Nigel Farage has bottled his by-election chance, and Ukip is over

In three weeks’ time the Great Ukip Flying Circus will be in decline



After Nigel Farage blew up his rocket on the launch pad at 8.05 this morning, today’s Prime Minister’s Questions became more important and less interesting.

But first let us pay our respects to the late UK Independence Party. It had a good run. There is a bit of fun still to be had. Today we have already had two opinion polls suggesting that it is going to win the largest share of votes in the European Parliament elections on 22 May by some margin. Ukip is nine or 11 points ahead with three weeks still to go, which has the makings of a landslide.

It may seem perverse to suggest, therefore, that the party is over. But I suggest that this is precisely what it is. Done with, finished, a footnote.

By failing to seize the party’s one chance to win a by-election, Farage has blown it. Not that “it” was ever a very good chance. Farage bottled the Newark by-election because he didn’t think he would win it. And if he couldn’t win it, there is no one else in Ukip who could. The best chance of achieving the “breakthrough” that is the holy grail for protest parties, which in this case would mean a handful of MPs at the next general election, would have been to establish the credibility of a bridgehead in the House of Commons before the general election.

I think we can now take it that Ukip will win one MP at the next election at most. That one MP might be Farage, standing in a Kent seat such as Folkestone, where he has connections, members and organisation. He would then be the Caroline Lucas of the next parliament and Ukip would fade away, apart from its large numbers of troublesome MEPs in the European Parliament.

The thing is that Ukip faces a challenge to its reason for existing after the next general election, whatever the result. If Cameron wins, he is committed to a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in 2017, after which Ukip would have little purpose. If Ed Miliband wins, the Conservative Party in opposition is likely to become several degrees more Eurosceptic. Boris Johnson only this week restated his view that, if Cameron could not secure better terms of EU membership, he would vote to leave. Again, the need for a separate anti-EU party will be greatly diminished. And if the Liberal Democrats, through some tragic accident of the arithmetic, should find themselves out of government, there would not even be the need for a separate protest party any more.

So that is it, I think. There will be a lot of fizz, smoke and carousel music, but in three weeks’ time the Great Ukip Flying Circus will be in decline. Big social trends are against it. The economy is looking up, and people mind less about free movement of workers when they feel better off. Scepticism about the EU has ebbed. YouGov now consistently finds that, even if there were a referendum now on existing terms of membership, people would vote to stay in.

Which left us with Prime Minister’s Questions. Back to politics as usual. The Ukip-free House of Commons debated the sale of the Royal Mail. Miliband complained about “a rip-off of taxpayers”. Cameron responded with a history lesson, quoting Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock on 1980s privatisations.

Miliband had a good argument and an effective debating point, quoting Brian Binley, a Tory member of the Business select committee, who had described the way the sell-off was managed as “unethical” and who was nodding in agreement on the back-benches behind Cameron’s blind spot.

Cameron had a reasonable argument - Labour had tried to sell the Royal Mail and this government had succeeded - and an effective diversionary tactic, pointing out that Miliband dared not mention the economy, jobs or the deficit, because they were all coming good.

The Prime Minister could not say what he really thought, which was that Vince Cable might have been taken for a fast one by some of those spivs in the City, but that the risks of failing to unload the shares onto the market were worse than those of seeing them snapped up and a rise in price, showing an instant profit.

But those are the sort of calculations that government politics are all about, the sort of thing that Ukip would like to wish away. Returning to real politics will be duller, but more important.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears