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Ukip’s been floored—but is it a killer blow?

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Issue 2525
Ukip MEP Steven Woolfe in happier times
Ukip MEP Steven Woolfe in happier times (Pic: Salford University)

The next likely leader of Ukip, Steven Woolfe, was hospitalised this week—allegedly after a fight at a meeting of his fellow MEPs.

It was a dramatic glimpse of the crisis gripping the racist party.

Previous leader Diane James resigned after just 18 days. “I do not have sufficient authority, nor the support of all my MEP colleagues and party officers to implement changes I believe necessary,” she said.

Many expected anti-Europe, anti-migrant Ukip to get a boost from the vote to leave the European Union and the stepping up of anti-immigrant racism.

But Ukip is struggling to maintain hard right politics and move into the mainstream at the same time. This right wing populism is contradictory and unstable.

Ukip’s history isn’t one of a steady rise but of dramatic surges in support interspersed with splits and crises.

It fed off mainstream parties whipping up racism and disillusion among their supporters. It railed against the elite it was trying to join.

Ukip was formed in 1993 and took 1 percent of the vote in European Parliament elections in 1994.

Ten years later that rose to 16 percent. But rows followed over whether to stand candidates against anti-EU Tories. High profile supporter Robert Kilroy-Silk led a split.

Ukip’s membership fell by a third and donations halved.Ukip won just 2.2 percent of the vote in the 2005 general election and 3 percent in 2010.


By 2013 it grabbed an average of 25 percent in wards where it stood for local elections in England. And defections from the Tories and huge media attention helped it win 12.6 percent in the 2015 general election—3.8 million votes.

It remains the biggest British party in the European Parliament.

But Ukip hasn’t had things all its own way. It lost one of its two MPs, Mark Reckless, in 2015. Then-leader Nigel Farage spectacularly failed to break through in South Thanet.

Farage admitted being riled by anti-racists who organised to oppose Ukip. Its majority on Thanet District Council lasted less than a year.

Ukip’s growth attracted some prominent Tories—who many core members resent.

Arron Banks, one of Ukip’s top donors, refuses to give any more unless the party deselects former Tories Douglas Carswell and Neil Hamilton. This matters because Ukip is “broke”.

But Carswell and Hamilton have support among Ukip’s National Executive Committee (NEC). Farage and his allies want the NEC to be scrapped.

One Daily Mail article this week described Ukip as “on the verge of collapse”. Yet while its headaches are likely to continue, Ukip is not dead.

It won an alarming landslide in a Hartlepool council by-election yesterday, Thursday, taking nearly 50 percent of the vote.

It has overcome crises in the past—and the racism it feeds on has not gone away.

There’s a bigger picture too. Banks hailed Theresa May’s migrant-bashing speech to the Tory party conference as “a speech that Nigel Farage could have given”.

He gloated that, “ideas that were thought to be peripheral are now mainstream. Theresa May has basically rebranded the Conservative Party as Ukip.”

This is overstated. But Ukip has succeeded in pushing mainstream politics to the right.

Anti-racists must continue to organise against Ukip—and the racism of the mainstream parties that feeds it.

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