February 23rd 2017 was not a good day for UKIP. Paul Nuttall barely scraped second place in the Stoke Central bye-election while in Copeland, Fiona Mills came in 4th behind the Liberal Democrats.
I feel sorry for Fiona she got very little help from the Party machine, in fact her card was marked as soon as Nuttall announced that he would run in Stoke instead of allowing the very able Mick Harold to try to better his second place in the 2015 General Election. Fiona has worked in the NHS for over twenty four years so was well placed to give voice to UKIP’s pledge to save the NHS from privatisation. Given the Party’s stance with regard to Nuclear energy and its support for Trident she could hold her own at any of the hustings. However as the constituency is such a sprawling rural entity she should have had the sort of support given to Nuttall in Stoke so that she could get the message out.
To say that the Stoke campaign was amateurish would be an understatement. It was an unmitigated disaster! Stoke may well be the “Brexit capital” of the UK but the referendum took place last June and is history. The Labour Party realised this and so did the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Knowing how dirty the opponents of UKIP fight I am astounded at Nuttall’s apparent naivety. He ran a campaign based on hubris instead of focusing on the issues; the NHS, the ceramics industry, housing and immigration. Because of his mistakes the campaign became all about him and was doomed to failure.
Unfortunately this has set the Party and its electoral ambitions back years. I doubt very much that UKIP stand a chance of getting anyone other than Douglas Carswell elected to Parliament in 2020 and no one at all in 2025! Unless, of course, we learn a valuable lesson from this debacle. We are told by our leadership that UKIP will hold the governments feet to the fire to ensure that Brexit is carried out to the fullest extent. Forget it! We have one MP, its a load of rhetoric.
The other Parties, i.e. Labour, Conservative & Liberal Democrat can afford to parachute candidates into constituency elections, the evidence of the past few years shows that UKIP cannot. We need to build our local base, get more people elected to local & metropolitan councils, this is where we should set our standards, this should be our main battleground but, before all of this we need to formalise and publish local manifestos. This way Branches will know what they are fighting for and so will the local populace. Then when the General Election comes around we must use local people, more so now that we have boundary changes to contend with. We will have to work closely with colleagues in other neighbouring constituencies because lots of metropolitan wards come under neighbouring constituencies for the purpose of the General Election.
It is also vitally important that we do not forget the threat of the Liberal Democrats nor those who stand as Independents. We need to realise that it is this bottom half of the electoral ladder that we inhabit. In order to break free we need strong, popular policies delivered by strong popular candidates. We can absorb the votes that are given away to these people but only if we work hard and get recognised in the local community and get recognised for the right reasons.
All too often UKIP is knocked back by negative reporting and all too often, as in Stoke Central, it is the fault of UKIP. We have to publicise the positives that UKIP achieve, the left wing press will not do it so we have to do it ourselves. We can use social media, newsletters, open meetings or flyers. Whatever it takes to get a positive message across to the local public.
In two years time we will have no MEPs and therefore no voice in the EU. To many people we will then have ceased to be relevant. This is why the next two years are so important if we want to prove that UKIP is a serious political Party.
The Conservative Party is on the rise but it would be folly to believe that the Labour Party are in as much trouble electorally as the Left Wing press would have you believe. If Stoke Central proved anything it proved that people who have always voted Labour will, in the main, continue to do so. It also proved that the Liberal Democrats are on the rise, up 3.8% in Copeland and up 5.7% in Stoke Central.
All three of the above can be beaten but UKIP has to be smart in order to do that. My advice; “get local, get vocal” and you stand a good chance of getting UKIP!