Nigel Farage speaks during a television interview in Basildon. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why Nigel Farage won’t run in Eastleigh

A year after almost winning the Eastleigh by-election, Ukip didn't gain any council seats there.

"Shock Result in Eastleigh" said one local newspaper. A year after beating the Conservatives into second place in the Eastleigh by-election, what had Ukip done now?

Not a lot. The story of the Eastleigh borough council results was not how well Ukip had done, but how badly. Of the 15 wards being contested, Ukip failed to win any.

Naturally the party saw things rather differently. "A concentration of near misses in wards," the party’s Director of Communications tweeted. "Strategic goal achieved." We have come to expect such bluster from Ukip. But in Eastleigh it was a night of not-so-glorious failure for Ukip. It was successfully only if distant second-placed finishes are successful - and Ukip were meant to have evolved beyond that stage. It came second in 10 of the 15 wards. But where were the "near misses"? Ukip only came within 247 votes of the top party in one ward. And this was in elections people care little for, with the average age of voters older (and so more Ukip friendly). For all their derisory poll rating, the Liberal Democrats, who controlled – and still do – 13 of the seats, were a force that Ukip came nowhere close to overcoming. Mr O’Flynn must be very confident to advise "stick a tenner on us to win the seat". If Nigel Farage is serious about becoming an MP, he won't be standing in Eastleigh next year.

Last February, Ukip won 27.8% of the vote in Eastleigh. It showed the power of the party’s by-election campaign: polling by Lord Ashcroft found that 31% of Ukip voters made up their minds in the last week of the campaign. Yet the party’s follow-up has been rather less impressive. Lib Dem sources in the seat privately say that Ukip activists have been almost silent since the by-election, and that they regard the Conservatives as the real threat in the general election. Swanning into a seat at by-election time is one thing; remaining a presence thereafter is quite another.

When I visited the seat recently, Ray Finch, Ukip’s candidate there in 2010 and now running for the European Parliament, described the council elections as “more important” than the European ones, and "the real stepping stone to getting MPs elected". If he’s right, that bodes ill for Ukip in Eastleigh next year.

In a sense Ukip’s failure to convert their promising position in Eastleigh is little surprise – the age demographic is younger, and the unemployment rate lower, than seats in which the party tends to do best in. But it is a reminder of Ukip’s difficulties converting solid support into the concentration necessary for electoral gain – and of the big strategic question Ukip will soon have to confront. Does the party want to maximise its vote share at the general election? Or would it rather focus its resources on perhaps 10 seats to maximise its chances of representation in Westminster? As Eastleigh reminds us, votes count for little when all they yield is copious second-placed finishes.

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

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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