So the UKIP breakthrough some people feared/hoped in Oldham West and Royton completely failed to materialise. Labour won by more than 10,000 votes on Thursday. In an article I wrote on this site in late-October, I said that this by-election would be a barometer of where UKIP stand electorally at the moment. On the basis of this week’s result, the answer is: they are clearly not doing well.
To add insult to injury, the UKIPers acted amateurishly in the wake of the heavy defeat. Farage himself claimed that the result had been rigged, citing supposedly dodgy postal votes. Even if there had been widespread postal vote fraud, which I very much doubt, it would not have added up to almost 40% of the total vote. The throw the toys out of the pram response made UKIP look terribly bush league.
Beyond that, it’s clear that UKIP aren’t getting the numbers they should be given the current state of British politics. There is a gigantic space for them to fill and they aren’t filling it. As someone whose politics are the very opposite of the United Kingdom Independence Party’s, I’m quite happy about this. But as a political commentator who tries to see all sides of the equation, however unpalatable some may be, I will offer them the following strategic advice:
1. Dump Farage now, as in right this very second
Nigel is a major drag on your electoral hopes. You may love him and believe he is the saviour of the planet but the vast majority of the British electorate do not share your view on this. There is reliable qualitative research which demonstrates that messages which are central to your party’s chances fare worse with the public when they come out of Farage’s mouth compared with them emerging from other people’s mouths. Whether it was the quitting then coming immediately back or some other factor, the bloke is now damaged goods. Replace him with Paul Nuttall. Or Suzanne Evans. Or almost anyone bloody else.
2. Don’t take Oldham West as a sign that you can’t win in the north. In fact, you can probably only win in the north of England
One of UKIP’s faults over the last few years from a strategic viewpoint was thinking they could breakthrough in the Tory shires. Never going to happen. Comparatively, Labour in the north of England is a paper tiger – however, as Oldham West proved, they are not so weak they will crumble without being faced down by an effective campaign plan, ground troops and/or money. Keep concentrating on the north – just do it a lot better next time.
3. The anti-Corbyn stuff is the right message and will work eventually
Corbyn is the fault line that UKIP need to jump on if they want to make the big, SNP-style breakthrough in the north of England. It would have been more effective in Oldham if you hadn’t had the other stuff I’ve just gone through weighing you down. Corbyn’s Islington brand of anti-western, republican socialism will be toxic amongst large portions of Labour’s old, white, working class northern base. Of course, many of them will continue to vote Labour regardless (it still has a strong brand value, as the by-election demonstrated), and getting them to come to you will be very difficult. But it can be done. And remember: if you think it’s difficult trying to chip away at the Labour vote in the north, remember how impossible it was (and remains) to try and get southern Tory voters to plump purple.
That’s it , really – three relatively easy steps. Again, I hope UKIP completely ignore me (history suggests they will) and fade into history. It’s up to you, Kippers – the fork in the road has been reached.