It was not a great week just gone for UKIP. The resignation of their leader 18 days after having been elected, followed by one of the favourites to take over the reins being hospitalised – after a fight with another UKIP MEP. Shambolic barely covers it.
Truth is, it has been terrible for UKIP pretty much non-stop since the country voted to leave the EU. I said at the time that UKIP could become bigger than ever if they had the vision to grab the moment; thankfully, they haven’t so much failed to grab the moment as they have poured sulphuric acid all over the moment and then run away screaming.
Has UKIP now blown any chance of relevance in the future? Particularly now that Theresa May seems willing to go for the hard Brexit option? I wish I could say that they have. But I’m not so sure. Just like Trump seems able to get away with saying pretty much anything, I have a hunch that UKIP supporters will forget all about the Diane James fiasco pretty quickly if a new leader they like takes over (and does well quickly). Likewise, the punch-up in Strasbourg is probably unlikely to make anyone already in the UKIP camp walk away.
The future of UKIP is mostly in the hands of a very small group of people. I could limit it to Farage, Nutall, Woolfe and Arron Banks. How they play the next couple of months could be crucial. Looking further ahead, ironically enough UKIP will almost certainly have their strongest electoral calling card taken away from them (no MEP elections in the UK in 2019 from the looks of the current Brexit timetable), so they need to think of something else to get them noticed. The odd local by-election won’t cut it.
But more than this, it depends on whether or not any or all of those four names I just mentioned can be wooed over to the Tories. If Farage does, that’s the end of UKIP right there and then. Any of the other three defecting to May’s tent would be damaging but not necessarily lethal on its own. I think the Tories will try and convince each of them to come over at some point in the next few years (they would be mad not to, given everything else they are pursuing as a strategy – and it seems they almost succeeded already with Woolfe). Another alternative, out of the question during the Cameroon era but not unthinkable now, would be electoral pacts with UKIP. The Tories may decide that UKIP are best placed to beat Labour in parts of the north (this assumes UKIP don’t botch another leadership contest, which is far from certain), and get out of their way. I’m not saying any of this will definitely happen – it’s just that it’s all certainly possible in the post-Leave vote age we now find ourselves in.