2016 could be described as a somewhat Jekyll-and-Hyde year for the UK Independence Party. There was toxic infighting and a leadership crisis, but amongst all that stood the party’s greatest achievement, and the completion of its ultimate goal – helping to oversee the successful EU Referendum for Leave. Many have since that UKIP’s work is done, and it can pack its metaphorical bags and not overstay its welcome on the political arena. But, with Britain still yet to invoke Article 50 to begin proceedings to conclude its self-removal from the EU, UKIP’s new stance is to stick around in order to hold the Government’s feet to the fire and ensure it carries out the will of the people that voted for Leave. They have 20 MEPs, six members on the Welsh Assembly, two members of the London Assembly, but, crucially, only Westminster MP, who also holds an unenviable position of being alienated by a large number of the party’s membership. But that could all be about to change.
The Labour Party’s Tristram Hunt has announced he is resigning the Stoke Central seat, thus forcing a by-election. The area is also known as ‘Brexit Central’ as 70% of city of Stoke voted for Leave. Labour’s majority is 5,000, a modest majority but one that could be overturned. The early consensus is that this a more-than-winnable seat for UKIP, and it’s possible that a good number of potential candidates will be willing to throw their hat into the ring. But who could that person be?
Nuttall, who was recently elected leader of the party with the biggest mandate in its history, is surely the front-runner. Currently an MEP, Nuttall has very little to lose in standing, as the least he will do is come a respectable second and will likely reduce the 5,000 majority. Three times a UKIP candidate for a Westminster, Nuttall so far has been unsuccessful, but his rising profile and with a seemingly easy-going and likeable approach, Nuttall could be the man most likely to wrestle this seat off the Labour Party. Mr Nuttall has so far refused interviews regarding this season, adding further speculation that he is considering it.
Another MEP, Etheridge has been recently made the party’s Defence Spokesman, and came third in the party’s first leadership contest of 2016. A Midlander, represents the West Midlands in the European Parliament, Etheridge would also be a logical choice and has been quoted as saying he would be “honoured” to stand if Nuttall decides against it.
Helmer has represented the East Midlands in the European Parliament since 1999 (the last five being for UKIP), Helmer could be an option.
An MEP for the West Midlands, is firmly established within the party, having stood for Westminster on four previous occasions, the first coming twenty years ago.
The third West Midlands MEP, Seymour tweeted that the by-election offers the area “a UKIP MP who truly reflects their overwhelmingly anti-EU views…”
Another MEP, Arnott’s stock is increasing within the party. In an unpublished interview with NMC, Arnott described the Labour Party as “not being fit for purpose”. I asked him whether he would be keen to stand in any by-elections that may happen. Arnott said he “might well be tempted” if a seat in his local North East area came available, but ruled out anything else.
Infamously known for his alleged involvement in the incident in which former UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe collapsed and was rushed to hospital, Hookem is the party’s Veteran’s Affairs spokesman. Another MEP, Hookem has stood in his area of Hull and his no-nonsense approach could be popular in dealing with the Remain MPs in Parliament.
Nuttall has frequently talked about targeting Labour areas, particularly in the North, but this seat could be the place to start. A victory in this election could give UKIP the boost it requires as well as silencing those who believe they are little more than a busted flush, and, of course, it gives those unrepentant regarding their vote for Leave an extra voice it desperately needs.