A hefty legal bill looks set to bankrupt Ukip for good – but could a new party take its place?

A libel fee could kill the party. Unless, of course, an expensive leadership battle gets there first. 


Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

So long, and thanks for all the fish (that we'll now be able to do what we like with?): Ukip has been hit by a £600,000 libel bill after one of its MEPs, Jane Collins, was successfully sued for defamation by three Labour MPs – John Healey, Sarah Champion, and Kevin Barron – who she accused of ignoring child sexual abuse in Rotherham.

Ukip's share of the costs is likely to be at least £200,000, a financial blow that is expected to finish the party as a going concern. Unless, that is, the cost of a leadership election doesn't get there first. (The party's embattled leader, Henry Bolton, is facing a vote on his future this weekend.)

Does it matter? Ultimately Ukip has succeeded well beyond its founders' dreams: the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, and the Conservatives have aped a lot of their rhetoric too. In many ways, it looks to be to the 2010s what the SDP were to the 1990s: a failure, yes, but a pretty influential one.

The question that some MPs have is whether it clears the decks for a new party of the nativist right to emerge, potentially one funded by Arron Banks. My instinct is whether that happens or not is entirely irrelevant to the fate of Ukip. Ukip only got 300,000 more votes than the BNP in 2010, and its surge thereafter happened before, not after, its rival on the populist right collapsed completely.

The continent-wide problem on the far right has always been one of the supply-side, not the demand-side: these parties tend to be too driven by in-fighting, poor candidates and bad organisation to appeal. That won't change if Ukip dies. And every new party must now grapple with the big problem of Ukip's success, which isn't that it has lost its reason to be since the referendum; but that the only UK-wide election that new parties can easily win, and in doing so gain a measure of financial stability, are the proportional ones to the European Parliament. And that, more than its referendum victory, is why Ukip and any new party of the right, left or centre is going to struggle in the United Kingdom after Brexit.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.