During the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election, a constituency not very far from us here in Rutland, I saw a picture on social media taken at one of the Public Meetings. According to a large Election poster behind the Speakers, the constituency that UKIP was trying to get Victoria Ayling elected to, had apparently been renamed ‘Sleaford and North Hykenham’. This lack of due diligence was shrugged off. “The sign was probably made by a volunteer…” A volunteer who couldn’t even be bothered to get the name of the Constituency right. What message did this send to the voters in villages where they’d had at least two deliveries of Conservative, Labour and Lib-Dem leaflets as well as one from the Independent candidate before receiving a single UKIP one? Well, it probably sent exactly the same message as that of Paul Nuttall being unable to remember the names of the six towns that he was proposing to represent in the Stoke debacle did. I have many times defended UKIP against comments from Rutland’s Conservatives, but the one I find it almost impossible to defend is regarding UKIP’s lack of political professionalism. At its best, the party appears to be a shambolic collection of well-meaning amateurs who, as proven yet again in Stoke, lack any meaningful direction from above.
Many of us grass-roots supporters and activists thought, ‘here we go again’, when the Paul Oakden cabal gleefully announced that the party would put up Paul Nuttall as the candidate for Stoke. What? At a time when sections of the mass media, and the Remainer liberal elitist establishment, were quite literally falling over themselves to find fault with UKIP, we were going to put our new leader up for ‘Brexit Central’, which voted 70% to Leave The EU (80% in some parts), instead of a regular candidate? What, we worried, would that say about UKIP if and when he failed? That the party really is a busted flush? Unable to win a seat that was theirs for the taking? Defeat duly followed and was then further compounded by UKIP glibly announcing, after the result, that it didn’t really matter because Stoke was “only 72nd” on UKIP’s secret list of ‘must-win’ constituencies. Really? Then why put Paul Nuttall up for it in the first place and invest a huge amount of money and effort in trying to win the seat. Nix Quod Erat Demonstrandum…
Much has already been written about how badly the campaign was run and it smacks of rank amateurism. The whole ‘65 Oxford Street’ fiasco – completely unnecessary. Nuttall could have legally and correctly registered under his Liverpool address and that issue would never have arisen. If he’d then gone ahead and rented a place in Stoke so as to be close at hand to the Campaign then that would have been perfectly understandable. The website shambles… You’d think that somebody who’d had been caught out with incorrect personal information about them in the public domain would have carefully checked it out this time, especially with such a critically important election. And to say, as was mooted at Any Questions that ‘Paul is well-known to be something of a technophobe’ is, frankly, a pathetic excuse. And which political genius decided that the best thing to do to get the Stoke working class on board would be to have the Party Leader / Candidate and the Party Chairmen dress up as Chavs, complete with tweed three-piece suits, flat caps and beards? I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that neither of them produced a ferret from their trousers whilst being interviewed by Michael Crick.
2005 was a dismal one for UKIP’s Joseph Bonfiglio in Stoke, coming fifth with less than half the votes of the BNP candidate! Fast forward to the 2015 General Election and Mick Harold and his team had managed an eight-fold increase, on that result moving UKIP up into second place in a pattern that was repeated all over the country. Why then did the party machine insist on replacing Mick Harrold, well-known to the Stoke electorate from the General Election as well as being the Deputy Chairman of the Staffordshire County Committee, and Chairman of the Stoke on Trent Central/North Branch with a parachuted-in candidate? His efforts to make himself appear a ‘local boy’ were simply laughable and pure gold dust to the likes of Michael Crick and his roving Ch 4 TV crew.
Nearly two thousand fewer voters supported UKIP this time around than did in 2015. Even allowing for the lower turn-out: that’s poor. Will UKIP learn from this disaster? Will professionalism finally begin to creep in? Will proper Lessons Learned sessions take place to analyse the mess that was the Stoke by-election and so avoid the same mistakes being repeated in future by-elections? Will the hierarchy finally learn to draw on the still huge reservoir of professional experience they have in their grass roots, rather than just using them as leafleting donkeys? Or will Paul Oakden’s UKIP just keep muddling on? Judging by the fact that the plan to actively engage members with specific professional knowledge has been allowed to wither away, I suspect that the second option will be the one chosen. Not good enough.
And just exactly where is Paul Nuttall???