. This sounds impressive for a party that is, as far as British political parties go, quite young, particularly given it only really became a ‘serious’ party within in the last decade.

However, in most of these second-place performances, UKIP was in second by 10% or more. This is suggestive of a wider problem that the party faces at the moment, which is exemplified in their second place in the Stoke-on-Trent by-election. This was a seat that Labour won in 2015 with 39.3% of the vote, and UKIP just pipped the Conservatives for second, with 22.7% against 22.5%. This council area voted the most heavily for Leave out of any in the entire United Kingdom, and many thought UKIP could win the seat, or at the very least run it mighty close.

Instead, despite UKIP’s new leader Paul Nuttall being their candidate, Labour won with 37.1%, UKIP came second with 24.7% and the Conservatives came third with 24.3%. The needle barely moved. Why?

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