After a bruising general election – which resulted in only one UKIP MP being returned to the House of Commons – we witnessed another disappointing result for the party in the by-election for Oldham West and Royston last week as Labour candidate Jim McMahon won by a 10,722-vote majority. All of the party’s success, which peaked with victory in the 2014 European elections, is in danger of dissipating.
Many commentators predicted that UKIP would run Labour close, especially given the recent problems experienced by Jeremy Corbyn. This has been a common story over the past few years. UKIP has so often promised to upset the establishment through by-elections, but has only delivered on a few occasions. Furthermore, though UKIP came second in 125 English and Welsh constituencies in May, the party has failed to develop a compelling political agenda both inside and outside the Commons following the general election. It seems as though the party has hit a glass ceiling.
Farage is no longer a fresh, bombastic figure in British politics, and his rhetoric is falling flat. The UKIP leader needs to establish his party as a credible force though strong, considered politics, rather than wild conspiracy theories. After claiming that the postal vote in Oldham was ‘bent’, Farage needs to come forward with solid evidence, or else his credibility, which was already damaged after his ‘resignation’ in the summer will be in tatters.
Moreover, if the party seeks to transcend the current squabbling between the Conservatives and Labour then it needs to distance itself from tabloid slurs. Indeed, Farage is the first to complain when UKIP is attacked in the media, so there is no political advantage to be gained from attacking Corbyn or his candidates in the same way.
Farage’s cynicism regarding the influence of Oldham’s ethnic population was also misjudged. UKIP needs to address why it has hit a glass ceiling. Trivial excuses will merely prevent the party from addressing its problems. Winning over the old Labour vote may just be a more difficult than even the most pessimistic Kippers imagine. But, if the party is to stand a chance, there most certainly needs to be a change.
It is time for UKIP to regain the initiative and develop a strategy that it can carry through to the EU referendum. Farage should abandon petty politics and ensure that UKIP is a viable alternative to Labour and the Tories. Otherwise, his party may ultimately fail to create the political earthquake that we have so long been promised.