Theresa May isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but she has been extraordinarily successful in winning over the support of many of the nearly four million people (12.6 per cent of the electorate) who voted for the populist radical right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) back in 2015.
Brexit, border control, grammar schools, “strong and stable” leadership, support for ordinary working people, dollops of common sense, and the merest dash of criticism of big business. You name it, the prime minister has supplied it, and the response – especially now Nigel Farage seems finally to have left the building – has been everything she could have hoped for and more.
In contrast, Ukip’s latest leader, Paul Nuttall, is seen by his critics (both within and out the party) as a hapless, hopeless character.
And if he cannot improve on the party’s dire local election performance and its current opinion poll ratings, his position must surely be under threat post-election – or it would be if there were anyone serious willing and able (and, indeed, brave enough) to take over.
As a result, Ukip seems to be facing a pretty bleak future – presuming it has a future at all. The party is reported to be haemorrhaging members as fast as it is haemorrhaging voters, and is widely thought to have severe financial problems now its biggest donors have shut their wallets.
That, and the fact that there will be no more EU money coming the party’s way after 2019, may well mean it will very soon no longer be a going concern, electorally or organisationally – or both.
Given, however, that Mrs May will almost certainly be unable (once again) to achieve a noticeable reduction in immigration, at least in the short term, and given that the cultural anxiety created by Britain becoming an ever more multicultural society is unlikely to go away, the country may still have room for an Islamophobic, English-nationalist party.
But unless it is led by someone skilled and charismatic enough to convince people that it is not the BNP Mark II, then that party will – like the BNP Mark I – be condemned to roam the radical right-wing fringes of the party system, where there are few votes and no seats.
Originally published at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/tim-bale-h8272pflh