UKIP may yet have the last laugh, but right now the Party is suffering a post-Farage hangover, followed by three resignations, recriminations, and rancour, just weeks after winning the argument on Brexit. With Stephen Woolfe’s failed leadership bid, and three resignations from UKIP’s NEC, is the Party about to slip into insignificance, or rise to the challenge of tackling Labour in their northern heartlands?
The Party now has six contenders to replace Nigel Farage, and in many ways is a watershed moment for UKIP. With Britain set to leave the European Union, what is the point of the Party, which had the sole aim of taking the UK out? Farage led the self-proclaimed “people’s army”, with his disregard of political correctness, spin, and the other trappings associated with the “establishment.” His manner as a southern, privately-educated boozer did nothing to prevent connecting with many working-class voters, and no-doubt helped the Leave campaign win big in Labour’s northern safe havens.
The Party needs to keep the momentum, and break-through the electoral barrier of Westminster politics. Frontrunner, Diane James MEP, is one of UKIP’s more media-friendly faces, who almost captured Eastleigh in a by-election in 2013. Whether she has the same “everyman” approach of Farage, to appeal to working-class voters, is questionable. Her media performances during the EU referendum, whilst not disastrous, did display a lack of experience in handling the ever-hungry media beast.
With five other contenders – all virtual unknowns, the Party needs to decide what it wants to be. A libertarian minimal state outfit, or a defender of the NHS, industry and working-class interests. Electoral success is most ripe in northern England, with voters who have had Labour MPs for generations, and feel detached from the perception of a southern, liberal establishment.
For UKIP to succeed beyond Brexit, James, should she win, will need to pursue a ruthless strategy to win such seats. That, however, is dependent on the Party presenting itself as more than a bunch of discontents. If the last week is anything to go by, the Party still has some way to go.