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18 October 2016

Of course Ukip are splitting. They’ve won

Few parties could stick together after a victory on the scale that mob has achieved.

By Stephen Bush

Steven Woolfe has thrown Ukip into chaos – or should that be further chaos? – after quitting not only the race to succeed Nigel Farage but the party entirely, saying that it has become “ungovernable” following Farage’s resignation as leader.

“Punch-up row MEP savages ‘rotten’ Ukip” is the i‘s splash. “Woolfe quits ‘toxic’ Ukip and says party is in death spiral”is the Guardian‘s take. That word “death spiral” is on the frontpage of the Telegraph too: “Woolfe quits ‘death spiral’ Ukip as he files police complaint over MEP scrap” is their headline.

According to a YouGov poll released yesterday, Woolfe was very much in the box seat as far as the leadership contest was concerned, leading the pack with 47 per cent of the vote, and his nearest opponent, Don’t Know, way behind on 20 per cent. It now looks like a two-horse fight between Don’t Know and Suzanne Evans, with 10 per cent, unless Paul Nuttall throws his hat in the ring.

Drinks all round at Labour HQ? There’s a feeling in most of SW1 at least that Woolfe presented the biggest danger to that party in the north, and that a shambolic and leaderless Ukip is a less terrifying threat.

“It is hard to think of a time when Labour has ever been more out of touch with its traditional working class support base in these areas,” opines James Forsyth over at the Spectator, “But it will require discipline and a new message for Ukip to seize this moment. Both are lacking at the moment.”

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I’m not so sure. Chaos, disunity and a weak leadership don’t seem to have stopped Ukip making inroads into the Labour vote in Wales. And in any case, perhaps the most important part of Woolfe’s resignation statement is that what Ukip is lacking is not Farage but a unifying theme. Britain is out of the European Union, and our government apes much of the Ukip playbook.

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It’s a measure of the success that Ukip have enjoyed that just over a decade ago, the leader of the Conservative party was attacking Ukippers as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.Nowadays, the leader of the Conservative party attacks “citizens of the world”.

It’s striking to compare Ukip and the SNP this weekend, not least because the latter is “top of mind” after their conference. Yes, the SNP have strength in depth across both their parliamentary party in Holyrood and their parliamentary party in Westminster. Yes, their party still looks near-unassailable as far power in Scotland is concerned.

But if you offered most in the SNP a deal where independence was secured, and their major rival had accepted almost all of their platform, in exchange for an SNP that was riven by internal warfare and increasingly irrelevant to public life, they wouldn’t have to think about the answer for a moment.

Yes, Ukip are a shambles, and one very possibly heading for the knackers’ yard. But one reason for that is they already have everything they want.

This appeared in today’s Morning Call, my free daily email of news and analysis, featuring the best of the day’s news, to which you can subscribe here.