Nigel Farage reacts on stage after being re-elected as an MEP as the South East England region results of the European Parliament elections. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Farage's gamble pays off - but where do Ukip go next?

 Nigel Farage is serious about getting Ukip seats at the next general election, he will soon have to upset a lot of prominent party personnel.

Nigel Farage’s approach to the European elections was not governed by conventional wisdom. While the Conservatives spent months downplaying expectations of their performance in the European elections, Farage was busy doing the opposite.

The European election results provided stunning vindication. The easy option would have been to set Ukip up as carefree underdogs, and try to replicate the strategy that yielded a second-placed finish in the 2009 European elections.

But Farage eschewed such expediency. The problem with 2009, for Ukip, is running a low stakes campaign in a low stakes election meant that, after polling day, there wasn’t much left. A vote for Ukip was a cheap shot at the other parties, but it was forgotten in about the time it took to put a cross by Ukip’s box on the ballot paper. A year after the last European elections, Ukip had lost over four-fifths of their support.

So Farage opted for a different approach. He put pressure on Ukip at every turn. He shunned the expectation management approach. Farage made the elections high stakes - or at least as high stakes as European elections can be. This meant a more intense election campaign, and more scrutiny on the party. It created a formidable ‘Stop Ukip’ political machine.

For Farage, overcoming this is a significant achievement. His hope will be that voters have heard everything bad there is to say about Ukip, and that those who did vote for Ukip will not encounter any nasty surprises about the party before May 6 next year. Ukip is successfully tapping into the ‘left behind’ voters who Rob Ford and Matt Goodwin have identified as its most fertile group of supporters. And they did cared not for the anti-Ukip attacks. The more Farage and his party were attacked, the higher they polled.

Still, perspective is needed. Ukip came top, yes, but with 27.5% - and in an election in which turnout was a derisory 35%, 30% less than in the last general election. This “political earthquake” may yet do no more than mildly shake the cutlery. If Nigel Farage is serious about getting Ukip seats at the next general election, he will soon have to upset a lot of prominent party personnel. The party lacks the resources to target more than a dozen seats in 2015.

Farage will hope that the real legacy of this campaign is more than just a fleeting historical triumph for Ukip but the creation of a distinct brand of Ukip voters. Supporters who stayed with the party despite - or perhaps because of - the media onslaught and are more faithful than Ukip’s voters in the 2009 European elections. The reasons not to vote for Ukip have never been more known or better articulated. That so many voters overcame these will give Ukip hope that its vote will collapse less spectacularly than five years ago.   

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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Metro mayors can help Labour return to government

Labour champions in the new city regions can help their party at the national level too.

2017 will mark the inaugural elections of directly-elected metro mayors across England. In all cases, these mayor and cabinet combined authorities are situated in Labour heartlands, and as such Labour should look confidently at winning the whole slate.

Beyond the good press winning again will generate, these offices provide an avenue for Labour to showcase good governance, and imperatively, provide vocal opposition to the constraints of local government by Tory cuts.

The introduction of the Mayor of London in 2000 has provided a blueprint for how the media can provide a platform for media-friendly leadership. It has also demonstrated the ease that the office allows for attribution of successes to that individual and party – or misappropriated in context of Boris Bikes and to a lesser extent the London Olympics.

While without the same extent of the powers of the sui generis mayor of the capital, the prospect of additional metro-mayors provide an opportunity for replicating these successes while providing experience for Labour big-hitters to develop themselves in government. This opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and after Sadiq Khan’s victory in London has shown that the role can grow beyond the limitations – perceived or otherwise - of the Corbyn shadow cabinet while strengthening team Labour’s credibility by actually being in power.

Shadow Health Secretary and former leadership candidate Andy Burnham’s announcement last week for Greater Manchester was the first big hitter to make his intention known. The rising star of Luciana Berger, another member of Labour’s health team, is known to be considering a run in the Liverpool City Region. Could we also see them joined by the juggernaut of Liam Byrne in the West Midlands, or next-generation Catherine McKinnell in the North East?

If we can get a pantheon of champions elected across these city regions, to what extent can this have an influence on national elections? These new metro areas represent around 11.5 million people, rising to over 20 million if you include Sadiq’s Greater London. While no doubt that is an impressive audience that our Labour pantheon are able to demonstrate leadership to, there are limitations. 80 of the 94 existing Westminster seats who are covered under the jurisdiction of the new metro-mayors are already Labour seats. While imperative to solidify our current base for any potential further electoral decline, in order to maximise the impact that this team can have on Labour’s resurgence there needs to be visibility beyond residents.

The impact of business is one example where such influence can be extended. Andy Burnham for example has outlined his case to make Greater Manchester the creative capital of the UK. According to the ONS about 150,000 people commute into Greater Manchester, which is two constituency’s worth of people that can be directly influenced by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Despite these calculations and similar ones that can be made in other city-regions, the real opportunity with selecting the right Labour candidates is the media impact these champion mayors can make on the national debate. This projects the influence from the relatively-safe Labour regions across the country. This is particularly important to press the blame of any tightening of belts in local fiscal policy on the national Tory government’s cuts. We need individuals who have characteristics of cabinet-level experience, inspiring leadership, high profile campaigning experience and tough talking opposition credentials to support the national party leadership put the Tory’s on the narrative back foot.

That is not to say there are not fine local council leaders and technocrats who’s experience and governance experience at vital to Labour producing local successes. But the media don’t really care who number two is, and these individuals are best serving the national agenda for the party if they support A-listers who can shine a bright spotlight on our successes and Tory mismanagement.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the party are able to topple the Conservatives come next election, then all the better that we have a diverse team playing their part both on the front bench and in the pantheon of metro-mayors. If despite our best efforts Jeremy’s leadership falls short, then we will have experienced leaders in waiting who have been able to afford some distance from the front-bench, untainted and able to take the party’s plan B forward.